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Accountability and the FBI

November 13, 2017

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90: 12).

A fifth-grader named Grace recently visited our church and regaled my friend Donna and me with information about her Catholic elementary school. She explained how the teachers in her school hold the students accountable for their study habits. When Donna and I were in elementary school, the day of reckoning came on test day; the test results were a reliable measure of how much work the student had done. But in Grace’s school, the children are each given an iPad with software that permits the teachers to monitor the amount of work each student is doing every week. There are no game apps on these iPads. And if you try to put a game on your iPad, an alert to the school goes out, the school notifies the parents and you are in big trouble with a capital T.  Or as the beloved Irish principal at our local Catholic elementary school would tell the 8th grade boys to warn them against juvenile pranks: “The FBI might be called in on the case.”

The Scripture lessons this week are about accountability. [1] It is a recurrent theme in these last few weeks of the church year.

Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of Josiah, the last good king of Judah. Under Zephaniah’s tutelage, Josiah enacted many reforms following the reign of the evil king Mannasseh.   Zephaniah inspired a period of revival by his warning that “the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1: 7). “The day of the Lord” can refer to an Old Testament event, the coming of the Messiah, and/or the ultimate judgment at Christ’s second coming. Here, it probably means at least two of the three, because Judah began to fall to Babylonian rule almost immediately after the death of Josiah in battle in 609 B.C. Like most of the prophets, Zephaniah warned the people that at some point in time, there would be a reckoning—a time when they would be held accountable.

Moses, the author of the oldest psalm, confirmed that God is not limited by time; he is eternal, and we can depend on him. But we have a limited time on earth. We should use our time wisely, and not live only for the moment, but keep an eternal perspective: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. . . . A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by . . . yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death. . . Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90: 1-2, 4, 5a, 12). The time will come when we will be held accountable.

Paul continues the theme of accountability: “[T]he day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night . . . But you, brothers and sisters are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. . . Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 11).

In his parable of the loaned money, Jesus warns us that we are accountable as to what we do in life. When we are adopted into the family of God, and the Holy Spirit lives within us to come alongside us and guide us, he makes sure that we have what we need to accomplish our tasks. He provides the gifts, talents and abilities needed to use in the service of God. He helps us, and he holds us accountable for how we use the time, gifts, and talents we are given. If we do nothing with those talents and abilities (bury them in a hole in the ground), we have not done what God wants us to do, and we will be held to account. But the person who uses his or her God-given talents and abilities in the service of God, will hear those precious words at the end of life on earth: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25: 23).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost are Zephaniah 1: 7-16; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30

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