by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-6
“You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?” Matthew 25: 14-30
The twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel consists of three parables which are attributed to Jesus. They relate to the end times and the second coming of Jesus. While they are directed to all of us for reflection and action, if needed, they were also used by Matthew as a wake-up call to some of the members of his community who were not pulling their weight. There is a clear pairing between the first reading from Proverbs and the gospel-reading, with the second reading from Thessalonians serving as a commentary on the purpose of the life and talents with which we have all been blessed.
Let’s begin our engagement with today’s gospel parable by looking closely at the master who entrusted his three servants with three substantial sums of money according to the assessment he had made of their abilities. It’s important, also, to look at how the master explained his own success as the parable unfolded. He used his flair for business, his imagination and took risks. The two servants entrusted with the five and two talents (both large amounts) imitated their master’s style. They took calculated risks and used their imagination and, as a result, enjoyed the kind of success their boss did. The third servant had no sense of adventure, no initiative, no capacity for calculated risk and let fear and indolence control him. He could not even bring himself to go to the trouble of gaining guaranteed bank interest. He could not bring himself to risk imitating or resonating with his master.
We have all been blessed with the gift of life and with its accompanying attributes of intelligence, creativity, imagination, ability to engage with others and a variety of other skills. But exercising any or all of those skills calls for daring, calculated risk, capacity to adapt, change and even altering direction. Jesus’ own life, his work as a carpenter and his public ministry called him to take risks, be adventurous, challenge authority, exercise his wits and intelligence and even alter some of his opinions.
In all of that lies a message for us. Jesus also took the risk of trusting that his chosen disciples would eventually, despite their early indications of lack of promise, take risks, take on creative leadership and refuse to bury themselves in fear. As followers of Jesus, who we are, the life we have, the personal attributes with which we have been blessed are to be used with risk, imagination and daring for the building of God’s reign and for the service of others in need. If we can bring ourselves to live like that, we will find ourselves identifying with and resonating with the God who has blessed us with the gifts we are and have.
Being a participant in God’s enterprise for humanity is to embark on a creative venture with the God who loved us into life and who invites us into a mutual relationship of love and trust and, at times, daring. But that involves not letting ourselves be drawn into even thinking that God is some sort of a policeman who comes to check on how we are using the abundance of our blessings. Failure to risk, develop and share the blessings entrusted to us carries its own inbuilt penalty – personal impoverishment, isolation, inability to engage creatively with others, suffocation of talents.
In contrast, today’s first reading offers us the role model of a woman who lives her life with energy, imagination risk and flair, one who epitomises all the wisdom contained within the covers of the Book of Proverbs from Alef to Tav, from Alpha to Omega, from A to Z. In a poem that concludes Proverbs, we are given a pen-picture of “the perfect wife”, a woman who reflects the goodness, love, energy, faithfulness and creativity of the God in whose image she has been created. The poem states that “her husband puts his confidence in her” (Proverbs 31: 11), similar to the trust and confidence the two successful servants in the gospel parable placed in their master and he in them.
From the outset, the third servant in the gospel parable had decided that he wanted nothing at all to do with his master’s business. Even before he admitted to burying the money with which he had been entrusted, he told the master what he thought of him, revealing his own reluctance and inability to have a share in his master’s joy and success.
In today’s second reading from Thessalonians, Paul reminded the Christians of that community that they were not people of the darkness, without the prospect of light and hope. And that same message is for us, too. We are not meant to live in fear of the end times, for God is not a monitor or harsh examiner of the gifts and talents given to us out of love. Just as we do not belong to the darkness, neither do our talents. They are to be set free in the light for our benefit and enjoyment, and for the good of our world and of all our sisters and brothers.