Homily for 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A 2017
Proverbs 31:10-13.19-20.30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 24:14-30
Growing up I was not the tallest in my class – I am still not that tall; I was not the most athletic – that hasn't changed much; and I was not the most good looking – as you can see for yourselves, am still not. Perhaps like some of you, my prayer to God was, "make me taller, make me more athletic, make me more handsome etc" like those other guys. For from my civics classes, I had learnt about democracy and thought God treated everybody equally. But apparently, God works in a different way.
Scripture and Theology
In the gospel parable we have just heard, the Master, who represents God, is going on a journey and entrusts his possessions to his servants in a manner that seems unfair. "To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one – to each according to his ability." But why this disparity? Why not give each servant an equal number of talents, an equal amount of money?
Perhaps one reason is that it is his property and he can divide it up as he wishes. In the same way God gives his gifts and graces to us in whatever manner he wishes; after all it is all free gift, and we don't deserve any of it. So whether we receive one talent, two talents, five talents, we should be grateful; for he could have chosen not to give us any at all. However he made us, tall or short, good-looking or average, athletic or out of shape, rich or poor, it is all a free gift and we should be grateful rather than complain or compare ourselves to others.
But there is a more serious reason why the Master divides up the talents unequally, why God gives us his gifts in this way. They are given for a purpose – to do something with them for God. And because in God's Kingdom there are different roles to play, each person will be given talents "each according to his ability" and according to the part he is going to play in building the Kingdom.
When speaking about spiritual gifts, St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 12 puts it very well:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.
And then he goes on to say: "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit," because the Body of Christ needs different kinds of gifts to build it up. That is why:
To one is given . . . the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge . . . to another faith . . . to another gifts of healing . . . to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.
And then St. Paul finishes by saying: "But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes."
St. Paul uses an even better image to show why we might have different gifts.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.
That is why even the Body of Christ, the Church, has various gifts and ministries to build the Kingdom of God: "first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues." That is why St. Paul asks rhetorically: "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? . . ." No, we have different gifts, so we can do different things.
And yet despite the different types and quantities of gifts that we each receive, we are all expected to do something good with them. When we return to the Lord he expects us to say: "Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more." And if you are like me who drew the short straw and received only two talents, even I must say: "Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more." We cannot be like the third servant who said: "[Master] out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back." The number of talents received is immaterial; what counts is how well we use them.
We must also remember that even one talent was worth a lot of money. According to biblical scholars, one talent was worth several years' wages. And so, even if you received one talent, that was nothing to sneer at; it was worth a lot and was to be invested well. That is why the excuse given by the third servant, for not using his talent will not suffice. Saying, "I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter," is another way of saying: "why should I put in all this work and yet God receives all the fruits of my work?"
Perhaps this servant was also inhibited by the fear of taking a risk. Anybody involved in the money market knows how volatile it can be. Even the safest investments sometimes turn out not to be safe, as we saw with the economic crisis a few years ago. Similarly, using our gifts involves risks; putting yourself out there is not always easy, whether it is fear of public speaking, singing in public, or the possibility of failure. There is also the fear of rejection – you might offer your gift and be rejected. And yet the Lord said that you should at least "put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return."
If fear of failure prevents us from using our gifts, the real possibility of missing out on heaven should inspire us to overcome that fear. For our final destiny is going to depend, not on how many talents we received, but how well we used them. The Lord wants us to use our talents, our physical skills and our spiritual gifts. The time frame which he has given us for doing this is now, between Jesus’ return to the Father and his Second Coming. Just as the Master in the gospel came back after a long time, Jesus is coming back after a long time, at unknown hour, for the Final Judgement, to settle accounts with each of us, asking us how well we have used the talents, the gifts that he gave us.
Jesus wants us to be like the first two servants, who took the plunge and traded with their talents. To them the Master said: "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." For us, sharing the Master's joy will be heaven. Jesus does not want us to be the third servant, whom the Master called him lazy and wicked gave the order: "throw this useless servant into the darkness outside." His punishment was not due to having received one talent, but for having the cardinal sin of sloth, not using it for the Kingdom. To avoid the darkness of hell, we must be diligent in our use of God's gifts to us.
In creating us, God does not run a cookie-cutter operation, producing cookies which look the same, feel the same and taste the same. Rather, we are more like the contents of a trail mix packet, some of which are salty, others are sweet and with every bite we take, our taste buds expect to be surprised. We are all unique, each having a unique set of gifts and talents, some more, some less.
At the beginning of Mass, we confess not only acts of commission, "what I have done" but also acts of omission "what I have failed to do.” Continuing that confession, each of us must ask, "are there any gifts that I am burying and not using for the Kingdom?" Am I complaining, “I am not smart enough, I am not holy enough, I am not gifted enough?” The fact is that each of us is uniquely gifted, to build up the Kingdom of God, with our unique gifts.