25 Pentecost, Year A, Nov. 19
We hear terrifying words of judgment, words of warning against a people who have forsaken God and turned to the gods of the nations. For a very long time, a paganism has infiltrated and nearly usurped the true faith of the Hebrew people. The prophet Zephaniah intervenes, and though his words are harsh, they are not altogether unwelcome. It is as if the people know that the time of judgment is at hand. “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand” (Zeph. 1:7).
The prophet piles one violent image upon another. “The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring such distress upon the people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the Lord, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung” (Zeph. 1:14-17).
In distinctly Christian language, we might say much the same thing using the words of St. Paul: “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1-2). Or, to quote the Nicene Creed, “He will come to come to judge the living and the dead.”
Zephaniah prophesied in a specified moment of crisis, but in a sense he highlights the crisis of every moment. Judgment is felt in the brevity of human life, the frailty of all things. In the words of the Psalter, “You sweep us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass. In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered” (Ps. 90:5-6). The time is short, and time is precious. All of this is a call to be alert and vigilant. “So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:6). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, yet a wrong understanding of fear will destroy our lives and distort our faith. St. Paul pointedly asserts, “God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10).
A wrong fear of God is well illustrated in the parable of the talents. The servant to whom one talent was given so feared the master that he hid the talent in the ground, hoping only to return what he was given. That is, he didn’t use the talent as it ought to be used: invested. A correct understanding of reverence toward the master is to use the talents appropriately by investing them and accepting the risk involved. To fear and reverence the Lord is to know that the time is short and that everything one receives is to be used well and appropriately to the glory of God and for the good of others.
Look It Up: Matthew 25:15
Think About It: You receive according to your ability. Therefore, in the time you have, use what you receive wisely.