Nov 10, 2011

33rd Sunday: Receive - Give - Receive even more

Parable of the Talents
Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20,30-31

Thes 5: 1-6
Matthew 25: 14-30
As we approach the end of our liturgical we hear a parable about money with a desired better return on those investments.  But, the parable can be a bit disturbing.  It might be better called, the parable of “the rich man who wanted to be richer and those who cooperated with him in that scheme.” To the ears of Jesus’ audience, this story may have been quite a shock. We may be a bit surprised as well that Jesus used such a potentially uncomfortable story.
In ancient times it was believed that wealth was limited and the distribution of that wealth was preordained.  Ancient economic systems were designed in which one could amass wealth quickly but the general population remained abjectly poor.  There was no such thing as a middle class distinction.
So, those who are obscenely wealthy like the man in the parable of Jesus could only amass his wealth through suspicious means or through extortion.  In the parable Jesus told, two of the servants doubled their master’s money.  An amazing investment and we might wonder how they did it. The ancients would have suspected foul play and dishonesty.  But it seems that Jesus uses them as an example for reward.
As the wisest of all teachers, Jesus was a very practical man.  As God fully embraced humanity, he embraced all that is part of his own world, good as well as evil ,and sometimes used shocking examples from life in order to get our attention. Money talk always gets our attention. 
But, this parable is less a story about money and more a challenge to our sense of how we grow in our spiritual life – in our relationship with God and our neighbor as baptised members of his Church.  
I recently heard a perfect explanation.  Our late Holy Father John Paul II described human love as ideal when it is self-sacrificing.  When I give of myself to another it is true love. That’s true in marriage and it’s also true in my vocation as priest. If each spouse in a marriage remains totally concerned only for themselves, the marriage will die. By its nature, marriage implies the giving of self. If I lived only for myself as a priest and didn’t care at all about the people I am called to serve, then I may as well go look someplace else.
The same law is true in our spiritual life.  The servants in the parable were rewarded because they got the point.  They were given talents, they invested them, and they received back more than what they first gave.
Blessed John Paul II called it, the law of the gift. The spiritual life follows one law: The divine life increases in us in the measure we give it away. When God comes to us, he comes to us in the form of a gift. He makes himself present in our lives through our strong faith, through the presence of others, through his Church and the sacraments, in our private prayer.  Every time we encounter God it is as a gift that is given.
So, the question is, how will I receive that gift? Or to use the parable today, how will I invest my masters “money” in order to bring back a return on that investment? The law of spiritual growth only works in one way: that what I have received as a gift, I must give away, and then I will receive more in return.
But, our natural tendency is to hold on to what we have.  We love to receive but sometimes are hesitant to give it away because then we won’t have it any more. That isn't true in the divine life. The spiritual life is governed by the principal of giving away. 

We need look no farther for proof in the lives of our saintly brothers and sisters. Great missionaries of charity such as St. Vincent de Paul, Brother Andre, Martin de Porres, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and a host of other inspiring examples of selfless charity are living testimonies to the law of the gift.  

If you've ever involved yourself in service to the poor you will know this principle.  You receive more in return for such generosity than you give: satisfaction, gratitude, the knowlege that you've made a positive difference for someone else. If we give in faith, we receive the blessing of God: "What you did for the least of my brothers/sisters you did for me."  In our prayer time, we may feel that we don't have much to bring to the Lord except our meger desire for him or our own sense of sin. But, what God gives us in return is the fullness of his presence beyond measure.
Jesus used this parable of the talents to show that the only way to live as his disciple is by this law of the gift.  In order to grow in his grace we must live by self-sacrificial love as he did.  He remains the prime example of what that means all the way to the cross. 
Our Eucharist is the visual form of the law of the gift.  Jesus comes to us as sacramental gift so that we might receive that gift not just for ourselves but that we might then go away from here and live in that same way.  Simply put, what we have received as a gift must be given away as a gift – and then we will receive even more.
So the question for all of us here is how will I choose to live my life? Called to live holy lives there is only one law that will make that happen – to trust in faith that the divine life will increase in us in the measure that we give it away.