33rd Sunday Year A 2014 (16 Nov 2014)
Dcn Les Ruhrmund
In the Book of Proverbs from which the first reading was taken, the virtue of wisdom is personified as a woman; she is named Lady Wisdom and offers wisdom’s delights (truth, knowledge, justice, discipline, prudence and so on). Our reading is taken from the very last verses of Proverbs which are a poem honouring the noble wife who is described in ways that epitomise many of the qualities identified with wisdom throughout the book; diligence, goodness, charity, ingenuity, integrity and faith in God. And like Lady Wisdom, she is described as priceless; far more precious than jewels.
The second reading is taken from Paul’s first Letter to the church in Thessalonica which as I mentioned a few weeks ago, is believed to be Paul’s earliest letter dated about 20 years after the Resurrection and perhaps the earliest letter of those preserved in the New Testament. The Thessalonians seemed to be under the impression that all those who followed Paul and became disciples of Christ would live until Jesus returned to take them to heaven. But because some had died already (and very likely some of those who had died had been killed for their faith in Jesus) they wanted to know what to expect. In the excerpt we heard, Paul says that no-one knows when Jesus will return; Jesus will come ‘like a thief in the night’ and that living as Christians, we expect his return at any time and being prepared, his return shouldn’t come as a surprise or a shock.
In the Gospel reading, in the parable of the talents, the master returns unannounced, at an unexpected time and immediately sets about taking an account of his servants activities.
The parable of the talents could perhaps be cited by capitalists justifying good reason for generous returns on their investments or by vocational counsellors focusing on an unsound interpretation of the word ‘talent’. Jesus’ audience were neither capitalists nor people looking for a life coach or career guidance. They were peasants and a story suggesting that the rich should get richer and that the poor and more cautious-minded will be damned to eternal punishment would hardly have been received by them as good news. I’ve heard this parable used to justify the accumulation of wealth by pastors preaching prosperity theology as they built their lucrative church businesses. The parable has nothing to do with wealth or life skills.
The master in the parable is God the Father, and the talents given to the servants are Jesus Christ himself – the Father’s most precious gift. This is the property, the treasure that has been entrusted to us by the Father. We shouldn’t confuse the master’s talents with the servant’s natural abilities. Our natural gifts and skills are the earthly capabilities unique to each of us; with practice we can become very proficient, very professional, experts. But proficiency in our natural abilities or talents doesn’t necessarily make us faithful servants of the Father; nor guardians of the Father’s talents.
The parable is about receiving and using the Father’s gift to us; about growing and cultivating God’s kingdom on earth rather than burying it in a safe place and then ignoring it. It’s an invitation to multiple God’s treasure on earth that the earth becomes more like heaven; that we become more like his Son.
I’m currently reading a book called ‘God of Surprises’ written by Gerard Hughes the Jesuit priest who died about 2 weeks ago at the age of 90. It’s a wonderful spiritual guide to finding God that I’d recommend to Christian and non-Christian alike.
Fr Gerry says that the treasure of God is hidden within each of us. In the words of St Augustine “God is closer to me than I am to myself.” That means that God is in the inner depths of our very being; in our memories, experiences, relationships, emotions, joys, sorrows and fears; hopes and dreams. It is in our inner selves that we’ll find God’s talents, the spirit of Christ. The Spirit who lived in Jesus and raised him from the dead now lives in us and is at work in every event of our lives. That is the treasure that the Father has given to us; given according to our different abilities. Notice the servant who returned two talents was rewarded exactly the same as the servant who returned five. It was the servant who buried the master’s talent that was condemned.
The challenge for each of us is to recognise, acknowledge and respond to the loving, compassionate presence of that Spirit living in our hearts and minds; in everything. Even when our words and deeds betray and contradict the very faith that we profess, the treasure is untarnished; the Spirit is ever present. That Spirit is love. We need to love and be loved because it is only through love that we can come to know God, who is love. It is in and through each other and our relationships that that we come to know God. It is through love that we discover the master’s talents and God’s will.
Fr Gerry suggests: ‘God’s will is not an impersonal blue-print for living forced on us by a capricious God and contrary to almost every inclination in us. God’s will is our freedom. He wants us to discover what we really want and who we really are. The struggle is not our will against God’s will, but our will struggling with its divided self; the will which wants all creation to praise, reverence and serve me against the will which wants to praise, reverence and serve God; the will which wants to take over from God against the will which wants to let God be God.’
The Father’s will is that we cherish and nurture the property, the gift of Jesus Christ that is entrusted to us and bring forth rich returns for the kingdom of heaven. I’d suggest that to the extent that our selfish will and pride triumph over the will of God, we are burying the master’s talents in the ground.