THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR November 16, 2008

Proverbs 31:10-13.19-20.30-31   1 Thessalonians 5:1-6   Matthew 24:14-30

This Sunday in effect is the last ordinary Sunday of the Liturgical year. Coming Sunday the 34th Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Today we are reminded not just of the end of the liturgical year but of the end of all things and the preparations we need to make. Today’s readings echo a wise message of spiritual investments. Our Lord Jesus has invested in us, his chosen children the very special gifts. He expects to reap good harvest in return. Anyone who is involved in business knows that money management stresses the importance of getting good returns from the original investment. If the business cannot show a profit, it is a loser. And losers are dumped in favour of better business opportunities that promise profits. All of us are keen in getting good returns for our investments. We as persons want these amounts to grow when we are saving them for some purpose or other.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us the parable of the master who entrusts his property to his slaves. Each person is given the amount according to his abilities and the master expects them to use the amount properly and wisely. Similarly God has entrusted us with the gifts to be used in the service of his kingdom. This life certainly provides us with opportunities to invest our talents in a wise, prudent and generous way.  We do this in our families, at work, in society and in our community, every time we show our love for God and others.  We take the third person of the parable who hid the talent secretly and incurred the wrath of the master. He was given an opportunity and he lost it totally through his short sightedness. The other two used the talents according to their ability and received the appreciation of the master.  One is called upon to use his ingenuity and creativity for the sake of the kingdom.

The Second Reading reminds us that the Day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night”, when we least expect it, when we are least ready. “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.” Since we are children of the light and children of the day, we should not worry about when the Lord shall return.  It is sufficient for us to know that when the Lord does suddenly come and take us to himself.

The First Reading suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious as a loyal and faithful wife. A perfect wife, Proverbs says, “is far beyond the price of pearls”. She is hard working, mainly for her family, but she also “holds out her hand to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy”. This capable wife is trustworthy. The husband can count on her to be faithful and productive for the betterment of the home. She is not afraid to learn how to sew and make clothing for the members of the family in order to save money. She never sits idle, using every opportunity presented to her to increase the family wealth. Because of her qualities, she is far more precious than jewels.

We return to the Gospel passage which goes further in pinpointing the ultimate purpose of our activities. It is the parable of the talents that is money and that too not a small sum.  Literally, one talent was a very large sum of money, equivalent to thousands of Rupees or dollars of today.  We see in the parable an employer handing over his property to each of three servants to take care of it while he is away. They are not given equal amount and this implies that their capacities are different.  They are not told how to handle the amount.  Each on has to decide for himself and take responsibility for the decision.  It is also implied that different returns are expected from different abilities.  Certainly there is no competition between them and each one moves in his independent way. The parable urges a responsible use of the goods the Master has entrusted to us so that we may be ready to face him when he calls us to account.

Let us examine how the three persons handled the responsibility. The first two, with five talents and two talents, respectively, traded diligently and doubled their capital. The third, however, the one who received the least, “went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money”. We must note that In the Greek text, the word used for “gained” or “made” was used in religious contexts for winning converts. Thus the parable suggests that we are talking about the kind of “profit” a Christian is meant to be aiming at, has not much to do with money. The man, therefore, who dug his single talent, was guilty of keeping it purely for himself and not risking its exposure to others. He was not willing to proclaim his religion to others.

While settling the accounts and checking on the returns to the amount given to the slaves, the master   is very pleased with the first two who had done so well as to double their original capital. Because of this they can now be confidently entrusted with greater responsibility. They can enter the joy of their lord, namely the Kingdom of God. The master is very angry with the third person. He says he could at least have left it with the banker and secured interest on the capital. He produced absolutely nothing and also goes to the extent of accusing the harshness of the master and his hardness to slaves.

The parable tells us is that God gives us different gifts. We are only asked to make full use of what we have been uniquely and personally given. When the task is accomplished, it is not the end. There is more to come, greater responsibility. The one who does nothing will be punished. Finally, to the one who has more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. That is the way of the kingdom. There can be another interpretation to the parable. Namely, that it is a criticism of a religious tradition which refuses to develop. This is a constant phenomenon of all religions, including our own that it must grow. As the man expected his slaves to invest the talents that he had entrusted them with in order to be fruitful, the Lord Jesus also expects us to be fruitful for the sake of the kingdom.

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