COWARDICE MISCONCEIVED AS PRUDENCE – 19 November 2017, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thess 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30
Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau

The master entrusts his possessions to the most trusted servants. He knows the abilities, attitudes, competences, and according to these, he establishes how much to assign to each. This gentleman is clearly Christ who, before leaving the world, handed over all his goods to his disciples.

These goods are what Jesus has given to his Church: the Gospel, the message of salvation intended to transform the world and create a new humanity; His Spirit “who renews the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30), and even himself in the sacraments; and then his power to heal, to comfort, to forgive, to reconcile with God.

The three servants are members of the Christian community. To each of them is given an assignment to be done so that the wealth of the Lord may be put to good use. According to one’s own charism (1 Cor 12:28-30), everyone is called to produce love. Love is, in fact, the gain, the fruit that the Lord wants. Two servants are enterprising, dynamic, hardworking, while the third is fearful and insecure.

In the third part of the parable, the servants are called to render their accounts. With justifiable pride, two servants say to the master of having doubled their possessions.

Then the third servant appears. “I know—he says to his master—that you are a hard man. You reap what you have not sown and gather what you have not scattered. I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here, take what is yours.”

The central message of the parable is in the master’s rebuke of the slothful servant: the only unacceptable attitude is the disengagement; it is the fear of risk. He is condemned because he let himself be blocked by fear.

There were neglectful and diligent disciples in Matthew’s time and they continue to be in our communities. There are dynamic and enterprising Christians who are committed to give a new face to the catechesis, liturgy and pastoral work, who are passionately committed to the study of God’s word in order to grasp the true and deep meaning, who are generous and active. Other Christians are rather lazy and afraid of everything.

Qualities of a good and faithful servant

When people read this parable, sometimes they have placed the wrong focus. The question of fairness surfaces first in their minds. We need to have the right perspective. Talents are only one form of gifts. There are many other gifts and some are more intangible in nature and some are even blessings in disguise. On the other hand, talents could be a curse in disguise because if not perceived properly, they can lead us to pride and thus away from God. The concept of stewardship is key to understanding this parable in that God has given custody of those talents to us. They do not belong to us and are only entrusted to us for our care. Upon His return, we need to return them (be accountable) as He settles accounts with us. In fact, when more is given, more will be required.

But how should we use those talents. What is a fair evaluation of our “performance”? For what should those talents be traded? Indeed, it will not be the same talents that we will reap as harvest. If properly utilized, those talents should yield plentiful fruits in the sanctification of oneself and others, bringing more souls to Jesus and thus the salvation of many.

The reward of being a trustworthy servant abundantly outweighs the effort we put in. The master measures not the returns we bring back but on how seriously we take our role as stewards of the talents entrusted to us. The exact same response the master gives to the two faithful servants: Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) God loves the one with one talent no less than the one with five. The key is to recognize our gifts and to use them according to our best ability and be the best we can be.

The worst scenario will be for those entrusted with more but they use them against God. Yet another unfortunate scenario is for those who have received many but they refuse to acknowledge their gifts from God. They would say, “I am no good and don’t give me that responsibility!” Believe it or not, there are many people like that out there!

God cannot be outdone in generosity and He knows no limits in granting us talents (resources) we need to do His will. So, let us not be fearful about our inadequacy when responding to His call. He will give us more than what we need to take on our mission and to overcome any challenges that may come our way.

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