33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) — November 15
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30
(1) Matthew 25: Awaiting Jesus’ Return
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to take a step back and remember where we are. We hear this Gospel and we just jump way ahead of ourselves. We hear this and think, “Stewardship.” And that’s nice. But it’s not always helpful.
Last Sunday, this Sunday, and next Sunday, the Gospel reading is from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which is made up of three very famous passages: the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the return of the Bridegroom, which we heard last week; the parable of Master entrusting his servants with his money until He returns, that’s today; and the return of the Son of Man, the King returning to judge saying, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me.” And these three passages are very famous, but context is everything.
Context: Jesus is talking to his disciples about his “coming, and of the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3). We say it in the Creed every week, “He will come again in glory.” This chapter is all about the end of this present age and the full and complete inauguration of the New Age, the Age of the World to Come. It is about what happens while we wait for the Bridegroom to return, what we are supposed to do until the Master returns, what will happen when the King returns. Jesus is talking about the great in-between time that we are all living in awaiting his return.
And the classic question is: what does this all look like? What is this in between time? And the answer is this parable. What does this look like? Well, “It will be as when [the Master] who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.” That line. That’s it. We know that the Bridegroom is coming, but he’s not here now. And this is what it looks like now, until he returns: the Master entrusting his servants with his possessions until he returns.
(2) Revisiting the Parable of the Talents
But usually we don’t even listen to this parable. We’ve heard it so many times, we’re so familiar with it, that we don’t really listen. Or, since we know that it’s Stewardship renewal time, we reduce the parable to the Three T’s: Time, Talent, and Treasure. We can easily hear this Gospel and think, “Ok, we get it. God has given us gifts and abilities so we have to share them with others.” And don’t hear what I’m not saying: God has given us gifts and charismS which we are called to gratefully share in love of God and neighbor. But that being said, I want us to take a renewed look at this Gospel.
And I want us to look at it with the question of: Why didn’t the servants take the money and run?
I mean look: who does the Master give the money to? To servants. Not to the Steward of his house, not to to his sons, but to his servants; literally his slaves (the word there is doulous, which means “slaves”). These are people that the master owns. These are not exactly the people you leave your money with.
“Well that’s ok,” we might say, “he’s giving them the chance to prove themselves. After all, it’s just a few measly talents. Where’s the harm in that?” How much is a talent worth? A talent is the equivalent of 6,000 days wages. 6,000. That’s over sixteen years worth of salary. We’re not talking a couple hundred bucks! The master gave them 16, 32, 80 years worth of salary. In modern terms, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, several million dollars.
So the natural question is: Why didn’t they run? Why didn’t they use the money to buy their freedom? Why didn’t they find the nearest port, sail to Greece, and live in luxury the rest of their lives? Why didn’t they take the money are run? Why didn’t they run?
I think it’s because no one had ever looked at them that way before. Clearly, the “Master” in question is Jesus. And more often than not in the Gospels, “the secret lies in the way Jesus looked at people, seeing beyond their weaknesses and failings” (Francis, EG, 141). This is the way the slaves are looked at. In their encounter with the Master, they had experienced a gaze which was different. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is this: for the first time, they have been given the permission to look at themselves that way.
Perhaps when they were summoned they thought, “Here we go. Now we’re going to get it.” And as they walk in, they were shocked. He looks at each one, He looks past their weaknesses, their shortcomings, their mediocrity; and one by one, the Master entrusts His possessions, His whole livelihood to the slaves.
The Greek word here for “entrust” isn’t usually translated as “entrust.” It’s usually translated as “betray” or “hand over.” It is the word we find when we are told about Judas “betraying” Jesus, “handing him over.” It’s also found in St. Paul when he talks about Jesus “handing himself over to death.” When we hear this word, it is usually talking about Jesus himself being handed over. So when the Master calls these slaves in, they could never have guessed that the Master would literally hand over everything to them. The money is just a metaphor. He handed over His very self to them, He gave them everything. Imagine what that would be like; imagine the power of that gesture. Husbands and wives, you know this very well, what it is like to have your spouse give you not just a few bucks, or a cheap date, but themselves, their very life, everything.
For these servants, their entire life was turned upside down. They must have thought, “Who are we that He would do this for us? What does He see that we do not?” Perhaps for the first time in their lives, someone looks at them as they truly are, with all their faults and problems, and nevertheless says to them: “Here, take everything I have. I entrust it all to you. Not because you have proven that you are trustworthy, not because you can make the most profit, no. I entrust myself to you because I want you to share in my life.”
(3) Our Own Encounter With the Lord
This is the dynamic of the encounter with Jesus Christ. When the Master looks at the slaves, when Jesus Christ looks at each one of us, He sees us as we truly are, He sees us in all our weakness, with all our suffering, with our insatiable longings and desires. And what does He do about it? He gives us everything. He hands himself over to us. He gives us His very self.
And all He asks in return is that we risk everything in return. He risked everything. The servants could have taken the money and run. But, in response to the Master risking His whole life on them, two of the servants risked it all, one didn’t; two were offered to share in the joy of the Master, one wasn’t. Jesus risks everything on us, and He only asks that we risk everything on Him.
The rubber has to meet the road somewhere. When I was a freshman in high school, I had this kind of experience. I had just been to confession for the first time in a long time, and I felt this. That was the first time I felt the Lord calling me to be a priest. The Lord had just given me everything, had just forgiven my sins. The power of His entire Paschal Mystery had just broken into my life in a powerful way, and I felt his call to respond. In my case, to respond with my life in being a priest. But in that moment, I was like, “No way.” I wanted to get all of the benefits that Jesus offers, but not put in anything myself. It wasn’t until years later that I began to recognize that God wasn’t calling me to cramp my style, or to give up my life and my plans because I owed him something, but to show me why He created me, to invite me to live in a grateful response, a response that promises a hundredfold here and now, and in the age to come eternal life.
But that’s kinda how the story often goes. We want forgiveness without repentance, baptism without being part of the Church, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. We want all of the “talents,” all that Jesus offers, but without discipleship, or the cross, or, even, without Jesus Christ himself (Bonhoeffer). In other words, we want to “bury” the gift that Jesus gives us. Or worse, we are tempted to take the money and run.
When the Lord encounters us, when we feel the Lord draw close to us—in that moment of encounter, the question is will we remain, will we abide, or will we bury it away, will we turn and walk away, will we say, “Thanks for all you do, Jesus, but don’t expect me to do anything in return”?
(4) Allow the Lord to Look At You In This Way
Stewardship only makes sense when we can recognize our own encounter with the Lord, those events and moments in life when we couldn’t deny his presence, his forgiveness, his love, his very self. Stewardship doesn’t make sense until we realize that Jesus has already handed over everything to us, given us everything. He is already knocking at our door asking us to allow Him in, to remain with us, to abide with us.
Stewardship isn’t just some way to “get to heaven,” or to “run a school,” or to chip in to “pay the bills.” Stewardship, first and foremost, is a grateful response. When we recognize, truly recognize what the Lord has done, what He has given us, we can’t help but make a return to Him. We make this return of bread and wine, and even that is given back to us as His own body and blood.