I’ve been feeding birds in the backyard of the rectory for a year or so now. The most loyal customers are blue jays. They are not social birds – like pigeons or seagulls – who will get close to you and even linger, but the blue jays are always there the first thing in the morning. I’ve noticed that even if I put some food out at random times during the days, they suddenly appear to eat it within a few seconds. Their vigilance is pretty impressive.
But the vigilance Jesus is calling for in today’s Gospel parable is not a readiness to feed or flight, like a bird, or to fight or flight, like a human, a doubling down, a hardening, a defensiveness in protecting ourselves, nor is it about amping ourselves with caffeine or drugs or home security systems. It’s not like being alert to someone who’s coughing or sneezing near us, or vigilant about someone making an inappropriate comment.
A key clue to the kind of vigilance Jesus wants is found in today’s Gospel parable, when the master of the house returns, and he plays the role of servant. He’s the one now waiting on the servants. So this is a vigilance that often requires a shift in our center of gravity, to be open to receiving – receiving service, receiving God’s mercy. We are on the lookout for letting go — that’s Gospel vigilance.
It’s a vigilance about “opening up” instead of locking down. It’s a vigilance in service of letting go instead of vigilance in service of making a decisive action, surrendering ourselves instead of protectively defending…an ongoing welcome to the presence and power of God in our lives. God is constantly offering opportunities and invitations, almost furtively like a thief or an unpredictable arrival, but we have to be awake to these opportunities as if we are expecting them.
And ready or not, they will come. The reference in the second reading to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son may be at one extreme of letting go, but various diagnoses, diminishments and changes bring a load of forced and likely unwanted letting go’s upon us, especially the older we get. Gospel vigilance calls us not simply to react to these uninvited surrenders, but to take the lead in anticipating them.
A vigilant heart is a contemplative heart, as exemplified throughout the Gospels by the teaching and example of Jesus. This is the kind of vigilance that will make a positive difference in our lives and in our world. See for yourself: be on the lookout for letting go.