Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. (Lk 12:37)
I once had a conversation with a friend, named Ajay, who is not Christian and who told me that he never quite understood the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation. His line of thinking was that the mere notion of a “forgiveness on demand” (his term, not mine) could have the exact opposite effect than intended. He went on to say: “If I knew I could do basically anything I wanted to do, profess my guilt to a priest and then get forgiven just like that… clean slate… I think I would go out and do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.” He then proceeded to tell me some of those things he would do but you get the point.
The classic counterargument to this line of thinking is contained in today’s Gospel whereby Christ tells his followers about the importance of vigilance. He also notes that we don’t know when the Son of Man will return and so we best be ready. Some have interpreted this to mean the actual Second Coming of Christ which of course could come in 1,000 years… or tonight. At a bare minimum, we should recognize that we will all have an opportunity to encounter Christ at the moment of our passing from this life to the next, at our death. And that could come in 10, 40 or 80 years. Or tonight. It’s a good idea to be ready, to be vigilant.
Ajay’s logic is tragically flawed not only for the obvious reason that we don’t want to be caught off the sacramental Reconciliation cycle. Let’s say we go out and do all those things Ajay wanted to do and then be forgiven. What if you die after the sin but before the forgiveness? Ouch.
But there’s a much bigger point here. Reconciliation is not a Get Out of Jail Free card. It signifies a commitment to a better way. To living freely. To experiencing the peace of Jesus now, not according to some cycle of our own making. It’s not a card to throw down on the table when you get in trouble. It’s a life worth living.
Vigilance is much more than having the good fortune of timing it just right. It is knowing that there will be an encounter with Christ. An encounter we all will someday face. And as we come to it, we bring everything with us. That includes:
Every time we resisted that burning temptation.
Each encounter with someone who was vulnerable, afraid, without hope… and then we represented the eyes and ears and hands of Christ.
The moments when we defended the weak. When we were courageous and even unpopular in doing so.
The times when instead of saying what we really felt about somebody… we offered love and compassion and a gentle word instead.
Every time when we did not judge but could have done so easily.
… we bring all this with us. In that moment… this is all that will matter. And I’m sorry Ajay, but in that moment… there will be no Get Out of Jail Free card that will do us any good.