The Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31, 1 Thess 5:1-6, Mt 24:36, 25:14-30]
One of the most popular and enduring TV quiz shows is “Jeopardy!” Alex Trebek, the host, gives answers under a wide spectrum of categories. It is up to the contestants to pose the correct questions. It is a heady game and one that I find to be quite humbling when I try to play along. Oh, not as humbling as learning that my Home State’s University of Michigan’s football team was clobbered in Ann Arbor by some team from Iowa, but humbling enough. “Jeopardy!” reminds me just how slow and ignorant I am.
Once, when he had some airtime to fill, Alex Trebek explained how he prepared the contestants for the show. He said, “I tell them to relax and enjoy the game. After all, they are not playing with their own money.”
The last part of that advice is wise counsel not only for the game show contestants, but also for us who are followers of Jesus. For we are not playing with our own money either. All that we seemingly possess is God’s. And the realization of that simple truth is itself a gift. After all, God is more generous than the producers of “Jeopardy!” and even more generous than the hard-nosed master in Jesus’ parable who with each talent gave his servants the equivalent of 15 years’ wages. Unquestionably, God is extravagant and it is prudent to remember that we are all playing with God’s stuff.
The realization that all is gift calls for at least three responses. The first is a sense of gratitude. Thanksgiving is born of surprise and humility. It bubbles up whenever we acknowledge someone’s generosity — a gift that we did not expect or deserve.
One way of becoming more aware of God’s generosity and becoming more thankful is suggested by David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. Every evening he writes down one thing that he noticed during the day for which he is particularly grateful. In the forty plus years that he has been doing this, Steindl-Rast has never repeated a gift. The monk knows that he is loved and he is grateful.
The second response to God’s generosity is closely linked to gratitude. It is an awareness and acceptance of one’s poverty. All that we are, all that we have, all of our accomplishments, all of our talents, all of our experiences, all of our relationships are gifts. Illness, the deaths of loved ones, failures, unfulfilled dreams, and even addictions are all gifts because these painful experiences can remind us that there are aspects of life over which we have no control. We are so poor we do not even own our own lives.
Jesus is the most fully human of any human being that has ever lived, because he, more than anyone else, recognizes his poverty. Jesus is the perfect recipient of God’s grace and goodness. But, Jesus does not cling to any of it. He keeps the gifts moving. What he receives as a gift, he gives as a gift—even his life. Accepting death, death on a cross.
Finally, a third response to God’s generosity is justice—being right with God, with one another and with the world. As trustees of God’s wealth what are we doing with it? What are we doing with God’s stuff? How are we fulfilling God’s dream, God’s agenda, and God’s prayer for us and for our world? How are we spending God’s money and using God’s resources and spending God’s time? How are we investing in the Beatitudes and other teachings of Jesus? How are the poor, those seemingly closest to God’s heart, benefiting from the gifts God has given to us? How are we a blessing to a world that God so dearly loves?
A person who responds to life with gratitude, poverty and justice probably looks a lot like the anonymous woman in the reading from Proverbs who was a blessing to her husband and family simply by doing ordinary things with faithfulness and generosity. She was also a blessing to the poor by reaching out her hands and extending her arms to the needy. She gave the poor something more valuable than money. She gave them herself, one of God’s gifts.
In the monastery the gifted person might look like the monk who approaches even the most menial tasks with dignity and love. And one who takes a healthy pride in what can be accomplished when one is receptive to God’s love and gifts. The monk is a blessing to his brothers in community.
In the manner of Alex Trebek, the answer is “Gratitude, an Awareness of One’s Poverty and Justice.” The correct question is “What are three responses of a person who knows that he or she is blessed by God?”
It’s an important question and answer to remember as we await alert and sober for the fullness of God’s reign, but it is even more important to remember if you happen to wind up as a contestant on “Jeopardy!”