19Nov 19 Nov 2017. 33rd Sunday in OT

Today’s gospel: How we will be tested in Final Judgment. Right here and now we are writing the book of evidence. Vital to use the talents God has given us.

See the excellent upgrade to K. O’Mahony’s Tarsus Website, with its focus on Scripture and Liturgy.


1st Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13, etc

The virtuous, industrious wife every Jewish husband hoped to find

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.

She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs a the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

Paul admits that he does not know when the second coming will take place. But be vigilant!

Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!

But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the Talents requires us to use our gifts to achieve what God expects from us

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who, before going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

BIBLE

Use them or lose them

At first sight, this parable suggests that the third servant took a prudent course of action, “I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown.” The scribes and Pharisees, towards whom it was directed, would argue like this, “God demands perfection; the Law expresses his will; only a scrupulous observance of the Law offers security.” But according to Jesus, God’s way is different: He wants an abundant harvest, and salvation comes to those who are prepared to risk their all for him. A talent is given to bear fruit, not to lie in the bank, unused. It may seem prudent not to risk, but in the end it is not what God expects of us.

We know that different people have very different abilities. A person with a gift for listening to others may not have the skill to be a good administrator. Someone who is able to mend a leak or fix a washing machine might have no musical ability. An effective teacher may be a hopeless mechanic. We learn from experience who is good at what, and we hire people accordingly, entrusting people with tasks in proportion to their ability. We also learn from experience what our own abilities are, and our limitations, and we tend to take on tasks that are possible for us and avoid tasks that are not.

The rich man in today’s parable knew the abilities of each of his servants. Before setting out on his journey he entrusted his property to each in proportion to his ability. He only gave as much responsibility to each of them as they could bear. The one who got five talents of money was capable of making it grow by five more; the one entrusted with two talents was capable of earning two more; the one who got one talent could have made one more.

The first two servants worked according to their ability. The third did not, and just gave back the one talent he had been given, instead of the extra he was capable of gaining. What held him back from working according to his ability was fear. “I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.”

We may find ourselves in some sympathy with the third servant, because, deep down, we are aware how fear can hold us back and keep us from doing what we are capable of. Fear is a more powerful force in the lives of some than others. There can be many reasons for this. Those who have experienced a lot of criticism growing up can develop a fearful approach to life. There is afamiliar Irish proverb, Mol an oige agus tiochfaid siad. Praise the young and they will grow. The converse can also true. Blame the young and you hold them back. Unfair criticism can stunt our growth and prevent us from reaching our potential. We hide our talent in the ground. There it can remain safe but useless.

Jesus knew of the disabling power of fear in people’s lives. It is lovely how often he tells people, “Do not be afraid.” When Peter fell down on his knees saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.” When fear threatened to hold Peter back, Jesus called him into a new phase of his life. Jesus wants to be present to us all to release us from our fears.

We have each been graced by the Lord for the service of others. If I hide the talents the Lord has given me, others are thereby deprived. Most of us need some encouragement to place our gifts at the disposal of others. Part of our Christian vocation is to give others courage, to encourage them. A couple of verses beyond where today’s second reading ends, Paul writes: “Build each other up, as indeed you are doing.” In these difficult times for the church, the ministry of encouragement is vital. Now is not the time to hide the Good News in the ground out of fear. Rather, it is a time to encourage each other to share this treasure so that the church may become all that God is calling it to be.


Talented but lazy

The parable reminds us that we all have talents. Maybe not spectacular or dramatic like other people who get national or international acclaim; just ordinary, but nevertheless important. Experts say that the average person uses only a fraction of their talents. Here are three statements to think about:

1. “I weep that there are so many missed opportunities for comforting, so many smiles withheld, hands untouched, kind words unspoken.” (from Sheila Cassidy’s Sharing the Darkness)

2. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” (John Milton: On His Blindness **)

3. “Take the talent from him and give it to the one with five”. In other words “use it or lose it“. (Jesus)

One of the main reasons why people do not use their talents is because they have been belittled in the past. To belittle is to put someone down, to make them feel small, lessen their sense of self worth. There are many ways of demeaning another person: cynicism, sarcasm, non-appreciation, taking for granted. The antidote to belittle is to lift people up, to encourage them to value themselves. (John O’Connell)

Milton, On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which ’tis death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d?”
I fondly ask. But patience to prevent
that murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his State
is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
and post o’er Land and Ocean without rest.
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


We need to be creative

(José Antonio Pagola)

Despite its apparent simplicity, the parable of the talents has explosive power. Surprisingly, the third servant is condemned without having done anything bad. His only mistake in not doing anything creative: he does not take risks with his talent, and does not get it to bear fruit. He just preserves it intact in its own safe place.

