Hell is my neighbour – Thursday, 21st week in ordinary time – Mt 24:42-51
For some reason the lectionary takes a huge leap and plunges right into the sixth and last discourse of Matthew’s Gospel. Comprising of Chapter 24 and 25, the Eschatological discourse or the discourse on the end times preoccupies itself with the Parousia or the Lord’s second coming.
The Gospel of Matthew was penned somewhere after 80 AD. By this time the apostles had been martyred and so were many of the inner circle of Jesus. The Early Church had constantly lived in the hope that the second coming of Jesus or His Parousia was an imminent reality. That unfortunately did not seem to happen and hope among the followers of Christ was fading fast.
Many of the disciples now began to hanker for a more relaxed form of Christian discipleship as opposed to the more rigorous devotion that had once enthused the community. The desire to ‘work’ for the Church seemed to be lost in materialistic desires. The ‘eating and drinking’ is now in the company of drunkards (verse 49) and fellow Christians are treated like slaves.
Matthew wants to send a clear message of warning to his community; shake off lethargy and shrug off the hopelessness that had set in. The Lord would come as He promised even though He did not come as soon as they imagined or wished for. The disciples need to be watchful like a householder who watches over his home, protecting it from thieves. The message to the community is crystal clear, “you too must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
To highlight the importance of both, the unexpected hour and the coming of the Son of Man, the Gospel writer compliments this urgency with an example, one that perhaps is reflective of the reality of the community.
The community of disciples are urged to live in fidelity to the task that Jesus had left them to accomplish at the ascension; a charge of caring for His people. They are set over His people as instruments of service to the community. Such fidelity will be rewarded but interestingly the Lord does not speak of this reward as a ‘personal benefit’ to be received by the faithful disciple. The reward ironically is a ‘greater responsibility’ that is thrust on the disciple. He is now in charge of all the Lord’s possessions.
Contrasted with this faithful servant is the wicked ones of the community; members who have erred in calculating the delay, as though they knew when the Lord would return. Their lifestyle has become the indicator of their wickedness and harsh will be their punishment. The community of Matthew would have had no problem in identifying both groups of disciples described in this passage, living in the community.
Most fearful, is the punishment described. The brutality of the punishment of being ‘cut into pieces’ is laid side by side with the evil company they will share. This evil company, namely the scribes and Pharisees, identified by the word ‘hypocrites’ in both chapter 23 and now in verse 51, have already been condemned in Chapter 23 ; now their punishment is revealed.
Seven times in chapter 23, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees describing and identifying them as ‘hypocrites’. The community of disciples had experienced great persecution at the hands of these religious authorities whose behaviour they were never to imitate. Now the punishment for the lax disciples of Matthew’s community stands clear; not only will they be punished severely, the wicked disciples would share the same fate and company of the scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus so often condemned. Hell was to be their neighbour.
Fr Warner D’Souza