Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 16)

“Well done my good and faithful servant…. Come share your master’s joy.”

The end of the liturgical year is quickly approaching. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which is the last Sunday of the liturgical year; the following Sunday begins the new year with Advent.

When we consider the “end” of something we think of finality or completion, for example finishing a project or job or an event. After the work is completed we might evaluate the performance of the past or we might be evaluated on that performance.

The Scripture readings for the past few weeks have had the common theme of the “end times.” Part of this theme is judgment; an evaluation of our lives by God. Yet in all these readings there is the corresponding thought that we should be motivated to live now in preparation for the final judgment. Jesus will return at the end but while we wait we live in his love and share that love with others.

Jesus’ parable of the talents highlights this theme in this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew. The man going on a journey refers to Jesus who will be departing soon. He will entrust his mission to the church and her members. Each will be entrusted with a role in the mission corresponding to their abilities and/or their responsibilities just as the “talents” were apportioned five to one, two to another and still one to another. Each recipient has the responsibility to “invest.”

The talents mentioned in the parable were a form of money or currency. The word, as used in the New Testament, refers to a “weight” that was used in commerce or trade. It was actually the largest weight or highest on the scale. In contemporary terms we might think of money. Certainly we would appreciate the results of the first two servants’ work; they invested their money and earned a 100 percent return; in other words, they doubled the original amount given to invest.

The final servant had a zero return on the investment. This would be like the old “shoe box” savings that sometimes become popular if banks are having difficulties or are not trusted. Not only was there no return on the investment, that which was given him most likely lost value because it was not used.

The master’s return brings the expected reaction. He is overwhelmed with joy and appreciation for the first two servants. They invested his hard-earned wealth and increased it. Overcome with joy he says to each of them: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” The reaction to the third servant was opposite: “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you have not then have put my money into the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?”

The parable culminates in Jesus’ saying: “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Through the parable Jesus urges his disciples to live in this world waiting for the end — the master’s return — working diligently to use the gifts he has given in stewardship to us.

When the master will return is not important — notice that in the parable the master returns only after a “long time.” What is important is to live in the present with joyful expectation, not in fear, and to take what has been given us by God (everything) and develop it. One primary gift is that of faith. We have received the gift of faith, a gift offered to everyone. Using this gift as an investment can have a multifaceted meaning: living by that faith, having our lives transformed through faith, inviting others to faith, growth in understanding the faith, and so forth.

The gift in the parable is represented by the “talents.” As mentioned above, the word in today’s language would probably be “money.” Over time, however, talents took on the meaning of abilities or gifts that we possess and use; this is how the word “talent” is used today. Often this parable is interpreted in this sense, meaning that we should use the gifts and abilities God has given us. We should develop these gifts and have them bear fruit according to the type of gift.

One gift we might recognize in our lives is the gift of family. The first reading for Mass, from the Book of Proverbs, speaks of the “worthy wife.” Her value “is far beyond pearls.” Because of this her husband will “entrust his heart to her” and because of this he “has an unfailing prize.” The author concentrates on the virtue of the wife in the manner in which she works and lives: she “works with loving hands” and “she reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.”

Like the servants in the Gospel parable who invested their talents, she will be given a reward, as the author says: “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” As we prepare for the World Meeting of Families next year perhaps each of us might think of our families as a gift that needs to be developed and “invested.”

Whether we are wives or husbands, daughters or sons, mothers or fathers, brothers or sisters, grandparents or grandchildren, aunts or uncles, nephews or nieces or cousins, we have received a great gift and the corresponding responsibility to develop these various relationships.

Investing in the family could mean spending more time with family members, having family dinners, speaking regularly with each other, having an active interest in each other’s lives, caring for sick family members, visiting infirmed relatives, helping those in need, doing things together as family, and so forth. Investing in this gift will bear great rewards for the return on this investment is inestimable.

As we approach the end of the liturgical year we remember that the Lord will return in the “end.” As we live, we live in expectation and hope. We strive to live by the gift of faith and to develop that gift in love of God and each other especially in our families. The words of St. Paul from the First Letter to the Thessalonians give us encouragement and confidence as we continue our journey in life: “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”

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Msgr. Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.