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Features \ Asia - Liturgical Reflections

33rd Sunday of the Year – November 16, 2014

The parable of the talents  - RV

The parable of the talents - RV

12/11/2014 13:58

Prov 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; I Thes 5: 1-6; Mt 25: 14-30

Once a re-union took place of past pupils and an elderly priest who had come back to be present at the re-union. It was obvious from the way they flocked around him that he enjoyed great respect among them. Without the slightest promptings they began to pour out their stories. One was an architect, another was a university professor, another was a head of a company, another was a highly successful farmer, another was a monsignor in the Church, and another was a principal of a very prestigious school. The old priest listened with pleasure, as there didn't seem to be a single failure or loser among them. When they had finished he complimented them on their achievements. Then, looking at them with affection, he said, “And now, tell me what you have made of yourselves?” A long silence followed. They were reluctant to speak of themselves. It seems they were so absorbed in their careers that they had neglected their personal lives. Their energies were so focused on efficiency and success that they didn't have time to grow emotionally, with the result that in terms of relationships many of them were impoverished. 

Introduction: This penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year reminds us not only of the end of the liturgical year but also of the end of all things and of the preparations we need to make to reach heaven.  The main theme of the three readings is an invitation to live in such a way that we make the best use of the talents God has given us, so that at the hour of our death Our Lord will say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant! Come and share the joy of your master.”  The first reading suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious as a loyal and faithful wife in the use of our God gifts with “the fear of the Lord.” In today’s Responsorial Psalm No. 128, the Sacred Writer echoes the concept of the blessedness of the faithful servant of the Lord. The psalm affirms that the fear of the Lord is the key to human happiness and success. In the second reading Paul advises us to keep awake and be sober, encouraging and building up each other as we wait for the “Day of the Lord.” He challenges the Thessalonians to turn fear of the Lord into positive, constructive and life-affirming action.  Today’s gospel challenges us to ask the questions: Are we using our talents and gifts primarily to serve God?  Are we doing everything we can to carry out God’s will? The parable of the talents challenges us to do something positive, constructive and life-affirming with our talents here and now.

First reading, Proverbs 3:10-13, 19-20, 30-31: The book of Proverbs is the best place to turn for practical advice about life.  This first reading describes a good and faithful woman – a gracious wife and mother - who does all her household duties faithfully and efficiently and finds time to reach out a helping hand to the poor and the needy.  Since she practices love for both God and neighbor it has pleased God to say: “Her value is far beyond a pearl.”  This reading suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious as a loyal and faithful wife in the use of our God’s gifts. Unlike the one-talent man, she takes this gift and “brings forth good, not evil”; she “reaches her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” The author of Proverbs believes everyone should be creatively and lovingly active (Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31).  Writing against a cultural background which stressed the exploits of men, the Sacred Author sees the "worthy wife" as a dynamic, ingenious individual.  Hence the ideal Old Testament woman is no empty-headed sex object but a model held up for imitation by both women and men.

Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6: When the Thessalonians first accepted the Christian faith, they thought that their imitation of Jesus' death and resurrection would be a short-term experience.  Everyone, including Paul, was certain that Jesus' Second Coming was very near. As time went on without that Coming, the Thessalonian Church seethed with rumors about its exact date. People were more concerned with "times and seasons" of Christ’s second coming than with living their faith.  Paul assures his readers that it's stupid to worry about the "day of the Lord."  Instead of expecting an imminent Parousia, Christians should always "stay alert and sober,” doing their duties faithfully.  “We belong neither to darkness nor to night; therefore, let us not be asleep like the rest, but awake and sober!” Paul means that our wholehearted dedication to the responsibilities of Christian living will earn for us the Lord's praise at the Final Judgment.  Paul reminds us that the children of light are destined not for wrath but for salvation when the Lord comes.  He warns us that the Day of the Lord will come "like a thief in the night", when we least expect it.  Thus, we should keep awake and be sober, encouraging and building each other up as we wait for the “Day of the Lord.”  Only those who live each day to the fullest will be ready when Jesus' special day arrives.

Exegesis: The context: The parable is set in the last of Jesus’ five great discourses -- this one   focusing on Jesus’ eschatological teaching.  The three parables in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew (The Wise and Foolish Virgins, The Talents, The Last Judgment) are about the end times, the end of the world, and the end (intent, purpose, and upshot) of our lives.  Matthew's version offers advice to his community as to how they are to behave in the period following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension while they await his imminent second coming. Whatever is given to them — money, talent, opportunity — is meant to bear fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. 

The story: A very rich person, about to set off on a journey, entrusted very large sums of money (talents) to three of his slaves, each according to his personal ability:  five, two, and one.  A talent was worth between five and six thousand denarii -- or about 15 years’ wages for a simple day laborer.  The rich man freely bestowed responsibility and a chance for unsupervised action on all three slaves.  These amounts were enormous to these slaves who had nothing and earned nothing.  Through skillful trading and investing, the slave with the five talents managed to make five more -- doubling his master's money.  The slave with the two talents did the same.  The third slave buried his talent in the ground.  He was afraid to take the risk, afraid of the consequences of losing all the money, and afraid of the master’s reaction if he did.  On the day of accounting, the master rewarded the two clever slaves ("Come, share your master's joy.") but punished the third slave whom he called "wicked and slothful" (v. 26).  He took the third slave's talent and gave it to the first slave.  Clearly the master did not want security -- but initiative.  He exposed the third slave's explanation as a mere excuse for irresponsibility and laziness.  Even the most timid person could at least have invested the one talent with bankers and gained the interest from it.

