Bottom line: Jesus does not want to us to speculate on who will be lost and who will be saved. He wants to make clear that eternal loss, damnation, is a possibility for every human being.
Perhaps you have heard that the Irish are famous for answering a question by asking another question. Once someone said to an Irishman, "Why do you Irish always answer a question a question?" The Irishman thought for a second, then replied, "Oh, do we now?"
Well, in today's Gospel Jesus answers a question by asking another one. Peter questions Jesus about his parable concerning salvation and damnation. He wants to know if the parable applies only to the disciples or to everyone. Jesus responds with a question: "Who is the faithful and prudent servant...?"
Jesus answers Peter with a question because he does not want to get into speculation about who will be saved or who will be lost. What he wants to make clear is that eternal loss, damnation, is a possibility for every human being. Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar put it this way: "It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost."
Yes. There is no better question you and I can ask. If Jesus returns today, am I ready? It is a stark question. Previous generations were more willing to face that question than we are.* Recently I have been studying the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII. I was struck by how often that rite brings up the issue of salvation and damnation. For example, in the 1962 rite the priest says a rather dramatic prayer while he washes his hands. He prays that he will not lose his own soul: "Do not let my soul be lost with the impious." (That is, with those who live disordered lives.) And, of course, in the Roman Canon the celebrant prays, "Save us from final damnation and count us among those you have chosen."
There is a realism here that goes back to Jesus. He often spoke about the possibility of damnation or eternal loss. As we see in today's Gospel, he does not let anyone off the hook. You and I have received a great blessing - we have heard Jesus' teaching and have received his sacraments. If we fail to respond, things will go bad for us. Jesus says, "The servant who knew his master's will, but...did not act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely." But even the person who has not heard Jesus teaching will be held to account. After all, everyone has a conscience, a sense of right and wrong.
The issue is stark for every human being: eternal life or eternal loss. You and I have been given much - and we have the responsibility to share what we have received, to help bring others to Christ: the one source of salvation. For each person there is a single question: If Jesus comes today, am I ready to receive him?
"Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival."
*I don't blame the Novus Ordo for the current state of affairs. Part of the problem is that the English translation has tended to "tone down" the starkness of the original Latin. I notice this because I am constantly going back and forth between English and Spanish. Usually the Spanish is starker. For example the Opening Prayer for the 14th Sunday speaks about how Jesus has "raised a fallen world." The Spanish is less cosmic: instead of talking about a fallen world it refers to the slavery of sin ("la esclavitud del pecado"). My Latin is weak, but even I can see that the Spanish is a better translation of the Latin words "servitute peccati." And while it is certainly true that Jesus has raised a fallen world, it is more personal and more dramatic to state that he has saved us from the slavery of sin.
From Archives (19th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Pastoral Outreach, Preparing for Extraordinary Rite, Book Club takes on God Is Not Great)
Bill Donohue on the movie The Ten:
“If Hollywood were to substitute Muhammad for Jesus, it is a sure bet that many of these same critics wouldn’t find the humor in it. Moreover, we’d all be watching the fallout that such a movie would engender on the evening news.”
Cardinal Seán O'Malley explains the Church's Stance on Casino Gambling