33rd Sunday of the Year 2020
Year A Farnborough, November 15th
Proverbs 31:10-13.19-20.30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 24:14-30
Today’s Gospel concludes: ‘For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’
This seems grossly unfair! The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer cannot be right surely! What is Jesus trying to say?
We need to interpret the Gospel chosen for this 33rd Sunday of the year, and the parable it contains, in the context of the whole liturgy. In effect this is the last ordinary Sunday of the Church’s year. Next week, the 34th Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Then Advent follows.
As last week, this Sunday’s liturgy is not just to help us prepare for the end of the liturgical year but also to make us mindful that our own lives will end too, as well as the end of all things, and the preparations we need to make.
Today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians reminds us that the Day of the Lord will come ‘like a thief in the night’, when we least expect it, when we are least ready. To adapt Paul’s words, we should not be ‘sleepwalking’ through life ignoring this reality. We need, as he says, to ‘stay wide awake and sober’. And what should we be doing while we are wide awake (and, hopefully, sober) in anticipation of the Lord’s coming and our own personal call to give an account of our lives?
The first reading suggests that we should be as diligent and industrious in life as a loyal and faithful wife. We should not be put off by the wording of the presentation of a perfect wife from the book of Proverbs, it was of its time. Such a wife ‘is far beyond the price of pearls’. Her value is not only in actively getting things done and concern for the poor but in her wisdom, that is, in her awareness of where the real priorities in life lie.
So, what about the parable in today’s gospel? We need to see it as challenging us to reflect on how we use our lives, our time, our abilities, our talents. And not just for ourselves but for the benefit of others, for the building up of society, of God’s kingdom here on earth. For at the end of our days we will be called to give an account.
In the parable an employer entrusts his property to each of three servants to administer while he is away. They are not given the same amount, and this implies that they have different abilities, or ‘talents’ as we would say today. It is also implied that different returns are expected from different abilities. People are not competing against each other.
The first two traded with what they had been given and doubled their capital. The third, however, the one who received the least, ‘went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money’. The parable is not in fact about monetary return, that is just the vehicle of the story. It is about how we live our lives. How do we give back to God all that he has given to us? What do we do with our lives?
The man who dug his single talent into the ground was guilty of keeping it purely for himself and not risking its exposure to others, who could have benefited from his life. His talent has produced absolutely nothing. One is reminded of the branches on the vine which have no fruit and get thrown into the fire. In terms of the Gospel, it speaks of the Christian, who may be devout in his own way, but who makes no contribution whatever for the benefit of others or to the life of the Christian community.
The reason he gives for his inactivity is fear rather than laziness ‘I had heard you were a hard man’, though laziness may be the reason. There is no excuse for laziness, but for a variety of reasons fear can block us from using our God-given resources in a life-giving way and prevent us from doing the good that we are capable of doing. It can be fear of failure or of what others will think of us or perhaps even an unhealthy fear of God.
We may have some sympathy for the third servant, because, deep down, we are only too well aware how fear can hold us back too and prevent us from doing what we are capable of doing, and deep down know we should. But if God has taken a risk in giving us graces, talents and abilities he looks to us to take a risk in using what he has given us, especially for the benefit of others.
The conclusion of the parable may seem unfair, like robbing the poor to pay the rich. But Jesus is rather saying that those who share generously the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves constantly enriched. Those who jealously preserve what they have been given, hoard it and go into their shell in fear of the outside world are likely to shrivel up and die. Those who save their lives, will lose it; those who share generously what they have with others, will find themselves immeasurably enriched.
(With thanks to 'Living Space')