Jesus’ message is a clear “No” to conservatism, “Yes” to creativity. “No” to a sterile life, “Yes” to an active response to God. “No” to an obsession with safety, “Yes” to the effort that tries to transform the world. “No” to a faith buried under conformism, “Yes” to seeking to open up paths to God’s Reign. The great sin of Jesus’ followers is not daring to follow him in a creative way. Just notice the language that has been used among Christians over the years, to see how we have often focused attention on preserving the deposit of faith, preserving our tradition, preserving our good habits, preserving grace, preserving our vocation…

This temptation to conservatism is even stronger in times of religious crisis. It’s easy in such times to invoke the need to control orthodoxy, to strengthen discipline and norms, to keep people within the Church… All this can be justified, but isn’t it all too frequently weakening of the Gospel and freezing the creativity of the Spirit? For religious leaders and those responsible for Christian communities, it seems safer to monotonously ‘repeat’ the inherited ways of the past, ignoring the questions, contradictions, and thinking of people today; but where does all this get us if we aren’t capable of transmitting light and hope to the problems and sufferings that shake the lives of men and women of today?It’s easy in such times to invoke the need to control orthodoxy, to strengthen discipline and norms, to keep people in the Church… All this can be justified, but isn’t it all too frequently a way of weakening the Gospel and freezing the creativity of the Spirit?

For religious leaders and those responsible for Christian communities, it could be safer to monotonously ‘repeat’ the inherited ways of the past, ignoring the questions, contradictions, and thinking of people today; but where does all this get us if we aren’t capable of transmitting light and hope to the problems and sufferings that shake the lives of men and women of today?

The attitudes we need to cultivate today within the Church aren’t called «prudence», «faithfulness to the past», «resignation»… They go rather by other names: «creative searching», «boldness», «risk-taking», «listening to the Spirit», things that make everything new. What happened to the parable’s third servant is a most serious point: we too can think that we are faithfully responding to God with our conservative attitude, when we are actually betraying God’s expectations. The main task of the Church today can’t be to conserve the past, but to learn to communicate the Good News of Jesus in a society shaken by unprecedented socio-cultural changes.


3 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    We can deduce that that the amount of talents given to each servant has no bearing to the morality of the parable, as the one who had five talents and doubled them received the same reward as the one with three talents who doubled them too; also it is written ‘are not my ways equal?

    God’s gifts/ talents give different capacities/virtues to men, and these abilities are to be used and improved through His grace to give Glory to God in the service of mankind.
    But our God is a merciful God not like the Worldly Master in the parable

    “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”

    An internet meme says the command “Do not be afraid” occurs exactly 365 times in the Bible—one for every day of … A “Do Not Be Afraid” for Every Day of the Year? …

    What is the reality on the spiritual plane of this third servant before God?
    Due to the fear of failure brought on either by low self-esteem or unrealistic self-expectation of himself to make good use of his talent, he in effect rejected trust in His Divine mercy; so he buried his one talent/ virtue in the ground and in doing so as an ‘earthly man’ stifled/rejected any opportunity of spiritual growth that is the ongoing transformation of his heart; “but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”

    “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance”
    And could be translated as, all those who use the gift of His grace, more will be given, and they will have it in abundance.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Pádraig McCarthy

    There are problems with this gospel reading.

    Our minds are so used to the word “talents” as referring to human “talent” or gift for doing something, that we may lose the crunch of the original impact: it was about 75 lbs (about 34 kg) of silver – enough to live on for 15 or 20 years. It was hard “cash” in silver – in the economy of the time there was no paper money or electronic transfers.