The four lessons taught by Jesus through the parable. 1) God gives each person different gifts for his or her intended uses.  We are only asked to make full use of what we have been uniquely given and to use our talents for the benefit of the community as a whole.  (2) The better our work the greater our responsibility.  God gives more responsibilities to those who make the best use of their God-given talents.  (3) The lazy and the unproductive will be punished.  Even the person with only one talent has something to offer to others.  If he fails to do some positive good work he will lose what he has.  If he tries and fails he will meet compassion and forgiveness.  (4) God blesses generous sharers and punishes the selfish hoarders.  Those who share generously the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves constantly and immeasurably enriched, while those who jealously and selfishly preserve, out of fear, what they have been given, will lose it.  In short, the parable outlines the result of abundant, grace-filled stewardship of God's resources.

The challenge given by the parable: Take the risk for Christ. God, who risked everything in the person of Jesus Christ for the sake of our salvation, expects us to do more than simply cling to safety.  Hence Jesus is encouraging his followers not to be afraid, but trusting in his help, to take chances in using their talents for the glory of God and for the salvation of their neighbors.  Overwhelmed by the fear of being eternally condemned to hell, many of us identify ourselves with the servant who quickly buried the talent he received from his master.  Our concern with our eternal salvation is so intense that we concentrate only on the possibility of loss and become afraid to risk extending love to others in our spiritual life.  We presume that forming relationships is always risky, and showing love to another might mean having to change our actions to meet the needs of that other.  There's always a danger we might "do the wrong thing" and lose the grace we have. The parable teaches us that a “take-no-chances” policy is not Christian. 

 The object lesson: Our lame excuses invite punishment: The third servant decided to avoid risk-taking and showed too much caution with money.  His excuse was that, after all, he had not been given explicit orders about how to do his investing.  Besides, any type of business is risky and the master might hold him accountable for any loss.  He probably knew the long-standing rabbinic teaching that anyone who buries money that has been put into his care is no longer liable for its safety. Through this description of a lazy servant Jesus teaches us that that there is no "safe" position in life.  Christian living is strenuous business involving occasional risk-taking.  God expects us to use our every talent for personal growth, community service and religious witness.  Hence this parable reminds us of the terrible punishments which lie in store for those who do not produce new spiritual wealth from the talents God has placed in their stewardship.  Traditionalists fear the gift of the Second Vatican Council and a changing church, and want to keep their treasure intact through a return to outdated rituals and arcane theology. They represent the lazy servant.

 Life messages: 1) We need to trust God enough to make use of the gifts and abilities we have been given.  Some of us are clearly very gifted with valuable abilities, but there is no one, absolutely no one, who can say he has been gifted with nothing. We may be especially talented in teaching children or cooking meals or repairing homes or programming computers.  So we should ask ourselves how we are using our particular gifts in the service of our Christian community and the wider society.  Why not follow the example of people who use their God-given talents the best way possible, such as nursing assistants who take great pride in keeping their patients clean and comfortable, or carpenters who gain enormous satisfaction from building quality homes, or teachers who find joy in the discoveries of the classroom, attorneys who keep the goal of justice at the very center of their practices, etc.?

 2) We need to make use of our talents in our parish. God calls us to live in a world of abundance by taking risks and being generous. In addition to our homes and families, the best place to do this is in our parish.  This means that we should be always willing to share our abilities in creative worship in the church and innovative educational events in the Sunday school.   We can fulfill needs we will find right in our parish: feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and welcoming strangers in our midst.  We need to make the bold assumption that there’s going to be a demand for every one of our talents in our parish community.  We should step out, with confidence, believing that every God-given gift we have is going to be exceedingly useful and fruitful!

3) We need to trade with our talent of Christian faith: All of us in the church today have received at least one talent. We have received the gift of faith. Our responsibility as men and women of faith is not just to preserve and “keep” the faith. We need to work with it. We need to offer it to the men and women of our times. Unless we do this, we stand in danger of losing the faith just as the third servant lost his talent. The way to preserve the faith, or any other talent that God has given us, is to put it to work and make it bear fruit. 

Mother Theresa of Calcutta was summoned to the court on the charges of converting children to the Catholic faith. When she stood in the dock, the judge asked her if the charges were true. She asked for a baby to be given to her. She held the baby in her arms and said, “This child I picked up from the dust bin; I don’t know to what religion this child belongs or what language it speaks… I give this child my love, my time, my care, my food… but the best thing that I have in my life is the faith in Jesus Christ. Can’t I give this child the best I have in my life?” The case was dismissed in favour of Mother Theresa.

(Source: Homilies of Fr. Anthony Kadavil) 

12/11/2014 13:58