33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19th November 2017

Who am I, really?

First Reading

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

A perfect wife – who can find her?
She is far beyond the price of pearls.
Her husband’s heart has confidence in her,
from her he will derive no little profit.
Advantage and not hurt she brings him
all the days of her life.
She is always busy with wool and with flax,
she does her work with eager hands.
She sets her hands to the distaff,
her fingers grasp the spindle.
She holds out her hand to the poor,
she opens her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty empty;
the woman who is wise is the one to praise.
Give her a share in what her hands have worked for,
and let her works tell her praises at the city gates.

Second Reading

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.
But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.

‘The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

‘Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”

‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

‘Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

‘Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” said he “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Who am I, really?”

by Sr Mary Bridget Dunlea FMA

As you heard the Readings for today’s Mass, how often did you think – maybe even say – the word, “unfair”? Three people – two treated well and one given little. The anger of the master towards the least “gifted.”

A woman in the First Reading does all the work and her husband “derives no little profit” from her.

Coming to the end of the Liturgical Year causes us to think about returns; about what God expects.

God’s gifts are not a quantity to be measured. There are no limits to His gifting of each of us.

Pope St John XXIII once wrote, “We are not on this earth as museum keepers, but to cultivate a garden of life and prepare a glorious future.” That could sound demanding, unfair, a tall order, if God had’nt gifted each of us for the task. So could the Parable of the Talents speak to us of the talents God has “entrusted  to each of us.”? What we have is not our own, not personal wealth, but, God’s precious gifts. He has entrusted them to us to trade with and share them so that His goodness and love are multiplied.

We all have wealth in abundance. We have our personal gifts of nature and of grace – physical, mental, spiritual gifts intended to be blessings for family and for society. God’s desire for us is that we share our treasures – in openness to others, neighbourliness, having an eye for another’s need. The wife in the Reading from the Book of Proverbs, ”does her work with eager hands. She opens her arms to the needy.” Our talents are expressed in opportunities – our chance to work “with eager hands.”

We are surrounded by our environment which God has made so good, riches for all of us to share.

So let us begin the long process of discovering who we really are, and what we are gifted to do and to be.

When the time for accounting comes we will go eagerly to enter into the joy of our Master.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

This gospel passage is known as the parable of the talents but the title is somewhat misleading. In fact, the focus of the story is not on the goods left by the owner, but rather on the responsibility of the servants to whom they are given.  In this parable Jesus sought to prepare his disciples so that, when he was no longer with them, they would know how to wait for him and, at the same time, not neglect what they had received from him. They would experience an emptiness during their time of waiting, and they would have to keep busy to fill that void. Jesus knew well that believers normally miss God only when they miss his gifts – that is how inconsiderate we are! The fact is that, unfortunately, we are often not aware of his presence because we do not pay sufficient attention to what he has given us.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

This is the third parable in which Matthew tries to shore up the hopes of the early Christian community. The Lord Jesus had foretold his return, many times, but it still had not happened and they were discouraged by the delay. A prolonged delay can shatter hopes. Matthew insists on vigilance and encourages them to be busy and active as they wait.

The story is in two parts. The first (25, 14-18) tells of the master’s decision, as he is about to depart, to divide his goods among his employees. He is not giving away his property. Rather, he entrusts it to them to care for it.  It is important to note, first of all, that the owner does not tell any of them expressly what they are to do with his goods. Secondly, he does not give them all the same amount. He gives to each one according to his ability.   The second part of the story is more elaborate (25, 19-30).  It is in the form of a well-constructed dialogue in which the servants give an account to the master. The first two express themselves in almost identical terms. This serves to highlight the stance of the third servant, the one who was condemned because he did little work and made no profit from the goods he had received.

The message of the parable is not spelt out in a concluding statement. To understand it we need to bear in mind that the three servants were given gifts without asking for them, and were not told in advance what to do with them.  The last one did not lose anything of what he had been given.  Fear of his master, who was a demanding man, kept him from trading with what was not his own. It seems out of proportion, even unjust, that such a cautious ‘conservative’ approach should be condemned so severely.  And the worst thing is not just what happened in the story told by Jesus, but that the same thing will happen again when he returns. He does not want us to wait for him, holding on to what we have received. He wants us to trade with the talent he has given us and make it grow, even at the risk of losing it. Anyone who holds on to what he has received will lose it when the Lord and master returns.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

The early Christians were growing weak in the spirit of waiting-in-hope for the Lord’s coming.  With the parable of the talents, Jesus warns them to nurture their hope. It is not enough to know that we are servants, gifted by the Lord.  We show gratitude, not by holding on to the gifts we have received, but by trading with them, making them grow, even at the risk of losing them.  Preserving them intact without any increase is not the kind of return the master wants of his servants.

The master has divided his goods and gone off on his journey.  His absence is the opportune time for his servants to get to work. If we wait for him with nothing else in mind than to give him back what we have received, we will lose the gifts and the Lord himself. As we wait for the Lord who is to come, it is important to acknowledge that we have been gifted by him. If we want to be able to welcome him without fear, we must work hard to increase what we have received.

