[Jesus said:] “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Have you heard the saying, “When the cat is away, the mice will play?” It is an idiom meaning that without supervision, people will disregard or break the rules, or when someone in authority is not present, subordinates will do pretty much what they please. This seems to be a universal truth, and one can find examples of this even in the Bible. A notable one that you might remember is how wicked the people got when Moses went up the mountain to get the ten commandments from God.
They were severe consequences for their wickedness when Moses returned, but that will be nothing compared to the fate that awaits the wicked when Jesus returns. He speaks about returning suddenly, when least expected, hoping to find that the servant he has placed in charge of his household has been distributing food to them at the proper time. And he warns about what will happen to the servant who fails to do this in no uncertain terms. “The master ... will punish the wicked servant severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Who does this servant represent? Jesus said this to the disciples and not to the usual crowds around him, which meant the warning was for a specific audience. This would be the shepherds in the church today—God’s pastors and ministers—who have been placed to look after the flock that God has put in their care, feeding them the food they need. And what does this food represent? It is the word of God.
However, it isn’t only them who are in positions of responsibility. In some way or another, we are all given charge over people. Educators are given charge over students put in their care. Parents are given charge over their children. Employers over their employees. And if you take it to the top, leaders over their nations. But do we fulfill our obligations to those God has given us to nurture and nourish? Do we provide them with the food of life? And if we answer yes, then is this food good to eat? Or is it like congee—watered-down rice with hardly any nutrition?
It is obvious to anyone who bothers about these things that we are in the last hours of the last days. Which means Jesus’ return is close. However, most people don’t think about it, which means we do pretty much what we want — like mice when the cat is away. But this reading reminds us that Jesus will return. And there will be a reckoning when he does. May he find us, all of us, to be good and faithful servants.
In the meantime, let us also feed our people well.
May the Spirit be with you.