Sunday, November 16, 2008

Come, share your Master’s joy.

1. A familiar characteristic of the scripture readings at this time of year is that they focus on the end of the world. Every week, the Gospel presents us another instance of Jesus telling His followers what to expect and what is important. For example, we can expect to be judged based on our actions. In the parable Jesus proposes today, God is like a Master wishing to settle His accounts with His servants (that is, with us). Those who have been fruitful in their labors will enter into the joy of the Master. Those who have not, will be cast out into the darkness.
2. Light and darkness are common threads that run through these stories. The wise virgins who had extra oil will go into the wedding feast. And the foolish one who did not will stay outside in the dark (see Matthew 25:1-12). The wedding guests who are properly dressed will enjoy the feast, while those who are not will be cast into the dark (see Matthew 22:2-14). The ones who obey the will of the Father will enter the fullness of the kingdom and those who do not will be left out in the darkness to wail and gnash their teeth (see for example Matthew 7:21).
3. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul reminds us that we are children of the light, children of the day (see 1 Thessalonians 5:5). We do not belong to the darkness of sin, but rather we have been illuminated by Christ to live in His light forever.
4. Another commonality of these readings we will notice is that Jesus is asking us to be prepared. Saint Paul reiterates this warning, saying : let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober (1 Thess 5:6). We do not know when the end will come. Maybe today, maybe a thousand years from now. (But whenever we die, that will be it for us with regard to our actions in this life.)
5. The best way of dealing with the end of the world is to always be prepared. If you do not want to get caught lying, never lie. If you do not want to get caught cheating, never cheat. If you want to make sure that you tell your parents or someone that you love before they die, then do it every day and you will have nothing to fear. If you are always ready, then you cannot be caught off guard.
6. What may be notable in this parable is the talents given to each servant to invest and use. In the ancient world, a talent was a monetary amount that was very valuable. A talent of silver was worth about $11k. A talent of gold was worth about $800k. That is a lot of money to be given. Generally, the word “talent” has changed from a sum of money to mean a skill or gift that someone is born with or comes by easily.
7. Why was more money given to one than another? That is a mystery. Just like it is a mystery that some of us have certain talents and others do not. I can speak in public and I do not get afraid. But I am not good at any sports. I enjoy them. I play hard, but I do not have much talent in that area. Each of you has some kind of talent or skill. Maybe you can cook, maybe you are fast. Maybe you can sing of play and instrument. Maybe you are good at science, or languages, or telling jokes, or drawing pictures. It is considered part of our Christian vocation to discover what God has given us in the way of talent. And it is not bragging or prideful to admit what you have been given. In fact, to fail to acknowledge what you have received is impolite and ungrateful.
8. What is not a mystery is that in addition to giving the talent, the Master expects it to be developed. It is not simply ours to use as we want, but rather we are the stewards of something given to us. The wicked servant knew that he had received a gift, and that the Master would expect something. Indeed, the Master’s expectations were not unusually high. Even if the servant had invested the talents in a minimal way, it would have been acceptable. But as it was, he buried them out of fear. Instead of being welcomed into the Master’s joy, he was cast out into the darkness.
9. So it is with us. Although we have to be prepared for judgement, it is not like the Lord has left us to our own devices. He has provided the means for our success. And not in any miserly way, but generously. The judgement that will come upon is not intended to be an opportunity for condemnation, rather, the Father desires that it be a moment of joy. What will ruin it for us is fear, or rather, lack of trust. The wicked lazy servant did not trust in the Master, or in the gift so generously shared. Instead he judged the Master and made no attempt to fulfill the Master’s will. He did not even beg for mercy, he just handed back unused the talent which he had received. Therefore the condemnation he experienced came from within himself.
10. What did God entrust to you? What is your talent? What blessings have you received? They might be very grand. Or they might appear very small. But our assessment of their size is not important. What we do with them is important. We have received everything from the hands of the generous and loving God. Everything in turn ought to be used for His greater honor and glory and to produce fruit for the kingdom.

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