33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sometime during the funeral of every priest, bishop, pope, religious sister or brother, and occasionally when a military chaplain says a few words at the grave of a fallen service member, I have gotten accustomed to hearing the words from today’s gospel spoken, as though God were saying it to them himself, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You were faithful in small matters. Come, share your master’s joy.”[1] The words are comforting and reassuring, to proclaim for all to hear that the deceased loved one kept their eyes on the prize, that they did not waver in their resolve, and God was pleased with their service. So I ask, what would it take for God to speak those same words to me when my time comes? “Well done. Come, share your master’s joy.” What would it be about my service that would convince God to welcome me to share in his joy forever? Some interesting details in the parable can shed some light on the subject.

Presumably, a talent was something of great value, like an unbelievable amount of money. So despite that there were only 8 talents to begin with, if we assigned a value to a talent—O, let’s say ten million dollars—the story takes on greater urgency and a much more serious tone. The master of the three servants did not give them all the same amount. It goes to show that we are not all created equal, and that we don’t all have the same gifts and talents or to the same degree. Then the master leaves to go on a journey, which is a way of saying, a period of time passes. And when he returns, there is a grand reunion. Now the master seemed quite interested in what his servants did with his initial investment. But he didn’t seem to care that he had given each servant a different amount. At first glance, it mattered a great deal what each servant did with his master’s money. But those who brought back some investment return received the same reward. “Come, share your master’s joy.” It didn’t matter that they brought back a different amount. And speculating a bit, it may not have mattered if they didn’t bring a 100% return either. I’ll explain that later.

And that little flame-out of a grand exit speech by the servant with the one talent reminds me of the Jet Blue flight attendant in 2010 who had a really horrible day. He gets on the public address system after the plane lands. He makes a speech filled with explicit language. He announces he was quitting his job, grabs a beer, and slides down the emergency chute onto the tarmac. He knew he was going down, and he wasn’t going down quietly. So the servant in the parable took the opportunity to clear the air, which gave his master all the reason he needed to demand the servant clean out his desk. Would he have gotten a second chance if he was more apologetic?

Now it was common practice in affluent households at the time for a successful and wealthy businessman to pitch opportunities to up-and-coming lower level hopefuls to give them a chance to prove themselves. These servants likely had front row seats to witness the daily running of the business. They had doubtless seen their master hard at work with great passion and enthusiasm, doing what he loved best, prospering his fortune, building his empire. And the master must have been quite good at it. Parables have a way of going overboard sometimes. So what the master was secretly hoping was that some of his passion and enthusiasm would rub off on his apprentices, and they would in turn become as passionate and enthusiastic as he was about the very thing that he loved, his work, his business, his fortune. It is not entirely unthinkable that he was hoping to create little replicas of himself, mini-me’s, or more accurately, mini-he’s. It is also every parent’s dream, every coach’s dream, every teacher’s dream that some young person, who they spent a great deal of time and effort molding into that perfect child, athlete, or student, would succeed, and accomplish amazing things, and bring home every trophy and award possible, and at some point be asked to go on the Today Show and tell Matt Lauer that their success was in large part due to them! Secretly, of course. And if you’re shaking your head and saying you would never do that, it’s probably because you’ve already messed up. You’ve caved in to giving them too much pizza and video games and a smart phone, so your investment will only yield pretty much more of the same.

The image of the worthy wife in the book of Proverbs is of one who loves her life. This amazing woman is dependable because she doesn’t need convincing her every effort and accomplishment is not a waste of time. She is resourceful and compassionate and confident and absolutely fearless at everything she does. Even her own mother is proud of her, which makes her husband and children swell with pride as well, because everything about her tells them and all the world she loves everything about her life, and everything she does, and she wouldn’t want it any other way.

Now that’s the kind of passion and enthusiasm the master of the three servants in the gospel parable was hoping would rub off. As we approach the close of the church year, we are invited to reflect on teachings and images about the end times. We heard last week about ten bridesmaids who began nodding off because the bridegroom was taking a long time to get to the wedding feast, and how five of them were foolish and their lamps were going out, and five of them were wise because they brought extra oil. Next weekend, we will be given yet another image to reflect on. But this weekend, it’s three servants who have to give an account of their service. We’ve all heard how the talents they were given compare to our talents—those God-given qualities of ours that make us special. Sometimes we can use them to become famous or make a lot of money. What we probably shouldn’t do is dig a hole in the ground and bury them. But I would suggest that even more important than producing a profit is how we have come to embrace with passion and enthusiasm the very work of God. God isn’t going to ask us, as the master did not ask his servants, how much wealth and prestige and influence we amassed. Rather, God should be able to pick up on whether or not we truly embraced everything God is about, loving what God loves, and putting our whole selves into advancing God’s kingdom. Making a profit would be to our advantage, but the absence of profit does not always spell a lack of passion or enthusiasm.

St. Paul gets it. “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness … For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. … Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”[2] When God turns to me, will I hear him say, “Well done. Come share your master’s joy”? Or will he ask me to clean out my desk?

Rolo B Castillo © 2017

[1] Matthew 25: 21

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5: 4-6