Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

A girl in eighth grade was walking home from school when she noticed a sign in a store window: “Help wanted.” She applied for the job. The owner asked, “What can you do?” She said, “I can do what I’m told.”  He replied, “You’re hired.” At first, she was given small tasks, and then entrusted with greater ones.  Years later the owner gave charge of his entire store to the young woman who could do what she was told and make the business profitable. Commerce hasn’t change in thousands of years. Good managers are entrusted with more, while poor managers are fired.

The master in today’s parable is no ordinary rich man.  He has tremendous wealth.  His gold talents were not coins that you could hold in your hand.  They were heavy bars of bullion weighing up to 110 pounds each.  That was equal to twenty years of hard earned wages.  Such a rich man would have summer homes and winter homes, with residences in foreign lands, and dozens of servants.  From them he chose three to invest his possessions according to their abilities.  Could they do what they were told?  Would they be good investors?  Two of them doubled their master’s gold, an astonishing accomplishment!

But the third was slothful, he didn’t even invest it with bankers to earn interest. So, like all bad managers, he was fired. Today he might be excused for burying his master’s gold because some banks have failed. Credit is tight. Recently a businessman asked to talk with a bank officer about a very large loan. The banker said, “That’s great, how much can you lend us?

The useless servant not only lost his job, he was cast into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Suddenly we are confronted with more than losing a job. Salvation itself is at stake here, eternal life.  This parable is not about money.  The master is God who entrusts us with His grace and charity.  No earthly wealth can compare with these treasures.  Can we do what we are told?  Consider another story about a good manager of God’s wealth, a woman who “reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy” (Prov 31:20)  

Her name is Kelly, a 29-year-old nurse who fighting Ebola in West Africa.  She writes, “Another week has come and gone here in Liberia. As the rainy season disappears, the heat and humidity are climbing rapidly.  There are a lot more insects, scorpions, and snakes.  Despite these challenges, we are determined to provide good care for our Ebola patients.  Wearing full protection equipment is a challenge.  In addition to the physical limitations, it’s difficult to recognize individual staff members and it hides all of our emotions.  Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could pull off that mask so that my patients can see I am laughing, smiling or even crying with them.  The kids are terrified by our alien appearance.  

There were nights when little Christine was close to death, but somehow, she held on.  Then she finally turned the corner and became a whole new person: sassy, demanding and snooty. Yesterday I went to see how she was doing.  As I turned to go, she stood up on her bed, crying and asking me not to leave.  I went back and sat at the end of her bed and started talking to her.  She didn’t respond, but instead crawled onto my lap and put her arms around my waist.  My heart melted. I put my arms around her and rocked her gently for a while. Christine left for home a few days later.  A part of me wished that she didn’t have to leave.

For some of our patients, like Christine, there’s a happy ending.  But for many others, like Ester and her son, it’s a very different outcome. Ester’s husband was the first of her family to die from Ebola, leaving her with four children.  Her ten-year-old boy is the oldest, but he shoulders responsibility like a grown man.  He spent hours at his mother’s bedside assisting her in any way possible, despite being sick himself.  Ester seemed to be getting better for a few days, but her frail body wasn’t able to fight the virus for long.  Her son took the loss of his mother very hard.  Then his little brother arrived.

Just as he did with his mother, he looked after his brother’s every need.  He changed him, bathed him, fed him and, as his brother became weaker and incoherent, he stayed close to his bedside.  A few days later the little boy died.   When asked if he was ready to leave, he replied, ‘I have seen hell. Yes, I want to go home’.

Liberia is teaching my heart to stretch and grow.   Now I’m learning what it means to love, and how to communicate that love in ways I didn’t even know were possible.  A heart that truly loves has no trouble conveying compassion, because that type of love resonates from the very deepest corners of the soul and becomes an almost physically compelling force experienced by all those who are around.   Even though I know that I could get sick, I´m OK because I´d rather be here than safe at home.   Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers!   Love, Kelly.”   This woman was certainly a good manager of God’s wealth!