Nov 15, 2014

33rd Sunday: Use what you have wisely

"Well done good and faithful servant . . ." 

Prov 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31

1Thes 5: 1-6
Mt 25: 14-30

Artists, architects, and musicians all have something in common. What they design and create they must simply let go of after their work is accomplished. A beautiful painting, sculpture, building or a piece of inspiring music once finished lives on beyond the artist themselves. Once complete it should not be changed but the artist him/herself must let go of the work. In a sense they live for the pleasure of others. The great works of Renaissance painters and sculptors or modern architects such as Frank Loyd Wright live long beyond them for the enjoyment of others.

Our familiar Gospel parable this Sunday about the talents entrusted for what the master hoped would be a positive outcome by his servants is seen on several levels. It is about wise investment of money, about our natural talents and gifts and about the treasure of faith we have been given. But in the end, the constant theme is about accountability.

In Jesus’ time a talent was a measure of weight – about 80 pounds to be exact. When used in trade it was considered to be the value of its weight in silver. At the present day price of silver to be about $16/ounce and each talent to be equal to 80 lbs of silver that comes to about $20,400 per talent!

So this extravagant master entrusts a generous amount (do the math) of talents to each servant: 5, 2, and 1, each according to his ability. In other words, how much one has been given is less important than how they use the given gift but they all were given an extraordinary amount of money.

We see that two out of the three servants were enterprising and gave their master a 100% return while the one given just one talent simply did nothing with what he had. While he didn’t spend it foolishly he simply buried his one talent ($20 K) in the ground so no one could find it or even know of its presence then just returned basically nothing to his master. The end result for each servant is both reward, advancement, and for the laziest one, severe punishment.

As always such a parable can be taken in a number of ways but since our Lord was the teacher here it certainly has a spiritual context. Jesus, well aware of the value of money even in ancient times, used what was familiar to the people in order to stress the greater treasure he was offering. Jesus’ treasure of salvation, of spiritual growth, of the proposal to live a better life in accordance with God’s will and come to know the way of love was of greater value than what would have been reasonable – the sharing of such an exorbitant amount of wealth by a master to his slaves. But the common call to responsibility that we all have to use the gift of our faith wisely seems to also be at play here.

Like the artists, architects, or musicians we are called to let go of vain glory and self-recognition. Unlike artists and such we are not to seek our own glory with our talents – be they money, natural abilities, or opportunities but rather to do all for the glory of God and to inspire others in the ways of the Gospel.

Unlike the servant who hid his money out of fear of the master we use our abilities, wealth, opportunities and multiply them for the good of the Gospel. How we use what we have been given will be the end result of our judgment.

It is interesting that following this parable in Matthew is the scene of the Last Judgment with the separation of the sheep and the goats. There we are reminded that judgment will be based upon how compassionate and generous we have been towards the little ones: “I was hungry and you gave me food; thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me . . .” (Mt. 25: 31-46).

Seen as a whole, as we hear in the first reading from Proverbs about the worthy wife who: “. . . reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

Something may have value by itself but even greater value is given when it is honored, nurtured, cared for, and offered to others. So the same is true with our life of faith and with our material wealth.

How do I want to be judged in the end? What would I like to hear the Lord say to me?

“Well done good and faithful servant . . . come share your master’s joy.” Or “You worthless, lazy servant.” Hmm, seems to me that the answer is obvious. Such a thought may give even more immediacy to the dismissal of each holy Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

Grant us we pray, O Lord our God,

the constant gladness of being devoted to you,

for it is full and lasting happiness

to serve with constancy

the author of all that is good.

(Roman Missal: Collect of Mass)