33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – NOVEMBER 17, 2002 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
As our liturgical year nears its end, we hear once again today a parable of judgment, like the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids last week, like the parable of the sheep and goats at the final judgment next week. The parables are meant to recall to us the seriousness of Christian living, and to bring us to take more conscious direction of our lives.
Perhaps in the ministry of Jesus, today’s Gospel of the talents was directed against the scribes and pharisees, who on this interpretation can be seen in the man who buried his master’s money. The Jewish leaders would have buried the wealth of God’s word to Israel under a mass of human traditions and legal requirements. They would be coming under judgment as Jesus appears.
The parable seems to have taken on a different meaning in Matthew’s Gospel. It now becomes an allegory of our existence as Christians during this time while the master has gone away on a journey–this referring to the Ascension of Christ. But one day he will return and will want an account given of the gifts he has left in the hands of the Church, of us Christians. The word “talent,” of course, originally had no relation to what we understand by the word today–native abilities or developed skills. It was a unit of money, perhaps worth over a thousand of our dollars. Its worth is supposed to give a sense that what Christ has entrusted to us is valuable indeed.
Those who invest the money are rewarded when the master returns. “Come and share your master’s joy,” they hear; “come and enter the joyful feast of God’s kingdom.” The servant who buries the master’s money is rebuked for not having seen that it grows. The gifts of God are meant to be fostered and nourished, multiplied in the course of a Christian life.
The parable is then an occasion for us to reflect on what we have been doing with the gifts of God, both the gifts of grace and of God’s word that gather us here together as the Church, and gifts of other sorts given to us simply as human beings on this good earth. Our existence is gift; our families are gift; our life in this blessed and prosperous country is gift; our opportunities for education and for meaningful employment are gift; our freedom from hunger and poverty are gift. Many of these gifts are not enjoyed by billions of people on this planet.
And the knowledge of God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is gift; knowing that this world, that we ourselves, have been so loved by God in Christ, is gift; entrance into a community of faith, hope, and love is gift; the assurance that our sins may be forgiven is gift; the faith that the last word pronounced over our lives is not death but life, is gift; knowing that things, all things, are in the hands of God whose ways are true and good, is gift.
The worst thing that could happen to gifts is that they be taken for granted. That phrase contains a paradox: what we take for granted we commonly don’t take as given. But where we take these things as gifts, as granted by God, then there should be a basic sense of thanksgiving at the heart of our existence. We need not have been, but God has called us into existence and sustains us, even now, at this moment. We need not have been forgiven, but God has recreated us and called us his children in Christ, his brothers and sisters. If a fundamental gratitude, peace, joy, surrounds the deepest heart of our being, then surely it will spontaneously display itself in the effort to mirror the generosity from which we have so greatly benefitted. The gifts of God then will grow and multiply as those who have been loved love, too; as those who have been forgiven forgive, too; as those who have been graced are gracious, too. These gifts are not diminished by being shared; they increase. It’s like a single candle’s light: to light other candles from that one is not to diminish its light; a single candle’s light shared can illumine a whole room.