HOMILY 33rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
ACTIVELY NOT STATICALLY USING OUR TALENTS
Mt 25.14-30 Prov 31.10-31 1Thess 5.1-6
As I concluded last week, here we are, approaching the end of the Church’s year, with some sombre reminders from Jesus that we need to be alert and to act now, producing the fruits of the Spirit as people of faith and hope, not forgetting the love either!
I can’t for the life of me work out why the ‘perfect wife’ pops into today’s readings! I’d stand accused of being called a misogynist if I spoke in favour, but I might be safe in saying that there’s no such thing, given our human imperfections as part of an imperfect and defectible world! (I could say I am still looking, but at 71, no top teeth, hearing aids, and a hip replacement, the hopes are declining !! At least there’s no more gnashing and grinding of teeth for me, as I can now take out my top deck of clackers every night!)
At the same time, here in Proverbs. the positive virtues described can to be taken to heart, in regard to care for family, handicraft, wisdom, concern for the poor, and productive, fruitful work. I like Claude Mostowik MSC’s take in this one: “She is presented as a woman of power, where her work is affirmed as examples of strength, not subordination.”
The same might well be said of the good, but not perfect husband, or friend in life too! It’s not just for wives!! A wife is a partner, not a possession, as was the warped thinking back then, and reflected in Jewish and Roman law.
As for the Gospel, now we have another slightly paradoxical parable, where once again, Jesus sounds out of character, given the harshness of the conclusion and judgement of the poor chap who hides his master’s talent, but doesn’t waste or spend it. We have to remember that this is Matthew’s interpretation, and it needs to be further examined for meaning. And we can’t deny the truth that “Money make the world go around”, like it or not! It does, whether coin and bank notes or plastic smart cards!
Jesus’ whole message and ministry was about using resources well, particularly in terms of service to those in need. The problem with the chap who hides his talent in the ground, or wraps it in a cloth, as in Luke’s Gospel, is that here’s a person who has the capacity to do something useful to contribute to the welfare of others, but just focusses on one’s own fears and inadequacies, so that that person stays where one is, with no sense of progress or initiative to do more with what has been given.
Some might think the parable is an endorsement of capitalism, with wise, rather than greedy, investment, leading to a profitable return on the initial outlay. At the same time, don’t we know that the higher the rewards offered, the riskier the business might be. Remember Pyramid back there in the 1980’s, where the returns were initially the most attractive around, but it all came crashing down, and investors only got back 10% or less! So, we needn’t take a capitalistic approach. Wise investment for the future is not a bad thing in itself. Once again, it’s how the resources are to be used. As Brendan Byrne SJ says: “The parable is unashamedly capitalist – though this doesn’t mean that Jesus endorses the economic system it presupposes.”
There’s a certain irony here too, where throughout the centuries, usury or charging interest on a loan was frowned upon, or even forbidden in Christian circles, but there was no problem with using intermediaries to make the profits, and the Jewish financiers, who were good with managing money and making it, were very much used to provide such services, for the convenience of wealthy Christians who had money to invest!
Shylock, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, epitomises the thinking there! And the anti-Semitism that went with it. The apparent hypocrisy doesn’t seem to have been noticed or concerned those involved! Fagin, in Dickens’ Oliver Twist likewise, gets bad press, but admittedly he was having to encourage ‘picking a pocket or two’, as the song went in the musical version!
The whole message is not so much about making money, but about using our talents well, to achieve returns in relation to developing the capacity we have for doing good, and producing positive results as disciples of Jesus, who look beyond ourselves and find fulfilment in reaching out to, and serving, others.
I guess the parable also makes us reflect on diversity, and that we all have our own talents to use wisely, recognizing that these are God-given gifts for a purpose, and not just our own selfish interests. The nervous and anxious chap given the one talent was still expected to move forward in doing something useful with what he was given, not just to sit there in fear and do nothing except wait and hide in his own little corner. We can’t live just frozen in time, as that’s just not living or what life is about.
I think of Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple, reflected as he was dying of cancer at 56 in 2011: “I wanted my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them. And I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did… Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me… Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful – that’s what matters to me.” And at least his billionaire widow continues as a philanthropist, using wealth as a means of supporting worthwhile causes, as with Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, and his now ex-wife Melinda! It’s not just about the marvellous inventions and modern technology, but again, what is done with the profits, in terms of making a better world all around, although it doesn’t look so hopeful at the moment on the global scene!)
Once again, here we have Jesus talking about real life situations, and how they fit into his portrayal of what the Kingdom of God is to be established and built up, here and now, but, of course, we will never quite get there. It’s all along the journey of life and faith for all of us.
It becomes clear that there is a responsibility for all to not look backwards in fear and trepidation of what is to come, but to look forward and try to be productive and people of love and service. And that’s you and me, called to use our gifts and talents well!
john hannon 19th November 2023