    The reading as in the Lectionary begins “Jesus told this parable to his disciples: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who …” This is a transfer from the preceding story of the 10 bridesmaids which we had last week. We might think it logical to apply it, but it is not how Matthew presents it. He begins, “As for a man …” What we may draw from it about the kingdom of heaven needs to be approached with caution.

    We may be tempted to ask ourselves which of the characters in the story represents God; it may in fact be none of them. An image of God as presented here in a hard man who reaps where he has not sown may be an image which some identify with the God they have been taught. Is it the God presented by Jesus?

    We may also be tempted to think that Jesus, by telling the story, expressed approval of what is done; this may not necessarily be so. We may also need to look at the context of the story – what comes immediately before or after may alter our perception.

    We may be tempted to interpret the story from the standpoint of modern capitalism and free market economics; the cultural setting at the time of Jesus knew nothing of these.

    The man in the story entrusted his valuables to the servants. The vast majority of people at the time knew only subsistence living. While today we might admire the two who doubled their money, at the time this would be understood as done by means of exploiting people in need. They met with the approval of their master whom they emulated.

    The third servant, in the context of the time, is the one who acted responsibly by burying the silver, the best way of keeping it safe, and is the one who refused to buy into the value system of the master. It was forbidden for Jews to charge interest from one another: Leviticus 25:35-43. Any lending was for the purpose of helping a brother in need, never to exploit him. This third servant takes his master to task about his manner of living, with fear no doubt of the master, but also of contravening God’s law.

    Can you think of some today who are exploited by financial institutions in hard times? Charged too high an interest rate? Invested in secure banks for their pensions and lost everything?

    So those who buy into the master’s principles are rewarded – people then, as now, are familiar with the rich getting richer. The whistleblower who faced up to his master is punished and loses badly.

    Scripture at times presents us with pictures of two ways, reflecting the choices we face in life. We take this story, but we must pair it with the story which follows, and which we will read next Sunday, feast of Christ the King: the final reckoning. Who will be rewarded? Those who seem to come out on top in today’s story, or those who ministered to Jesus: “When I was hungry / thirsty / a stranger”, etc?

    Jesus, who had nowhere to lay his head, and who faced up to the authorities of his day, and who (in the following few chapters) lost everything and was cast out – the third servant is the one most like Jesus. The last shall be first –Jesus is invited to share his Father’s happiness. “Come, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you.”

    Is this a more challenging perspective on the story than the “standard” interpretation of the importance of using our talents and gifts? Which seems more in harmony with the gospel of Jesus? What do we learn of the kingdom of heaven? Do you have another perspective?

    Stories, in contrast to statement of facts, have the property of being multivalent. If we think that we have the full import of the story in just one perspective, we are probably wrong. Parables have the quality of disturbing us, challenging us to a new vision and a new life – to live the kingdom.

    St Augustine has some relevant remarks in his Confessions, Book XII, Ch. 31:
    “Although I hear people say ‘Moses meant this’ or ‘Moses meant that’, I think it more truly religious to say, ‘Why should he not have had both meanings in mind, if both are true? … There is only one God, who caused Moses to write the Holy Scriptures in the way best suited to the minds of great numbers of people who would all see truths in them, though not the same truths in each case.’ For my part, I declare resolutely and with all my heart that if I were called upon to write a book which was to be vested with the highest authority, I should prefer to write it in such a way that a reader could find re-echoed in my words whatever truths he was able to apprehend.”

  3. Pádraig McCarthy

    Addendum: Think the continuity:
    Matthew 25:18,31: “After a long time comes the master (lord!) of the slaves) and takes account with them … As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    25:30,31: “But when the son of man comes in his glory …” You know how the story continues, with an entirely different set of criteria.
    That “But” is and important link word in Matthews continuous narrative. The Greek word is “de”. My dictionary gives the English as “but”, or “on the other hand.”
    When we stop after today’s reading, and resume next Sunday, we lose the link. Most translations omit the word altogether. But it’s there.
    And it helps to make sense of today’s reading.
    Do you like “cliff-hangers”?
    Why not add on verse 31 to the gospel reading for this Sunday, and leave it hanging?

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