Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; I Thes 5: 1-6; Mt 25: 14-30
Homily starter anecdote: 1) Chance-taking adventurous voyagers. Columbus trusted his maps and calculations, considered his risks and sailed off to encounter the "new world." Magellan based his charts and maps on the most current information then available, and boldly circumnavigated the world. A few centuries later in their search for a Northwest Passage, Lewis and Clark set off, crossed the entire North American continent and explored the nation. All these explorers had at least one thing in common. They all based their momentous journeys on maps that were mostly inaccurate, hopelessly flawed or vastly mistaken. Yet each of these adventurers went ahead, accepted the risks, plunged into unknown territories and changed the world. It is precisely because of their risk-taking that the face of the planet was re-drawn and the dreams of future generations were re-shaped. Those without the vision, without the courage to take risks, are quick to label others as crazy, crackpots, fools and failures. In the parable of the talents this week, Jesus gives a stern warning -- discipleship does not promise complete safety. On the contrary, true disciples are called to take risks and venture beyond the known and the secure. ( http://stjohngrandbay.org/)
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” Matthew 25: 21).
The Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious as a loyal and faithful wife, in the use of our God-given gifts and talents with “the fear of the Lord.” Unlike the one-talent man, she takes her gifts and “brings forth good, not evil”; she “reaches her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” In today’s Responsorial Psalm, Ps 128, the Psalmist 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 each other up 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 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31) explained: The book of Proverbs is the best place to find 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. Unlike the “wicked, lazy servant” in the Gospel, this faithful and loving wife works diligently to bring good to others and is judged praiseworthy for increasing the quality of life within and around her. Since she practices love for both God and neighbor it has pleased God to say: “Her value is far beyond a pearl” (v 10). This reading suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious as a loyal and faithful wife in the use of our God-given gifts. Unlike the one-talent man, she takes her gifts and “brings forth good, not evil”(v 12); she “reaches her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy” (v 20). The author of Proverbs believes everyone should be creatively and lovingly active. Writing against a cultural background which stressed the exploits of men, the Sacred Author sees the "worthy wife" (v 10), 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 (I Thessalonians 5: 1-16) explained: 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" (v 2). Instead of expecting an imminent Parousia, Christians should always "stay alert and sober,” (v 6), 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!” (vv 5-6). 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" (v 4), 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.
Gospel 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 account provided good advice to the early Christian community as to how they were to behave in the period following Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension while they await his imminent second coming. Whatever had been given to them — money, talent, opportunity — was meant to bear fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. The same is true for all of us. Perhaps, Jesus was condemning the religious authorities of his time. They were like the third servant, so carefully bent on preserving in its purity the tradition with which they had been entrusted that they lost their openness for new things and refused to accept Jesus’ message. In the early community the parable was allegorized. The master was equated with Christ, his departure with the ascension, and his delayed return with the delay of the Parousia or the “second coming.”
The story: A very rich person, about to set off on a journey, entrusted very large sums of money (talents) to three of his slave servants, 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. Even one talent could be worth more than a laborer would earn in a lifetime. 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" vv 21, 23), 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 master pointed out (v 27).
The four lessons taught by Jesus through the parable. 1) God gives each person different gifts for his or her intended uses. Everything is gift, and everything is meant to be given back in service of love for the Lord. 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. The human family is charged with preserving the beauty, diversity and integrity of nature as well as fostering its productivity. (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. A person who does not refuse a gift of the Lord’s receives it and consequently has more. The trustworthiness of the profitable servants ensures their share in the “joy of the Lord.” because the wealth of life and talent given them had been invested to bear fruit in labors of faith, hope, and charity.
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 who 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, are represented by the lazy servant. “While the parable of the wise and foolish virgins shows that “good intentions are not enough,” and the last judgment story reminds us to care for the poor and needy, this parable of the talents describes the “terrible punishments which lie in store for those who do not produce new wealth from the talents God has placed in their stewardship.” (Letter by the Lay Commission on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy).
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, like, for instance, 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, or attorneys who keep the goal of justice at the very center of their practices?
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, visiting the sick or the elderly, 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. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).