Deacon Richard Haber November 19, 2017
Our Gospel in today’s liturgy about the talents reminded me of an old TV series. When I was in High School a few years ago, well perhaps more than a few years ago, there was a TV program I enjoyed watching called ‘The Millionaire”. Some of you here might remember it although for millennials it’s long before your time (1959-60). (The early days of commercial TV). The premise of the show was that an unknown benefactor would randomly choose someone, knock on their door, and when the door was opened, would hand them a cheque for 1 million$. You can imagine the startled look on the face of the recipient! There were many episodes describing how that event changed people’s lives. Some would use it for the benefit not only of themselves but for others. SO, for example, in one episode Martha Halloran used it to help medivac a sick child to medical care. Father Gilhooley used it to help out his parish which lacked money to continue. The wife of Jim Hayes insisted that the money be used to extend the benefits of their employees. Others used the money for themselves by taking exotic vacations or holding lavish parties.
Today’s parable of the master who gives 5, 2 and 1 talents to his slaves is a bit like The Millionaire. A bit of context might be helpful. As we approach the end of the Liturgical year, our Gospels speak more and more of the end time. Today’s Gospel parable is the third of the four parables in Matthew’s Gospel about the end time all of which speak of the return of the Master, the King or the Bridegroom. They all speak of how we should live our lives in preparation for this final coming. They all speak of discipleship. We live in what theologians call the eschaton-the time between Jesus’ return to his Father and is final coming. The Kingdom of God is paradoxically present now in our time but not yet complete: that is, both ‘is-now’ and ‘not-yet’. God lovingly leaves room for us to act in His stead between the initiation of God’s Kingdom and its final consummation.
Today’s Gospel takes place in the last few days of Jesus’ life before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is courageous and is on his way to Jerusalem from the countryside of Galilee. He will be opposed by the Jewish and Roman powers because of his unsettling message to them. They are like fearful slave who received one talent. In the parable, the Master who is going on a long journey—we might think here that Jesus is about to enter his passion, death and resurrection—turns his investments or mission over to his slaves—his disciples we might say. They each receive differing amounts. One 5, one 2 and finally the last slave 1 talent. A talent to Matthew’s audience was an incredibly large sum of money (at today’s price of gold, a talent weighed about 75 lbs=1.25million$). When we hear the word talent we mean talented, having some special gifts. The first two slaves each use the money investing it so that when the Master returns, they have each doubled the amount given to them. They are rewarded. The third slave is afraid and says, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid.” He would not take any risks or accept any responsibility for what he was given. He did not act out of love and respect for his Master but out of fear. We each are given gifts, or talents which God wants us to use to build his Kingdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the sin of respectable people is running from responsibility. This was said in the context of Hitler’s reign and Bonhoeffer who joined the plot against Hitler was ultimately imprisoned and executed because he stood up for his beliefs and countered the lies of Hitler.
To be a disciple of Jesus means we must not be afraid to take risks. It means that we are followers out of love, out of our belief in Jesus’ message of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. We have a powerful message for our world broken as it is and we must not cover the lamp with a basket but let it shine forth. This takes courage. This takes perseverance. As St. Paul says in our Second Reading, “But you, beloved, are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” (Second Reading)
Discipleship comes at a personal cost which we can accept or turn away from. We can double our Master’s investments or we can bury them out of fear and the hope that we will not upset those in power. The example of such a disciple is the woman described in our First Reading. This good woman invests herself in her husband and her children. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” She is a woman who fears the Lord. Her fear of the Lord is not the fear of the slave with one talent who knew his master to be harsh. The expression ‘fear the Lord’ does not mean afraid but rather it means the recognition that we are nothing unless united with God.
I will conclude with a quote from one commentary on today’s Gospel:
“Now for most of us, religion, our personal faith, has not seemed like a high-risk venture. Faith has seemed to be a personal comfort zone. Faith, many of us think, is about personal security, here and in the hereafter. Faith, we think, is no more risky than believing ideas in our heads about God and Jesus, a list of beliefs to which we more or less subscribe intellectually. Religion we think is a pretty timid, nonrisky venture. Here (in this parable) Jesus invites us to be his disciples, to live our lives as fully as possible by investing them, by risking, by expanding the horizons of our responsibilities. To be his woman or man, he says, is not so much believing ideas about him as it is following him. It is to be bold and brave, to reach high and care deeply.”
“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord who walks in his ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; You shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”(Psalm128)