The Parable of the Talents as recounted by Matthew stands as our Gospel passage for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. For many, this parable is easy to dismiss any serious reflection on as a traditional interpretation of this parable is very common in the Catholic lexicon. Unfortunately, this “use your gifts and talents from God to the best of your ability or else” interpretation does not really do justice to the parable.
One key to understanding this parable is that it appears in the section of Matthew’s Gospel where he focuses on eschatological hopes and expectations. This parable follows last week’s Gospel (the wise and foolish virgins) and next week, the Solemnity of Christ the King (the separation of the sheep from the goats). Matthew uses this parable, also found in Luke’s Gospel, not as a reflection on the demands of present discipleship, but rather on the eternal reward of the faithful and industrious disciple. One specific way Matthew’s version differs from Luke’s is the promise to the two servants who invested the master’s money, “Come, share your master's joy.” This expression is key to the more eschatological setting of this parable in Matthew’s usage.
Jesus employs a common practice of large landowners of his day as the setting for this parable. Landowners would put servants in charge to test their suitability as managers. The servants in the parable would not have been his only three servants, but rather those in whom he saw the most potential to promotion on his estates. This landowner goes away for an unspecified amount of time and the servants are being tested for their readiness to perform at the next level. The two with whom he invested the most also returned the most. He already expected that they would be most prudent and ready for his return. Had he been gone longer they would have produced even more. The point is that when he returned they were ready to present to him the fruits of their investment.
The third servant was not ready. His fear of the master led to indecision and he did not know what to do. His imprudence led him to make a series of bad decisions. He consulted no one, and made no attempt to do anything. He was not ready when the master returned. Thinking that burying treasure was his only option he is left shorthanded when the master demands accounting from him.
The parable, then, is not really commenting on our daily life experiences in relationship to whatever we have received. Its focus is on the investment in our own faith life as disciples of Jesus and how ready we are to meet the Lord when he comes.
At the end of his ministry, Jesus wants to insure that his disciples are prepared and ready for what is about to come. On one hand he is preparing them for his Death (and Resurrection) and he is doing so by drawing their attention to the coming Day of the Lord. He uses different parables to drill home the same point: “are you ready for the kingdom of Heaven?”
Jesus warns then about complacency in faith. It appears that he is delivering this in three distinct ways. The parable of the virgins and the oil lamps drew our attention to faith. This week’s parable draws our attention to our knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Next week’s parable draws our focus to the exercise of that faith in service to the least of the Kingdom.
It would be proper then to suggest that the parable this week stands as a bridge. We are called to preparedness in faith, knowledge of the faith, and in living out our faith.
The knowledge of the mysteries involves not simply an academic apprehension but a prayerfulness that enriches our relationship with the Lord. As disciples, we are called to be ever ready and watchful for the Lord’s coming and for that moment when we will be called upon to demonstrate our faith to the world. Let us then be ever watchful and ready, prepared to tell the world that our investment is in the heavenly Kingdom promised to us by Jesus.
Nov. 26 – Meet the Lord first in our encounter with others
One of the great claims of atheists and agnostics is that they do not need to have faith in order to be good people. Certainly over the past few decades we have seen growth in volunteerism from many different sectors of society. It seems that there is always a walk-for-something or a go-fund-me page to help a needy situation. There has been much consternation over the slow response to relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September.
It is the time of the year from Thanksgiving to Christmas which brings out our generosity. Every social organization conducts some sort of outreach. We are people noted for our generosity both at home and abroad.
This Solemnity of Christ the King draws our attention to the final judgment. How we put our faith into practice each and every day is the question that we are asked in the final judgment as Jesus separates the sheep from the goats.
Is it enough to volunteer to do good for the sake of doing good, or do we do the good for others because Christ demands it of us? Is it enough to be a good humanitarian minus religious faith, or is what I do with my life necessarily predicated on my faith?
It is easy to do the big stuff. We can all write checks for charity drives or donate articles of used clothing for someone else to wear. We can also become desensitized from the needs of others. Walking along the streets of New York can be a way in which we avoid the desperate poverty in front of us. Overly dramatic television commercials do not move most of us to write a check. There is a sense of detachment from real suffering that insulates us from it.
We encounter Jesus Christ every day and in every person whom we meet. The big question for most of us is, “do I really believe that I am encountering Christ in all the people I meet?” Some of them are despicable (to us) and some of them are suffering at their own hands – addiction or a disease brought on by lifestyle. In the midst of suffering, poverty, homelessness, we can easily become judgmental. This attitude is, though, a defense mechanism against having to face its reality.
Jesus did not instruct us to make value judgements about the people we encounter. We are not called upon to visit only those who are in prison because of religious persecution; or to only feed the righteous poor, or clothe the naked who have lost everything for the sake of the Gospel. We are to visit the prisoner regardless of the crime and to feed and clothe all people while not considering how it is that they have gotten that way.
It is our first responsibility to be with those people. To be Christ caring for Christ in others is the demand of discipleship. When we visit Christ in prison, encounter Christ in the poor and in the homeless, it is then that we full the demands of the Gospel. In a sense it is the necessary completion of the first two demands discussed in last week’s article.
To be truly ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord we must actually go out and encounter him in the world, for it is in others that we first encounter him.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.