November 19, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) on November 19, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; and Matthew 25:14-30.
Today, we hear Matthew’s well-known Parable of the Talents. In the time of Jesus and Matthew, a talent was a huge amount of money – 80 pounds of silver. In today’s money, one talent would be worth roughly $300,000, if not more! So when the king calls the talents “small things,” he is a man of incredible wealth!
But before we go on with our Mass, we must talk about the first reading. It is the conclusion of the Book of Proverbs, talking about the ideal wife. I say this with all due respect to the elders of our church, but they have edited this passage to give it a different meaning than what the author originally intended. By selecting only 8 of the 22 verses in the conclusion, the Church makes the woman sound very good and hard-working, but it omits the numerous superhuman qualities attributed to this woman. In fact, the author of Proverbs never intended for her to be a person at all. She is the personification of God’s wisdom. The point of the passage is to tell us that if we befriend God’s wisdom, if we stay in dialogue with God all our lives, God will richly reward us.
God has richly rewarded us with many gifts, many talents, and much mercy. As we enter the final days of this liturgical year, may we celebrate all that we have received from God!
Of the many parables in the gospel of Matthew, this final one is among the most influential. In fact, it has even changed the meaning of the word “talent.” We no longer think of talents as 80-pound bars of silver worth roughly 20 years’ wages. We think of them as the gifts given to us by God.
Even if the master entrusts us with only one talent, $300,000 is nothing to sneeze at. For many of us, a windfall of that amount would be life-changing.
The master is not angry at the servant with one talent because he did not double it in trading. He is angry because the servant did not use the talent that he had entrusted to him. Remember, the master would have been satisfied if the servant had invested the talent in the bank and received interest. How does God feel when we do not use the talents that God has entrusted to us?
God has given each of us more gifts than we can comprehend. The friends and acquaintances whom I find most inspiring are the ones who spent a lot of time discerning their talents. They have passions and interests outside of their jobs and families, and they might be working in fields far from what they studied in school. Like the first two servants in the parable, they’ve taken risks to try new things. Few people are good at anything without practice, but these people have had the bravery to fall flat on their faces when they tried something new.
I’ve also met people who are afraid of their talents. They’ve hidden them away and never used them. They’re afraid to fly their “freak flag” and explore the talents God has given them that might be different from the people around them.
God calls on us to explore all the talents God has given us… and it’s never too late to try new things. Even if we don’t have the courage to take the big risks that the first two servants took with their talents, we can still make smaller, safer investments with the talents we’ve been given.
If we explore this metaphor enough, we come to an inevitable question: if God gives different people different amounts of talents, are there people whom God has entrusted with no talents? Well, my response is two-fold. First, of all, I think everyone has gifts to offer to one another. Those who are most in need of other’s help still bless the world in many ways. For example, every semester, St. Austin’s hosts students from two high schools on an overnight retreat where they go out and talk with individual homeless people. Afterwards, the students write profound essays about how the experience has changed them. The students always expect to feel good about giving something to the homeless person, and instead, the homeless person has given more to the student in return. Secondly, I think Matthew makes it abundantly clear what we are to do for those in need. Last week, we began Jesus’ last three teachings before he endures his passion, death, and resurrection – the allegory of the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the talents, and the Last Judgment. In each case, those who take action are rewarded, and those who don’t take action are barred from entering the kingdom of God.
Let us heed the words of the author of Proverbs and befriend God’s wisdom. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but the people who fear the LORD and do God’s will will be praised at the gates of heaven.