Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Prov. 31:10-23, 1 Thess. 5:1-6, Mt. 24:36, 25:14-30
I think it would be presumptuous for a monk to give a homily on the ideal wife as described in Proverbs, or to speculate about when the Day of the Lord will come as described by St. Paul in Thessalonians. For I know as little about the time of the Lord’s second coming as I do about women. So I’m going to head for the safer ground of the Gospel parable about investing money wisely, a good topic for our times. Mark Twain once said that November is the most dangerous month to make investments, and the other most dangerous months are December to October. In today’s parable of the talents one of the master’s servants felt the same way. Why bother taking a risk? Bury the gold talent. Give it back when the master returns. If the other two servants lose money he will look really good by comparison, having preserved all of the principal. Well, as it turns out, they double their investments, and he ends up with zero profits. After making excuses and calling his master a hard man, he is promptly fired and cast out to wail and grind his teeth with other slothful losers. The master calls him a wicked and lazy servant. Is that right? Can he really be called wicked for burying his talent? Is what he did so bad?
Parables are like detective stories. They challenge us to search for clues about what the Lord is revealing. Could it be that a gold talent represents a natural skill or ability with which we are gifted? Was the lazy servant wicked because he failed to make good use of his special talent? Like the college student who was a genius with a photographic memory. He didn’t have to apply himself, so he grew lazy, and wasted his time playing poker and drinking every night with his fellow students. A week before exams he memorized his textbooks and always passed. Professors lamented his laziness and the bad influence he had on other students. But he laughed at their rebukes and challenged them to ask a question he couldn’t answer. One of the professors took up the challenge saying, “Okay, I will ask you one question at the oral exam. If you answer it correctly you pass, if not you fail.” The smug, self-confident genius agreed. At the exam next day the professor asked, “What is the name of the person who cleans your dormitory?” The genius flunked and was expelled.
Or, is this parable about something more than earthly things, than the way we use our natural talents, great or small? The Storyteller gives us three clues. First, he tell us, “This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.” Parables are about heavenly things. Second, the Storyteller says all this gold belongs to the Master. The talents are his, not ours. And third, he tells us these gold pieces are talents. In the ancient world a talent was not a natural skill or ability. A talent was a unit of weight, over a hundred pounds. These are not just gold coins. They are very heavy bars of gold bullion having extraordinary value. This is a parable about the riches of the kingdom of heaven. The Master who possesses such great wealth is extremely rich. In fact, no one is richer, for what belongs to God is of infinite value: the Holy Spirit, God’s Love and grace. We are coming close to understanding what the servant did that was so wicked.
Even the smallest measure of grace, one heavenly gold talent, infinitely exceeds the natural abilities of the greatest genius. Every grace we receive from our Lord is a deeper union with the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, inspiring us to perfect love. That’s the heavenly gold talent buried by the wicked servant. He dug a hole and put the Spirit there. He covered it over with self-love and stamped on it with the loud noise of his own thoughts so that he would not hear the voice of Love inspiring him. He was not willing to risk going broke by investing God’s Love within his heart for the good of others. The third servant buried the Holy Spirit, he tried to silence God. That was very wicked!
In his classic book, “The Four Loves,” C. S. Lewis writes, “Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to be sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to a pet. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safely in the casket of your selfishness. It will then become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable. The only place outside of heaven where your heart can be safe from all the dangers of love is hell.” Yes, to bury God’s love is wicked. As the Storyteller narrates in another parable: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you? Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”