I've heard that the earliest known image of Jesus depicts him as the Good Shepherd. Today's Gospel (Luke 12: 39-48) gives a very different image of Jesus. After warning his disciples that "if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into," he goes on to talk about the Son of Man coming "at an hour you do not expect." Like many of the parables which are designed to startle us into deeper reflection, so this comparison which Jesus makes is shocking.
Yet many people do think of God as a thief. There is a tendency to think of our lives as our own, not God's. Our gifts and talents and hard-earned possessions are our own, not God's. We see death as God stealing what is rightfully ours. The reality is that everything we are and have belongs to God. This was the meaning of last Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 22: 15-21). Jesus says to give the Roman coin back to the one whose image is on it and to give "to God what belongs to God." We who are made in the image and likeness of God and bear that image belong to God, not ourselves.
Our lives are a series of exercises in letting go. We practice surrender, preparing for the ultimate surrender when God will ask of us our very lives. Our practice of making a daily offering can help us. What also helps is the example of saints, like the North American Jesuit Martyrs whom we honor today, or St. Jeanne Jugan.
I'm giving a retreat to 17 Little Sisters of the Poor at their retreat house and summer vacation facility for seniors in Flemington, NJ. St. Jeanne Jugan, their foundress, was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2009. When Blessed John Paul II beatified her in 1982, he said: "Jeanne invites all of us, and I quote here from the Rule of the Little Sisters, to share personally in the beatitude of spiritual poverty, leading to that complete dispossession which commits a soul to God."
"Complete dispossession." This is not something we like to hear. In our "super-sizing" age where "more is better", St. Jeanne Jugan, like the Gospel, is counter-cultural. We tend to fool ourselves, thinking that we are in control. The reality is that God is God and we are not. We are God's creatures and beloved children. We and all we have belong to God.