November 16, 2014 – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Come share your master’s joy.” With those words the master in the Parable of the Talents, found in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, invites his servants to join him, to be with Him in heaven. That is the primary stewardship message found in today’s readings, but each of the readings provides insights into what is truly important, or at least what should be crucial in our lives and in how we live them.
As we hear it and assimilate it, the first reading from Proverbs may seem very unlike the Gospel, but there is an implication within the reading which we frequently miss. The covert meaning of this scriptural passage is found in the statement, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.” The true challenge to us in living Christian lives of stewardship is to determine what is truly significant in relation to our lives. In this instance the reference is to the ideal for a wife. That model woman has as her most noteworthy component virtue. A virtuous and good woman is rewarded in the same way as the faithful stewards in the Gospel. She is to be “praised” and given a “reward.” Being able to separate this mental appreciation from an emotional one is difficult, and that is one of the many struggles we face in living lives of stewardship.
Thessalonica was the capital city of the Roman Province of Macedonia. Saint Paul traveled there after he was ousted from Philippi. Paul was in Philippi for only three days, but he was in Thessalonica for a much longer time. In fact, we know that he was there for at least three weeks and probably longer, as he makes reference to preaching there on three successive Sabbath days. He uses a phrase in today’s second reading, “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night,” which has a meaning parallel to the message in the first reading. Jesus made it clear that there was no way we could anticipate nor know when He would come again (“…that day and hour no one knows.” Matthew 24:36). Paul’s point to the Thessalonians and to us is that we must be prepared. That is not easy for us when we are caught up in the day to day burdens and tasks of our lives, but pursuing a life of stewardship is one of the means by which we can be prepared. Stewardship is a God-centered way of living. It calls for us to be aware and grateful every minute of every day. Through prayer and a planned way of living we are constantly renewed and brought back to what should be most important.
Saint Paul goes on to write of darkness and light. Darkness is when we live in sin, when we do not accept nor recognize the constant presence (and strengthening support) of God. Are we like the Thessalonians to whom Paul refers, “…all of you are children of the light,” or do we stray from what should be the real purpose of our lives — to experience rebirth and conversion over and over so that we are truly prepared for that time which none of us can know.
Depending upon definition Jesus shared roughly 40 parables with us. Of those more than half address the issue of possessions and finances. It was not that the Lord had great interest in those, but He knew that we do, and that it was an issue to which we could relate. Today’s Gospel includes the Parable of the Talents. A “talent” in this instance is not a skill or ability, but a unit of money — in fact, a large amount of money. Jesus was fond of referring to the master or the father in His parables, and that was a direct reference to God. In this parable the master provides three servants, three stewards, with varying amounts. It is the same for us; each of us has been given varying amounts of gifts for which we are responsible. Stewardship of those gifts is how we use them, and especially how we use them to serve God, to help build His Kingdom.
Just as in the first two readings, it is clear that we have a choice. The two stewards who are rewarded with places in the Kingdom of God (“Come share your master’s joy.”) do not neglect their gifts. They develop them and return them with increase to the master, to the Lord. Stewardship calls us to do the same thing.