Breaking Open the Word
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
November 19, 2023
In the first reading from the book of Proverbs, heightened sensitivity about gender issues may make it difficult for some people to appreciate this reading. The opening lines speak of a worthy wife and her value to her husband, which may lead some people to dismiss this praise of a good woman. This is one of the cases in which understanding the context of a reading is important. Proverbs begins with a depiction of Wisdom, personified as a woman. Wisdom is an attribute of God, to be sought by every person who wants to attain happiness, honor and wealth. The portrait of the woman at the end of Proverbs stands as a summary of the book, depicting a woman who has embraced wisdom in daily life or perhaps depicting wisdom herself. The woman portrayed in this poem is no weak person but a strong and resourceful woman who manages the household efficiently and profitably and who extends care beyond the hearth to the poor and needy. Like every reading from the scriptures, this text reflects its own times and customs. The tasks this woman undertakes and her relationship to her husband may not match the experience of most women in our culture today. But there is an enduring value to this portrait of wisdom personified. Like two of the servants in today’s Gospel, she used well the talents that God gave her.
The second reading is from Paul first letter to the Thessalonians. This is a wonderful reading for us today right before the end of the liturgical year. Having addressed the question of what happens to those already dead when Christ returns, Paul now turns his attention to those who are still living. The Thessalonians had apparently raised the question of the dates of Christ’s return. Such a concern has been common ever since. Paul responds as Jesus himself responded to this concern. He insists that we cannot know the day or the hour. The day of the Lord will come when we least expect it. When people grow complacent with an easy life, they will be surprised. The coming of the Lord will be as sudden as the onset of labor for a pregnant woman and as unexpected as a thief in the night. Believers need not worry, however, for they are already living in the light of Christ. They are not wandering in darkness but are aware that the kingdom is already present in the world. Those in darkness are living in sin and under the influence of evil powers. Christians, who live in Christ, have been freed from that realm and thus are already anticipating the final day of the Lord. The passage ends with an exhortation to stay alert and attentive to the Lord, anticipating his return.
This familiar parable of the talents entrusted to three servants seems easy to understand. God has given each of us talents that we are expected to develop. Hiding our talents produces no growth and displeases the Lord. Considering the history of the parable can bring us further insights, however. When Jesus told it, the parable probably was a challenge to the religious authorities of his time who carefully preserved the Jewish tradition but were not open to its growth and development through Jesus.
The early church characterized the parable, seeing the master as Christ, his departure as the ascension and his return as the second coming of the Lord. Matthew places it in his Gospel as a reminder of the members of the church to make use of the grace and abilities God has given them while they wait for the Lord’s return.
The value of a parable is that it is open to such developing applications. It is certainly legitimate to apply this parable to our own lives as a call to make good use of whatever God has given us. It is important, though, to remember that this Is not just a general story about personal development. It speaks of gifts and talents that are to be used for the building up of the kingdom of God. The “talents” God gives us may not be natural ability but grace, redemption of God’s love. It is these gifts we are to used and develop. Seeing love as the gift entrusted to us makes sense of the comment at the end that those who have will gain more. Love grows only by being shared, nor by hoarding it.
Jesus does not shy away from a rigorous and exacting image of God, because God’s high expectations for us anticipate our share in divine joy. God entrust to us and expects us to contribute to the world, our natural abilities, our faith and the expression of our faith in the church communities. If fear of making a mistake paralyzes us or the desire to lead a comfortable life keeps us uninvolved, we will never experience God’s joy.
Theme in our Life Today
Do you live longing for the so-called simpler times? Or do you live looking forward to a golden age to come? In the midst of violence, how can you cultivate the gentle spirit of hopefulness even now? There are so many ways that we can use our talents to further the kingdom of God. In the parish we have so many ministries (PADS, St Vincent DePaul, Christian Service, Liturgy, etc.) and so many other ways to help out. Last week we collected over 13 tons of food through Harvest Sunday. This is something I look forward to helping out with every year. It takes so many people (drivers, food collectors, food sorters, traffic control, truck loaders and more) and obviously a well-coordinated plan. The volunteers last week used their talents that God has given them to help those in need. This is just one way to further develop the kingdom of God. What about all of the volunteers at mass each week (lectors, eucharistic ministers, greeters, children’s liturgy, deacons, priests and others). Each of them are using their talents to further develop the kingdom of God. Maybe you are saying “well they have enough volunteers already or I don’t have any talents to give”. As I write this reflection even now, I don’t know who is reading it but I am hoping that maybe this might motivate even just one person to use some of their talents to further God’s kingdom. The main theme of the three readings today is an invitation to live in such a way that we will make the best use of the talents God has given us, so that at the hour of our death our Lord will say:” Well done, my good and faithful servant! Come and share the joy of your master. “Mt.25:21.
Prepare for Sunday
1. What are the most important gifts you have been given?
2. For one of two of the most important gifts, how you are showing gratitude for them.
3. If your life ended today, what from your life would be most pleased to set before God?
4. For what gifts do you need to show more gratitude? How will do so this week?
by St.Thomas Aquinas
Grant us grace,
O merciful God,
to desire ardently all that is pleasing to you, to examine it prudently,
to acknowledge it truthfully,
and to accomplish it perfectly,
for the praise and glory of your name. Amen.