We lose trust in God at times when we lack something we need, without bothering to ask ourselves if it is really important for us.  We think God has lost interest in us, just because all our desires are not fulfilled. We are disappointed in God because he does not satisfy our trivial illusions.  We lose God because we do not know how to wait for him.  With this parable Jesus wants to restore our hope and trust in God. He is determined that we should live in hope.  In today’s gospel passage he tells us the way and points out the dangers we run if we do not follow it.

The story of the master who goes on a journey, and of the three servants who remain in charge of their master’s goods, unfolds in three stages. They correspond to the three stages of the way that Jesus wants us to go.  The first takes place before the master leaves. It is true that he leaves his servants, but he leaves them well provided for. He shares his fortune among them. There is nothing unusual about a master leaving the house. He is the only one who can do so without seeking anyone’s permission. The master can go and come as he pleases.

What is unusual is that, in this case, the master does not abandon his servants. He leaves some of his property to each of them. They will not enjoy his presence for a while, but they will enjoy his goods. The servants, precisely because they are servants, must get to work on what has been entrusted to them. Their activity and their hard work, and the risk they run, will earn them credit in the eyes of the master when he returns. Because they care about their master’s goods they will not feel too bad about his absence. He has left his fortune in their hands. They have time for nothing else but to trade with it and make it bear fruit. Servants who know how to administer their master’s goods will never feel abandoned. They enjoy his gifts today and tomorrow they will enjoy his presence.

The lesson is not hard to understand. We feel that God has forgotten us only when we are not busy making use of the gifts he has given us. To excuse ourselves from our responsibility we pretend we have received very little, nothing deserving of God’s attention. We refuse to recognise his gifts, so that we will not have to account for them. That is why we feel abandoned by God.  At other times, we desire so much what we have not got that we fail to take account of that we have.  We suffer the absence of God because of our inability to recognise him as the origin and cause of everything we are and everything we possess. What right have we to complain about being abandoned, when God has entrusted so many gifts to us? How can we fail to trust God when he has trusted us so much? The way to discover God in our lives is by discovering the gifts he has given us. The fortune he has put into our hands is the result of his trust in us. Having God as our Lord and Master is our greatest fortune.

The fact is, as the parable insists, while the Lord is absent the servants should not cease working for him. We are now at the second stage.  Each of the three received what he was capable of administering.  Can they accuse their benefactor of being unjust because he gave them only what they could administer, neither more nor less, and, let’s not forget, no more and no less than they would have to account for?

We need to take seriously God’s way of acting. Like the master in the parable, he is just, not because he gives the same to each, but because he will demand of each in proportion to what he has given.  God gives each one only what he is capable of receiving.  This is not unjust, and God will not be unjust when he demands an account of each one.

We do not need to worry about how much we have received, nor should we worry if others have received more. They will have more to answer for.  Since he will demand of each one according to what he has received, God is good enough to give each one only what he is capable of administering — no more, no less. This is a good reason for us to love God more and to be less envious of our neighbour.  We can live happy lives with what we have received, and this is all we will have to account for. God has made it possible for us to be happy without having the gifts we see in others. What he has given us is enough for us, indeed maybe more than enough, when we remember that we will have to give an account of it.  If we have received less, we will have less to account for.

It is worth remembering, the story does not end with the return of the master.  He came to demand an account of his servants and to see if their response matched his generosity.  God’s gifts are preserved only when they are put to use. The third servant was reproved, not because he had achieved little, nor because he had lost what was given to him, but because he had not been courageous enough to trade with the talent he had received.  His laziness was disguised as prudence. He wanted to preserve God’s gift without any risk of losing it. In the end, he lost the talent he had received and the trust of his master, and he himself was lost. He did not live up to the generosity of his master.  In entrusting his goods to the servant, the master had taken a greater risk than the servant was expected to take. God demands in proportion to what he has given. He does not ask for an account of what has not been given, and this is also to our advantage.

There is a problem, however. God gives to each one according to his capabilities. He wants us to serve him with skill and intelligence, but he does not want us to avoid all risk in using the gifts we have received. The only proper way to respond to God’s generosity is to use his gifts and make them increase, even when this involves risk. Preserving his grace intact, but without any growth, is not the kind of fidelity the master expects of his servants. The master has shared out his gifts and gone off on his journey. While he is away is the time for his servants to get to work. If we wait for him with the intention of giving back only what we have received, we will lose our gifts and lose also our master. The only way to keep the gifts God has given us in life is to make them increase and grow. To risk nothing for fear of losing our gifts is the sure way to lose them and to lose our very selves forever. Like the owner in the parable, Jesus wants us to be busy workers, not just custodians of his gifts.

PRAYER

Lord our God,
give us grace to serve you always with joy,
because our full and lasting happiness
is to make of our lives
a constant service to the Author of all that is good.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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