33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached November 19, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Jesus Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That is part of our faith. We expect to be judged for the conduct of our life. We are answerable for what we do. We must render an account, not to the court of human opinion, not to the Internet or Facebook, not to any human tribunal, not to ‘history’, but to Jesus Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a parable about the last judgment. Yes, the parable of the talents is about the judgment.
There is a man who entrusts his servants each with five, three, and one talent, to work with in his absence. When the man returns, the servants must give an account.
The first thing to consider is that a ‘talent’ originally referred to a measure of weight somewhere around 75lbs in today’s terms. Today a talent of gold would be worth close to $1.5 million. Even a talent of silver would be a hefty $20,000 or so.
Let’s start with the man who receives only one talent and is judged a wicked servant.
He is characterized by fear and the fear is rooted in a distorted perception of his master’s character. He sees his master as a severe man who makes unjust demands, harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter. That means that he fails to grasp his own status as a servant and the trust the master has given him by putting the talent in his care.
If we consider this in relation to God, this wicked servant is the sort of person who views God as a hard taskmaster, who rejects his own status as a ‘servant’ in the presence of God, and so finally looks at all that he himself possesses both internally and externally as belonging to himself, rather than to God.
Really, that last part is key. The person who has the attitude, “It is my life and I can do as I please with it” is going to resent God making demands upon him. He is not going to see anything that he has, whether in terms of natural abilities or external possessions, as a ‘trust’ given him by God. As a result, insofar as he becomes aware of the reality of God, he will perceive God as a threat to his own personal freedom.
I know a man, who when he first came across the idea that there was a truth about reality and that truth had consequences for how we ought to live, rebelled against the very idea, not because he had any reason to believe it was wrong, but because he resented the apparent restriction on his own freedom.
He had not yet come across the words of the Lord, If you remain in my word, you will become my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (Jn 8:31)
The attitude of the man who received the one talent makes clear the contrasting attitude of the good and faithful servants, the men who received three and five talents. They received the sums of money not as a demand, but as a ‘trust’; they recognized that by entrusting them with such a responsibility, the master was showing his esteem for them; the master regarded them as worthy and capable of fulfilling their charge.
We like to focus on the love of God. It is a great act of love to entrust another person with a responsibility, even though that responsibility puts demands upon the person. The love of God is not a permissive love that tells us, “Go ahead and do what you want.” The love of God is a paternal love that helps us to grow by entrusting us with responsibilities. He never gives us more responsibility than we can handle.
The two good and faithful servants in the parable responded to the trust given to them with a sense of gratitude and a desire to live up to the trust that was placed in them.
In the end, all three servants had to give an account to their master; they were judged. They were judged according to how well they fulfilled the trust that had been given them. The servants who recognized the trust as an act of love and responded with loving diligence in the fulfillment of their trust received the reward. The wicked servant who saw the trust as nothing more than an unjust demand, was justly condemned.
Each one of us needs to examine his conscience in light of Jesus’ parable. Each one can ask himself, “How do I view God? Do I view him as a harsh taskmaster? Or do I view him as a loving father, who has entrusted me with a task for which I am now responsible? Do I try to respond to God’s love by fulfilling the task he has given me?”
My whole life is the ‘task’. At any moment, the task might involve being a husband or wife, a father or mother, the task might involve being a student or a worker, the task might involve being an administrator or a leader, the task might involve helping and healing, the task will always involve self-sacrifice and some measure of suffering, sometimes there are people to whom God seems in a special way to entrust a task of suffering – maybe those are the ones with the five talents.
Finally, let us consider the reward. 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.
First, consider just the fact of the master’s praise, Well done, my good and faithful servant. Every one of us likes it when we receive the praise and approval of someone we admire and love. That is why people can so easily become addicted to something like Facebook ‘likes’. Indeed, we could each examine ourselves and ask, “How much of what I do is shaped by my desire to be thought well of by others?” What, then, would it mean to us to receive God’s seal of approval, to hear him give, as the judgment on the whole of our life, well done.
Finally, there is enter into the joy of your Lord. The devil wants us to think that God is a killjoy, but all the devil has to offer are cheap thrills. Further, all the pleasure that is found in those cheap thrills comes from God, because he is the one who created pleasure and joy. God created pleasure and joy, but there is no joy that can compare with the eternal ocean of pure joy that exists in God himself, the Most Holy Trinity. The greatest of ‘responsibilities’ is to be entrusted with the pure joy of the Lord, the joy that comes from seeing him as he is.