Jesus says, “Be prepared and stay awake because we know neither the day nor the hour.”
Walking home from grade school there was no backpack for me. It wasn’t invented yet for children, just for military soldiers. For me it was carrying a couple of folders containing unfinished information that only the eye of my nun-teacher would weigh and evaluate when it became due.
Because you see, it was called my homework. Break the word a part and it becomes work that you do at home. This work that you do at home is totally responsible for leading you to the next stage of life – whether it’s to the next grade or life’s next maturity.
Several incomplete pieces of paper were placed in my folders for my walk home and I was obliged to complete those pieces of papers’ empty blanks or parts requiring short sentences from a grade-school-mind. Why? It’s because my homework is due the next morning or the day after that. Science projects? A week or two was allowed for those constructions. (But how many of us built them the night before?) “Oh, I have two weeks,” says a 10-year old mind because two weeks means two years.
Ummm. Let’s see what we have here for us oldsters or soon to be oldsters. An assignment is given to us all to complete – first privately at home and then to proudly share our privately, completed homework publicly for either (as children) the nun-teacher or (as adults) with a good friend or with a spouse or in your job.
“Stand up, Joseph and show us what you did?” says my defiant, unpaid third grade Sister (as a child) or (as an adult) “Show us what you’ve got?” from a good friend, or from a spouse or from an employer or from the world.
I stutteringly tell the class my answers and hope they’ll not laugh or just stare at me. I did my homework last night – and without TV privileges. No TV on “school nights” and Sunday was considered a school night.
“Stay awake” and “Be prepared” says the Gospel today but I say to you, “Do your homework.”
If you missed assignments in your education or in your life then how cleverly stupid of you. You’ve become the “Eddie Haskell” of your grade school class or the “Eddie Haskell” of society. Snip a little here (“No one’ll notice”) and slide a little there (“Nobody cares” or “Everybody’s doing it”). The easy way is always the best way, especially when our personal interests are the only personal issues of our personal hearts and minds. (Ummmm, I used “personal” three times in one sentence. I wonder what that means?)
In Church words, Advent means “preparation” but in my words it means, “Do your homework.”
That personal homework that we all so confidently completed at home needs to be shared and publicly proclaimed tomorrow to everyone around you. Otherwise, what’s the point of an education? What’s the point of an enlightening experience? What’s the point of having a new insight?
“Stay awake,” the Gospel tells us. What I say to you is, “Share your views about culture and religion with me.”
If you’re a fundamentalist then you’d love today’s Gospel as you smile to yourself and wave “goodbye” as you’re lifted heaven-ward while the rest of us are down here gnashing our teeth. (That’s code, by the way, for “hell.”) The rest of us are just hoping for the glory and majesty that awaits us. (And we also hope that our heavenly neighbors are not the same as the ones down here.)
But what if we make today’s Gospel not about surprising deaths but about surprising insights, a new take on an old issue, a twist to a thought we always thought was straight? That’s called “doing our homework,” in this time and in this place.
—We loved slavery (they were always employed!)
—we hated gays but now attend their weddings
—our work week was cut from 80 hours down to a comfortable 40
—women can vote now (and go figure why men didn’t like
it…women vote more religiously than men)
—we thought Lutherans were all going to hell
(those poor folks across the street from us)
—we thought priests were invincible heroes
—we thought the Latin Mass would last forever
but staring at my butt wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen
The homework of life is not limited only to our personal lives but our homework includes the concerns and worries of those around us.
“Homework.” What a great word. Private work that’s then publicly shared.
The “Eddie Haskell” of our lives is when we do not do our own personal homework. It’s when we let others do our homework for us and soon Eddie reappears. (That’s a shortcut.) Absorbing radio and TV babble and then making it your own is not doing your homework. In grade school that’s called “copying.” “Sister, sister, Joe’s copying my work!” says the smartest girl seated in the class.
That undone personal homework is meant only for us and to be completed by only you and then publicly pronounced again and again and then repeated again and again to persuade and to prove that our homework, has indeed, been completed.
In our country today, we find ourselves in a “drowning swimming pool” of murky and wild ideas. Think of the last election for the past year and a half, on both and every side. Politics reflects and shapes our culture. Our culture reflects and shapes our minds and our lives.
A year ago on this First Sunday of Advent, I promised to do something that a year later is still left undone. I didn’t do my homework that I promised myself (and God) a year ago.
Jesus says to us today and everyday, “Stay awake, the hour is at hand!” I say to you and to me today and everyday, walk home from school with your incomplete folders and please, “Do your homework, your assignment is publicly due tomorrow…and no TV!”