God the Father has endowed us with many gifts. Not only does scripture recommend that we give thanks for these (as in our readings from Proverbs and Psalms), but it recommends that these gifts must be put to use for the greater good and the love of God.
The Word for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
We open with a reading from the book of Proverbs. This book falls within the category of “wisdom literature” in the Bible. Like it’s other wisdom book counterparts, it is a collection of wise sayings used as a type of “catechism” to teach right living. Proverbs is thought to originate during the period of the Monarchy, but doesn’t reach its final form until the post-exilic period. Our passage for this coming Sunday gives us the example of the value of a “worthy wife,” and how we should honor that value. “Wisdom” in this period is considered more practical than theological, but to us modern Christians we recognize how wisdom is an important part of forming our character. Our Psalm echoes the spirit of Thanksgiving that comes with such gifts as we see in our passage from Proverbs.
Our second reading comes from Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians. In this passage Paul is beginning his conclusion of this letter by reminding the community to be vigilant in their faith. He believes Christ’s return is imminent, so he is reminding them to maintain their watch… to stay in the light.
Our Gospel from Matthew is the Parable of the Talents. It is the final parable Jesus gives in Matthew’s Gospel just before the story of the Passion begins to unfold. On the surface, this parable would seem to support our basic capitalistic model for society… the servants who are able to double their wealth are rewarded, and the servant who buried his talent is thrown out.
To understand the deeper meaning of this parable, we first need to get beyond our modern views of capitalism and economics, and look at it how the ancients would have looked at it. Here we see nothing of what we would expect as “Christian charity” or “forgiveness”. These are not the lessons being taught in this parable… these are other lessons for another day. Remember the society who first heard this story. They have no concept of democracy or capitalism. What they do know is the master-servant relationship. What they know is what it’s like to not be in control. Jesus is trying to teach them that they do have some control and that they have a duty to make a difference. To make something of the gifts (or responsibilities) given to them.
It is somewhat ironic that the coinage in our story is called a talent… while an accepted translation of the term for this kind of coin, modern English has a much different definition for the word “talent”… what we might also consider our “gifts from God”… those abilities and personal capabilities that not only make us unique, but can and should be put to use for the greater good, both now and for the future. We are in fact, stewards of the Church, called to use our gifts for her continued growth.
When the Church talks about “stewardship”, it usually centers on the importance of our financial giving… but that is an old-school, narrow view of stewardship. It is our duty as Church not only to grow the church, but to insure its continuation beyond our own lives. More recently, this has grown to include the stewardship of God’s creation… that is the stewardship of the planet and its natural resources. That is not to say that our financial support of the Church isn’t still important… it is, but we also need to focus our time, talent, and treasure on her greater mission: Building the Kingdom of God. In a society that focuses on personal success and material wealth, this is indeed a challenge. As Christians we’re not only called to give thanks for our gifts, we must also use them for the greater good.
Thanking God for our gifts and putting those gifts to use is a very appropriate theme as we prepare not only for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the end of our Liturgical year. It's important for us to take this time and remember what and who is important in our lives, and give praise to the God who makes this possible. There used to be a time where we could at least get through Thanksgiving dinner before we get inundated with Christmas holiday advertising... but I've noticed particularly this year an unabashed assault of holiday adverts before we had a chance to finish the Halloween candy. As Catholics we might do better to put this frantic commercialism behind us and follow more closely to our Liturgical calendar... a calendar more attuned to our seasonal shifts... one that allows (in fact, insists) that we slow down and do some soul searching as winter begins to wash over us.