Friday, 14 November 2008

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Proverbs 31:10-13.19-20.30-31; 1Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

Our attention in today's Gospel is immediately drawn to the third servant - the one who was given only one talent. This servant seems to be a rather unfortunate man and he makes us uncomfortable because, in some ways, he reminds us of ourselves.

'... I was afraid ...'

Not only did he receive less than the others but he also ended up being punished most severely for his timidity, laziness and lack of wisdom.

It is worth reminding ourselves that this poor servant finally receives exactly the same punishment as the five foolish bridesmaids of the Gospel of last week, and of the goats in the Gospel next week - he was excluded from his 'master's happiness' - he ultimately found himself on the wrong side of the door.

But Hell is is not the thrust of our reflection this week. We need, rather, to ask ourselves what this servant's big mistake really was so that we can avoid making it ourselves.

Usually, when we leave something with someone to look after, as the master does in today's Gospel, we are glad enough to get it back in one piece when we return, and if it is a goldfish in a bowl or the family pet, we are glad to get it back alive.

The master is angry, however, not because he lost the talent he had left with the servant but because the servant didn't make it grow.

The other servants each doubled the money the master had left with them but the third servant merely saved it for him - because he was afraid.

In the first place this fear came from a misunderstanding of the master.

The servant thought he had the master all worked out but he was wrong. This is probably because his judgment about the master was based on hearsay.

'Sir,' said he 'I had heard you were a hard man ...'

The master throws his servant's judgment back in his face and condemns him out of his own mouth. So you had heard this, had you, so then why didn't you at least put my money in the bank?

In the second place his fear prevented the servant from accepting and using the talent he was given.

'It was yours - you have it back' or, in other words - I don't want it.

Thirdly, we can say that because this man did not trust the master he was, essentially, refusing to be his servant.

He went and hid the talent in the ground. He hid it from thieves, and tragically, from himself. He never accomplished what a good servant should have accomplished - which is to increase the happiness of the master.

This parable is not so much about the money - only one talent more would have pleased the master - it's more about the servant who doesn't do his job. He proved himself unworthy of the master's gift and so his punishment consisted in not being given any gifts. He did not strive for the master's happiness, as a good servant should, and so his punishment was that he was not given a share in the master's happiness.

The other two servants, on the contrary, were told, '...come and join in your master's happiness.' Surely this is the greatest of all gifts a servant can receive - surely there are no words more wonderful than these to hear.

At the end and at the beginning of each liturgical year Holy Mother Church invites us to think about such things as these, the four last things - Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.

There is no use for a useless servant who has made himself useless. He is given the sack. He is thrown out, into the dark, and the door is closed on him. The happiness and light stay within - weeping and grinding of teeth without.

The message is clear and we shall hear it again next week and then again during Advent: Stay awake! Stand ready!

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