“FIRST IMPRESSIONS “
November 19, 2017
Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128; I Thess. 5: 1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30
by Jude Siciliano, OP
A phrase catches my attention from today’s gospel. It is spoken by the returning master to his first two servants. He congratulates them for being “faithful in small matters.”
We may not be the most brilliant, wise, or gifted disciples of Jesus, but still, we are the ones he has put in charge until he returns. He has left us to care for his kingdom, to promote his ways on earth. We might not think that our mission, or daily responsibilities, are of any great import. They might feel like “small matters,” but that is what we are called to be – “faithful in small matters.”
But maybe those “matters” only seem small and unimportant to us. What the master left his servants, the talents, was in fact, no small matter. Talents weren’t what we now refer to as a person’s innate gifts – “talents.” A talent in Jesus’ time, was worth the equivalent of millions of dollars today. If the person who buried his talent had only invested it with Jerusalem’s bankers, he would have gotten an excellent amount in interest. The two servants who did use their talents, did quite well – 100% profit. But the third servant was afraid and did nothing. He buried what was given him and missed out on the bounty the other two received – a share in their “master’s joy.” Instead, he was rebuked by his returning master and, what he did have, was taken from him.
Jesus seems to be criticizing the religious leaders who played it safe by scrupulously preserving the religious customs that had been entrusted to them. But they missed the new opportunity Jesus was offering. It would have been too risky, in the minds of these religious folk, to accept Jesus and his message. But just think of the benefits and the “joy” they missed! Is that what God is holding out to God’s faithful servants, even now in this life, a share in joy?
After Jesus’ departure the parable would also have spoken to the early church for whom Matthew wrote. Then, the parable was applied, not just to Jesus’ original hearers, but to the early Christian community. They would have allegorized it; the master is Jesus who had “left” the community in his Ascension. Though he was delayed, the community would have been heartened by the promise of his return and the reward that would be given them for their fidelity and initiative. “Come share your master’s joy.” It’s what they were waiting for, a share in the promised messianic banquet. The parable would have been an encouragement to the church under persecution and internal struggle to “keep on keepin’ on.” They were to keep doing their best to live faithfully and join in the works of the Christian community – to invest their best energies living and spreading the gospel with enthusiasm and creativity.
And what about us moderns? We do have a way of hoarding our resources and gifts, don’t we? We worry about ourselves and, as a consequence,lose sight of the world and the needs of others outside our secure zone of living. Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: are we like the servant who is afraid to risk change; oppose what is new; want things to stay the way they were, cling to the past and avoid the challenges these days present – in our church, society, and in our own families? What is good and lasting of the past must be preserved. But the scribes and Pharisees clung to the past, turned a deaf ear to Jesus and so missed sharing in the “master’s joy.”
Isn’t that what Paul is doing today in his unique way; warning us about relying on things and projects that will not sustain us when our private worlds are threatened, or our so-called security turns out to be not as reliable as we thought? What is the Spirit saying to us in our day? How are we being invited to “invest ourselves” in: more time with family; openness to the stranger; attention to the needs of our inner life; investment of time and talents to help our community? What are the changes we need to make and what is holding us from making those “investments?”
The actions of the “worthy wife,” praised in our Proverbs reading, might be a start for us as we consider what actions to take upon hearing the Word today. Proverbs tells us, “She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.… The woman [and man] who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Notice this “fear” of God does not mean a shrinking back in terror, but a caring for those for whom God has special love.
Paul assures us, ” The day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” It is a startling image – Jesus, the “thief,” who comes when we least expect him. It is a wake-up call to alert us to stop relying on a false security, while missing the ways Jesus comes into our lives. How do we tend to the Spirit’s urgings in our time, here and now? Do we even have ways of hearing the voice of the surprising “thief” by spending: time in quiet, with a thoughtful community, in prayer, being with the Lord in his favorite dwelling place, among the least?
The readings come to us in November. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the mystery of death, not just our own, but the ending of all things, when Christ comes finally and fully to establish his reign. The early Christians expected the end to come soon, but Jesus has delayed his return. The readings today suggest we continue our Christian presence and works in the world, investing ourselves energetically, creatively and without fear, as servants of God’s plans for our world.
Who knows when the end will come? Judging from televangelists, it is right around the corner. But we have no way of knowing, so Paul advises us to stay alert and expect the unexpected. We have nothing to fear, he goes on to tell us, since we are “children of the light.” Like that valiant woman of Proverbs, we are to reach out to the poor and extend our arms to the needy. We are, as Paul suggests, to fulfill our roles as, “children of the light.”
Jesus’ parable is boldly encouraging us to take risks with what gifts we have and to apply our abilities and resources to serve God, remembering when we do, we are not acting on our own, but are guided by God’s Spirit. We await our Master’s return, but meanwhile we have the Spirit directing and energizing our efforts in Christ’s name. We can do that because we have been given, by that same Spirit, the light of our faith as we wait for his return in hope and joy.
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. –Thessalonians 5:5
As we approach Thanksgiving, let us give special thanks to the farmworkers who toil to bring the produce to market. I give you two prayers for your reflection. The first was written by Cesar E. Chavez, UFW Co-Founder (1927-1993), and presents the point of view of Chavez’s struggle to work for justice for farm workers.
Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I may know my people’s plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person. Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last. Give me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life. Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers. Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us. Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life. Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world. Amen.
The second prayer is from Interfaith Worker Justice:
O God of seed and harvest, we pause to give thanks for the table set before us and the food that graces it.[The people gathered take turns naming the various foods on the table being blessed, by saying, “thank you for the ____” until all the foods have been named.]
In a moment we will eat this food, harvested from many parts of the nation and world. It will be transformed into the flesh and blood of our bodies. Keep us mindful of the many workers who labor in field and factory to bring us this food.
From the bounty and nourishment of the meal, we dedicate ourselves to work to abolish poverty, unsafe working conditions, workplace abuse, and unjust wages among those who feed us through their labor.
We pray this in the name of the Creator God, who not only fed the Israelites in the desert but transformed simple folk like us into disciples for justice and peace. Amen.
“For all of us are children of the light and children of the day.”
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. “Faith Book” is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus told this parable to his disciples:
“A man was going on a journey. He called in his servants and handed his funds over to them according to each person’s abilities…..
After a long absence, the master of those servants came home and settled accounts with them.”
Discipleship isn’t a holding back for fear of making a mistake, or looking like a fool. Judging from today’s parable, it requires a spirit of risk and boldness, sometimes in big matters, but mostly in small daily occurrences. Whatever the “risky business” we use in our service of the Lord, we are encouraged in today’s parable by a Master who trusts his servants to “give it a try” – so that when he returns we will hear him call us “good and faithful servants.”
So we ask ourselves:
Do I treat my faith as something fragile, keeping it close and protected as if it will break if brought out into the open?
In my daily life, how venturesome before others am I with my faith?