33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 – Matthew 25:14-30 .
Today, Jesus speaks to us in the Parable of the Talents which, like the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, stresses the need for us to be prepared for the coming of the Kingdom of heaven, to be prepared for the time of reckoning so as not to be caught unawares. Our Lord also teaches us never to allow ourselves to be distracted from putting to good use such talents as we possess, either out of fear of punishment if we muck things up or out of the misperception of our talents as being of lesser value than those that other people have. The parable features three individuals to whom their master entrusts the care of vast amounts of his wealth. The first receives five talents, the second receives two talents, and the third receives one talent. The first two individuals put their talents to work and they double their capital. The third man, however, does no work other than to keep his talent safe, and he produces no profit at all.
Let’s have a look at what a talent represented for Jesus’ listeners and at what it can mean for us. A single ‘talent’ was worth an almost unbelievable amount of money, comparable to a big Lottery win. A talent was a coin, a very weighty one, and its value depended on whether the coin was struck in gold, silver or copper. Each talent was worth a thousand gold (or silver or copper) pieces.
When we talk about ‘talents’ today, we think of those gifts, abilities, responsibilities and blessings with which we have been endowed by God. Seen in this light, the parable helps us to appreciate that whatever the talents we have been gifted with, they have been freely bestowed on us by Him and are not of our own making. Here we have a warning against falling prey to the mortal sin of Pride in misusing our talents. The talents with which we have been gifted are to be used as the Master expects – that is, we have to make a conscious decision to make use of them, to put them to work, and to make them productive on His behalf. The time will certainly come when God – the ‘master’ in the parable – will demand of us an account of what we have done with His talents, and we will have to be able to demonstrate that we have used them productively.
God doesn’t distribute His talents among us unjustly. He gives them to us according to our abilities, as did the master in the parable. He desires that we be industrious with the gifts he gives us and that we use them conscientiously in the way He intends them to be used. Our Lord trusts us to do so. See how the master himself trusted the servants: after distributing his talents, he did not hang around or look over their shoulders, continually giving them advice or showing displeasure if they were doing things differently from the way he would have done them. No, he went away and left them to get on with it. His absence gave the servants space to get on with what they were supposed to be doing. Upon his return, however, there came a time of reckoning. The master ‘went through his accounts with them’. Upon receiving good reports from the two who had been faithful to his wishes and industrious, the master was happy and trusted each of them with more.
We stand to lose such talents as we have been given if we fail to use them. This was the case with the third man, who lost even the one talent he had. He was scared of his master, he was distrustful of his master even though the master had placed his trust in him, and he buried the talent. He didn’t make it work on behalf of his master, and he didn’t make the talent with which he had been entrusted work for him either. Whenever we are guilty of repeating that servant’s mistake by burying a God-given talent instead of putting it to good use, like him we fall well short of serving God as we should. When someone knows what the right thing to do is, but fails to do it, they commit a sin (Jas 4:17).
The First reading shows us a portrait of an ideal wife according to Israelite tradition. She is a perfect wife, not because she is beautiful and charming (she may be, or she may not be), but because she is an industrious wife who uses her God-given talents to the full with the right attitude: she does her work with eager hands (v.13). She serves the head of the household (cf. Is 54:5 For your husband is your Maker; cf. also Eph 5:22 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church), she is trustworthy, and she is the epitome of the virtues of Prudence and Wisdom.
Now, life teaches us that the more we use our skills, the more we are able to develop them and hone them. What talents has God given you? Are you putting them into practice? One way of discovering what talents you possess is not to wait for them to appear as if by magic … after all, you can’t know if you have got a talent for something if you don’t test it out. For instance, you won’t know if you have a talent for a particular sport if you don’t start playing it and learning the skills as you go along. If it turns out that you have an aptitude for it, you’ll put more and more effort into developing it in order to do yourself justice in the game. Similarly, you’ll learn to pray by praying, you’ll learn to sing by singing, and you’ll learn to preach by preaching. Practice makes perfect. Reinforce those things you’re good at, those things for which you have a natural flair, those things that come easily to you, by practising and doing them time and time again.
Each one of us has been gifted by God in accordance with our natural abilities. Using our God-given talents to the full requires dedication on our part. Remember that the only way to keep any gift or a talent is to work at it constantly and consistently instead of leaving it on the back burner. When it comes to using it successfully, what matters most is our being industrious and dogged in using it at whatever level we possess. Let us pray, then, to be in constant readiness as children of the light and children of the day (as St. Paul encourages us, in v.5 of the Second Reading) to use God’s gifts to us, so that the Day of the Lord will not come to us like a thief in the night (v.2). Amen. God bless you.