Even One Talent is Worth the Effort

Note: this was the text I had originally written for my homily on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

This week, when I went to visit the 8th graders, I was a bit surprised to walk into a room that was silent. Usually, when they see me walking in, all sorts of pandemonium will begin—bit not this time. They were all busy praying with today’s Gospel, learning to use the ancient method of prayer called Lectio Divina. At its root, Lectio Divina has one primary goal: to allow us to encounter Jesus Christ through the Word, specifically, through the Word of God as given to us in the Holy Bible. One of the things that I like about this way of praying is that it encourages me to slow down, so that when I encounter a strange or troubling passage that challenges my preconceived notions about God or how I should interact with his world I can sit with it and allow God to work on me. When we find such things in the Bible, I occasionally have to remind myself: if the Bible says one thing and I think or say another, it is always going to be the Bible that is right. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, after all. 

So, I asked the 8th graders what about this passage stuck out to them about this Gospel, what bothered them about this passage, or what didn’t make sense to them. After they worked through the fact that the priest was asking them what bothered them about the Bible, they presented me with two major issues. First, it doesn’t seem fair that one servant got five talents, another two, and another simply one. Second, how is the master’s response to the servant with one talent merciful?

To answer these questions, we have to step into the spiritual understanding of this reading. One of the best ways to do this is to read what the Church Fathers wrote about this Gospel.

To the first question, we recognize that the master is Jesus Christ, who has ascended into Heaven. He has given the talents to us, his servants. To some he has given more gifts, to some he has given fewer gifts. St. Jerome, who is responsible for the Vulgate, which was the translation into Latin of the Bible used by the Church for 1700 years, wrote that Christ gives “the Gospel doctrine, to one more, to another less, not as of His own bounty or scanting, but as meeting the capacity of the receivers.” Jerome notes that St. Paul mentions doing something similar when he remarks that those who are not ready for solid food are given milk to prepare them. Origen, a theologian in Alexandria, Egypt, in the early 200s, notes that to receive even one talent from such a master as Jesus Christ is a great thing, and that the talents cannot be measured against each other in the way that we always desire to do.

St. John Chrysostom, who lived in the later 4th century, is considered the greatest preacher in history, writes in reference to our second question that “not only he who robs others, or who works evil, is punished with extreme punishment, but he also who does not good works.” Origen writes, “If you are offended at this we have said, namely that a man shall be judged if he does not teach others, call to mind the Apostle’s words [that is, St. Paul], ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.’ (1 Cor 9:16)” St. Gregory—I’m not sure which one, there were several saints and doctors of the Church named Gregory—wrote that “to hide one’s talent in the earth is to devote the ability we have received to worldly business.” This is an error, Gregory teaches, because even the smallest of gifts has been entrusted to us so that we may bring the goodness of God into the world from them.

If we look around, our experience confirms the teachings of these Church Fathers. We encounter many people who are exceptionally talented, who have been given all of the wealth and power a person could possibly want. Are these people happy? More importantly, are they good people? Too often, the answer is “no.” The number of gifts we are given does not impact our ability to love God and to spread the Gospel, which is what each of us has been called to do. Those people who receive many gifts that are good, God-fearing people have done incredible things. We need only to look at the saints to see an example of this. We have saints that started with nothing, who were literally slaves, and we have saints who had everything, who were literally kings. Every one of them was a good steward of their gifts and multiplied what God had given them.

The man in this parable who received one talent was fearful of his master, so he buried his gifts and took care of himself. This is why the master calls him wicked and lazy. He cared only for himself. His master had been generous with him, but the servant, by neglecting the gifts given to him, was not generous in return. He squandered the gifts he was given. The value of the return is less important than the fact that he was given the gift so that he might grow it. St. Jerome writes that the master does not look to “the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will.” If the servant given the 5 talents had squandered them as the servant given one, the reckoning would’ve been dreadful beyond words. Much is expected of those to whom much has been given.

St. John Chrysostom teaches that “[t]his parable is delivered against those who will not assist their [neighbors] either with money, or words, or in any other way, but hide all that they have.” Each one of us has been given immeasurable gifts by God. He expects us to use them.

Today’s Readings:
November 15, 2020
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

Workin’ in the vineyard

Let’s be honest: we’ve all been upset by this parable at some point. If we zoom out a bit, it helps us see the glory of what Jesus is telling us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Persistence

In the Gospel we learn that if your neighbor won’t help because of your friendship, he will because of your persistence. So, if God doesn’t answer your prayers, that doesn’t mean you should stop praying!

Homily given for the 29th Sunday or Ordinary Time, Liturgical Year C.

Persistence

This homily was preached on the weekend of October 20, but not posted online until October 26, 2019. My apologies for the delay.

Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? Christ point out to us in the Gospel today that persistence works even with an unjust judge. If that is the case, then God, who is the just judge, cannot fail to provide for us, his beloved children. Christ then wonders though, if he will find faith on earth when he returns. Will we persist in bringing our needs to the Lord? Will we persist even when it seems like God isn’t answering our prayers? Will we persist even when we recognize that we will have to change if we want to truly follow God?

St. Paul urges us to remain faithful to Christ, despite whatever may happen. He reminds us that our faith has its source in God, whom we can always trust. He tells us to equip ourselves with the holy Scriptures to bolster our faith, because it is all inspired by God. All of Holy Scripture is capable of teaching us. Persist, St. Paul tells us, in always proclaiming and teaching the Word of God.

Even Moses shows persistence today. The people of Israel are in a battle, and if they lose, their existence is at stake. Moses kept his hands up in prayer to God, entrusting the people of Israel to Him. When he wavered, his friends surrounded him and helped him to continue uplifting Israel to God.

We see persistence in all the readings today, specifically persistence in prayer and in proclaiming God’s Word. Persistence in these two areas allow us to always grow closer to God. That is not the only message in the readings today, though. Note how when Moses wavered, those around him came to support him. They literally held up his arms. This is, I think, a crucial and overlooked point. We Christians do not believe that we can do this on our own. We depend on the people around us to support us in following Christ. We depend on the Communion of Saints and the Angels of God to assist when we are in need, when assistance from this earth is not enough. Christians must live in community. It is through our Catholic Christian community that we are saved. We are not a Church of one person, we are a communion of people lead by Jesus Christ, who is our head.

To follow the example of our head, we must strive always to live the Gospel values. We must strive to live moral lives. We are called to live simply for God, not to be lovers of money or sensual things. Most of all, we are called to relationship. The most important relationship we have is the relationship we have with God. We grow this relationship by learning about him through Scripture, and by talking to God in prayer. In our persistent attempts to live morally and in our persistence to build our relationship with God, we follow the example of Christ. If we persist, even an unjust judge would grant us what we need. Imagine what God, the just judge, might grant us.

Today’s Readings:
October 20, 2019
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8

​Reflection for Easter Thursday

We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”

An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.

In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.

This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.

Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.

Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48