19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
"Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival ..." (Lk. 12:32-48).
Woke. Not the phrase misappropriated by racist political commentators, but wisdom from our common kente community. In 1938, Blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter sang of the Scottsboro Boys, nine teens falsely accused of raping two white women. Noting their saga which inspired the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he advised Black folk to “be a little careful — best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” My own ancestors exhorted me decades later: “Stay woke, my brotha – cause racism is real and this is not our home. Remember where you come from!”
Woke. Not a phrase to be misunderstood and hegemonically misused, but a word to the wise from Jesus himself! Eddie Hawkins, our ancestor of happy memory, sang that Jesus taught us “how to watch, fight and pray, and live rejoicing every day!” To watch means to “stay woke!” Jesus said, “Could you not stay awoke with me even one hour?” Confident that “he’s coming soon” but aware that “no one knows the day nor the hour,” stay woke and stand ready to receive Christ with joy the moment he returns.
Woke. Why? To be aware of true treasure and its purpose! Jesus says “treasure” is that thing upon which our hearts are set. It’s what we are willing to fight and die for. When we fix our hearts to do the Lord’s loving will, especially during difficult times, Jesus stores such treasured moments within his heart. It’s within the precious heart of Jesus that we build up “an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach.” And are we not in turn the treasure for which Jesus fixed his heart and laid down his life on Calvary?
Yet, the hearts of unfaithful stewards grow weary of waiting when he’s not in view. Their craving for control, even of time, breeds impatience. Preferring to be “masters” rather than “servants,” their hearts shift from heavenly treasures to worldly pleasures. They would rather worship a Golden Calf – just because they made it – than worship the Lamb of God who created them! No longer confident that “he’s coming soon,” they beat the Lord’s servants to coerce these faithful into following them.
Jesus’ addressing this parable to chief steward Simon Peter would seem far-fetched if not for the history of America. Black and Brown folk have not only been cruelly beaten here; we have been inhumanely enslaved, raped, arrested, oppressed, incarcerated, lynched, shot, drugged and dragged through the streets by some of the very stewards sworn to serve and protect us. Kendrick Lamar speaks to the trauma of those injured by such unfaithful stewards: “Mis-using your influence, sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power, full of resentment… resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screamin' in the hotel room. Lucifer was all around me.”
Despite our ancestors’ efforts, many have lost sight of who we are and whose we are. We choose to follow unfaithful stewards into gluttony, drunkenness, and drowsiness. Generations of trauma leave some of our children (and some of us) screaming in hotel rooms. The good news is that, despite all of the entrapments and entanglements, some by the grace of God still find their way to the preacher’s door, wondering if they can trust God’s stewards enough to go in.
But let that preacher come out into the streets to listen and meet them where they’re at -- then God’s got us!
Let that preacher speak candidly about the real presence of drugs, racism, and injustice – then God’s got us!
Let them preach not only about problems but hope in action -- then God’s got us!
And while they’re at it, let them speak truth to power on behalf of the people -- then God’s got us!
… and yes, even in the midst of this latest, but temporary, storm …we gonna be alright!
… and so, since God’s got us, as Lead Belly said years ago, it’s “best you stay woke!”
Woke doesn’t mean being anxious about racism, politics, bills, or relationships – it means being joyful because the battle is already won!
Woke doesn’t mean that advocates for Black lives are maggots, children of darkness, anti-police, or anti-Catholic, it means knowing who I am and whose I am. And if anybody asks you I am, tell ‘em I’m a child of God!
Woke means having radical love for our children and families, for they are our treasure and God’s holy treasure.
Woke means remembering that as long as our eyes are fixed on Jesus, even in the midst of a storm, we can walk on water.
Woke means remembering that “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord ... His truth is marching on!”
So stay woke, my brothers and sisters – cause racism is real and this is not our home. Remember where you come from. Remember who we are and whose we are-- citizens of God’s kingdom to come. Stay woke so you can see the traps designed to keep us down and deny our freedom -- not freedom to do the craziness the world dresses up as “freedom,” but true freedom: freedom to be the people of virtue our ancestors envisioned and the courageous liberators that God calls us to be.
Author: Deacon Melvin Tardy, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at St. Augustine Parish in South Bend, Indiana. Deacon Tardy is the current president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus.
"Alright," by Kendrick Lamar (Clean Copy)