November 19, 2017 — Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
PRV 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; PS 128: 1-5; 1 THES 5: 1-6; MT 25: 14-30
It is no surprise that the issue of our readiness for Christ’s Coming is again a focus of the Gospel on this Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, as Advent is imminent (two weeks away). Advent is often perceived as getting prepared for the birth of Christ at Christmas, but it is equally a time when we should be concentrating on preparing for Christ’s Coming.
Last week our First Reading was from the Book of Wisdom, and Proverbs is in part an extension of that seeking truth and wisdom. It is in fact an example of the Biblical wisdom tradition as it raises questions of values, moral behavior, the meaning of life, and what is proper conduct. God acquired wisdom before anything else. Seeking truth and wisdom might also be defined as the essence of human life.
The First Reading from Proverbs deals with a description of a virtuous woman. Often people focus on the general aspects of this description rather than the specifics that are included within it. Included is the statement that “…her value is far beyond pearls,” as well as “She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” This second statement is in effect a stewardship statement and one that we all need to take to heart. In fact, this is applicable to our entire parish community. Our Holy Father Pope Francis stated something quite similar when he said, “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.”
The focus of St. Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, from which our Second Reading comes, is most definitely about our readiness for Christ’s Coming. Paul points out that we are “children of the light and children of the day,” not “of the night or of darkness.”
The Second Reading closes with an exhortation from Paul “…let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” You may recall Paul used the word “sleep” to describe death at another point in this letter. However, here he uses a completely different word that is also translated as “sleep.” He is addressing our spiritual preparedness for the Coming of Christ. Spiritually we need to be “awake and sober.” For Paul sleep implies that as Christians and disciples of Christ, we need to be different. Sleep for Paul means ignorance, insensibility, and inactivity. Being awake spiritually is part of being a good steward, of being alive and active and participating in the life of the Church, living out Jesus’ call.
Of course, the heart of our Scriptural Word this week is found in the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. Again Jesus utilizes a parable to teach us what He means, and this particular parable, The Parable of the Talents, is as strong a teaching of stewardship as Jesus ever offered. The basic story is of a master who departs on a long trip and he entrusts his servants with certain talents, not all equal, but all of equal importance. The word “talent” certainly gets our attention because of our traditional stewardship identification of time, talent, and treasure. However, in this case it is strictly about treasure. The Hebrew term for “talent” was kikkār, meaning a round gold or silver disk, or disk-shaped loaf. In the Greek language the word comes from tálanton, a large monetary measurement equal to 6,000 drachmas or denarii, the Greek and Roman silver coins.
Of the three servants two take the money they are given and increase its value in the master’s absence, but the third chooses not to risk it and merely preserves it. To both of those who returned it to the master with increase, the master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is not, however, his response to the third servant. It should be obvious to us that the master is God, and we are the servants. Everything we have comes from God, gifts from God. The stewardship question is “What do we do with the gifts God gives us?” Do we use them, share them, increase them, and return them to the Lord, or do we merely, as the third servant did: “I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.” God wants more from us than a return of our original gifts. He wants a “return with increase.” To accomplish that we need to work at it and we need to practice stewardship as a way of life.