Responding to the Master

“So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter?”

This line bothers me. Out of all the lines in the entire parable, this line bothers me. It makes the master sound like a crook. I’m not sure I would want to work for this guy either. But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? The master seems a bit off, but that doesn’t excuse the servant with one talent of silver for burying it.

The parable isn’t about the master, whether he stole other peoples’ crops, whether he was particularly honest. The parable is about the response of the servants. The first and the second servants, after receiving their silver or gold or whatever, took it and worked with it. Eventually, the master returns and they’ve made a nice return. The master entrusts them with more. The third servant, however, decides, “Hey, I don’t want to work for this guy,” so he takes his bucket of money and buries it.

Unlike the other servants who, despite some apparent illicit or odd activity of their masters, decide to make the best of it, this guy doesn’t. I imagine he probably complained about his master a lot, and generally was unpleasant to be around. He acts out of fear and mistrust of the master. He never asks the master to clarify what he’s doing, he just sees something and assumes the worst. Instead of taking the chance given to him by the master to do things his way, the “right” way, he just buries a bunch of metal in somebody’s yard.

Which servant are we?

God has bestowed many great gifts and abilities upon us. Sometimes, he acts in ways we don’t understand or that we really don’t like. But how do we respond to God when this happens? Do we stand firm in our faith, trusting that God knows what he’s doing? Or, do we start acting out of fear and mistrust, second-guessing God?

What about in our daily lives, and our daily struggles? When we are given what seems like an impossible schedule, with an excessive workload on top of it, how do we respond? Do we complain and moan and groan about it? Do we shut down and binge watch three seasons of “How I Met Your Mother?” Or, do we follow the example of the first two servants, and get to work? I’m not saying there’s no place for some leisure, but I’ve recently discovered how much I can get done when I’m not trying to stay current on 5 or 6 different TV shows, and how freeing it is.

This parable is telling us something pretty simple, really. Accept what you’re given, and do your best to make the most of it.

That is what we, as children of the light, are called to do.

That is how we make ourselves alert and soberly await the coming of the Lord.

That is how we remain in the Lord.

Remain in me as I remain in you, says the Lord. Whoever remains in me bears much fruit. 1 For when we remain with the Lord, we are coming to him with our labors and our burdens, and we can lay them at his feet. There, we will find rest… For [his] yoke is easy, and [his] burden light.2

Today’s Readings:
Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

Reflection for the Second Saturday of Easter

“Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task [of service], whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3)

These were the instructions that the apostles gave for selected the very first deacons. The widows were being neglected, because the apostles did not have the time to care for all the widows and to pray. The apostles addressed the problem by choosing seven men for their wisdom and love of God and ‘laying hands’ on them for the purpose of doing this service.

It seems to me that even in the early church there was a tension around whether service to those in need or worship was more important. The apostles decided that they would create a special office in the church—the deacon—to perform and supervise the charitable works of the church. If we had to name the difference, I think it would be fair to say that the deacons devoted themselves to the temporal affairs of the church: allocation of resources, distribution of alms, etc., while the apostles remained devoted to the spiritual affairs of the church. In modern times, these roles are a bit different; however, the focus still appears. Deacons are ordained to serve, and priests and bishops are ordained to teach and to lead. This is an over-simplification, but I think it can help shed some light on things for us.

Because I am in the process of priestly formation, this passage takes on a special importance for me. I am only a year away from ordination as a deacon, God willing. (Remember that every bishop has already been ordained a priest, and every priest has already been ordained a deacon.) At that ordination, I will make promises to live my life in a unique way. While I already practice that now, making a public promise of that is a very big deal. Occasionally, the gravity of these promises can seem overwhelming, which is why today’s Gospel is a perfect fit with the first reading. In today’s Gospel, Jesus walks on water, and this scares his disciples. Jesus knows this, and he tells them “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Let us always remember the love that Jesus has for us. When we do, how could we possibly be afraid?

Today’s Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2, 45, 18-19; Jn 6:16-21

Reflection for the Eighth Monday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings: Sir 17:20-24; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7; Mk 10:17-27

The readings today encourage us to live good lives while on this earth. The author of Sirach tells us to “turn again to the Most High and away from your sin.” While we are in this world, we have the most incredible ability: the ability to use our minds and our consciences to change our lives. Angels have minds but the cannot change. Animals do not have minds and consciences, so any change for them is a result of instinct. They cannot change in the same way that we do, and they don’t have the everlasting consequences that ours do. When we change, we can affect our immortal souls. We move ourselves closer to or further from God, and thus move closer to eternal happiness or eternal punishment.

The importance of changing in this life is reinforced a few lines later. “Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High in place of the living who offer their praise? … No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived.” Once we die we can no longer change as when we were living. At that point, we have made all of the choices that we will be able to make.

Jesus tells us that living this virtuous life will be a difficult task in today’s Gospel. “For men it is impossible” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, “but not for God.” God will give us the grace that we need, provided that we do our best to love him and to serve him. Jesus tells us that to serve God, we must follow his laws. Not only that, but we must detach ourselves from all worldly things and trust only in God. God will be our treasure.

Let us do our best to love God and to follow his laws, the laws he gave us in order to help us be happy. In doing so, we have our best chance at entering eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Reflection for the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Is 49:14-15; Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34

We can have only one master. Who is our master? God wants to be our master, but do we let him?

The Gospel today lists many other masters people can have throughout their daily lives: what to eat, what to drink, what to wear. All these things come from the material world. They are things that we think that we can control. We go about thinking that clothing, food, status, wealth are the most important things. They aren’t. Is it important to have adequate food, clothing and money? Yes. But when it becomes the focus of our lives—that’s when we run into problems. Why do we think that these things are important? Perhaps we think that because we can control these things, they are a measure of our self-worth. When we have these things, maybe we think that it shows what kind of job or career that we have: another modern measure of self-worth.

What about other people? Do we try to emulate the right people? Do we want to be like the rich and famous? Why is that life style so attractive? The rich and famous always look happy on the outside, but are they? I think not. The number of celebrity divorces, suicides, and the general malaise around Hollywood is a pretty good indication that something is wrong. But they have everything—why aren’t they happy? They have made power or fame or money or pleasure into their master. And if we want to emulate them, then we will do the same. And we will be unhappy.

There is a better way.

DaisiesJesus reminds us to look outside at the world around us. The flowers—what person is clothed so beautifully as a flower? The birds—are they not able to find food? But we worry about all of these things, and we don’t realize that God will work with us to make sure that we have what we need. Jesus asks, “Are not you more important than they?” Indeed, we are. Jesus promises us that if we seek the Kingdom of God, all that we need will be provided. The Lord has not forgotten us, and he never will. The first reading, in just a few sentences tells us that this is impossible!

“Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Is 49:14-15)

The Lord wants to love us, but to do this we must be open to this love. By serving the Lord, we are opening ourselves to his love, because we only truly serve those that we love. We may have a job where we “wait on” or “serve” somebody, but we aren’t really serving those people because we desire to do so. We are serving them for the sake of something else—to provide for ourselves or our families. By following the Lord’s commands and laws, we serve him. By stewarding the gifts that God has given us, we are serving him. God knows when we are serving him and when we are not, St. Paul reminds us that “he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.” We cannot trick God, but we can serve him. We can serve him because we desire to love him. When we serve him, we open our hearts to him and allow him to love us.

So let us remember we can only have one true master: God. But he is a loving master, who rewards us endlessly when we serve him.