We all know which holiday is just 12 days away, don’t we? Yes, Thanksgiving. And we all know that Christmas is just around the corner; just 40 days from today.
How many of us know what next Sunday is? Yes, it is the Solemnity of of Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, when we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time. While we know how many days there are until Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have no idea about when Christ will return. In his Letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul said we will be taken by surprise: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Knowing the dates of Thanksgiving and Christmas means that we can get ourselves prepared — in fact, I already have all my Christmas shopping finished. Unfortunately, because we do not know when Christ will return, we do not prepare so well. We think we have plenty of time.
The earliest Christians were very much in touch with a belief in the Second Coming. We, however, have all but explained it away. We simply do not take the idea of the end of time seriously — especially now that the whole Mayan calendar thing turned out to be nothing. But I am not just talking about the end of time for everything. Throughout most of our lives we do not take the reality of our eventual death seriously. We deny death more than we deny that one day we must retire.
We must prepare, and today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew speaks to us of how to prepare for Christ’s coming — and the cost of failing to do so.
Matthew uses a talent to instruct us on some points we dare not ignore. So I guess we need to start with knowing what a talent was. It was not a coin or a unit of money. Rather a talent was a measure of weight. A talent of silver was equal to about 15 years’ wages for a laborer, which means that five talents was equal to about 75 years of an average person’s pay. Each of the servants in the parable were given a lot of money. For us today, we hear the word talent and we think of our personal skills, but this is not what Jesus was thinking. In the parable, the rich master is God and the talent is faith. To each of us God has given a certain, measured gift of faith, and each according to our ability to use it.
It seems silly to us today that one of the servants buried his master’s money, but during Jesus’ time, this was the accepted way of protecting money. If you buried it, you were not liable for it if it was stolen. If you invested it, on the other hand, and lost it, you would be held completely responsible. Those listening to Jesus tell the parable would have thought that the third servant, the one who buried the money, had done the wise thing and should have been rewarded. Imagine their surprise when they learned that putting the master’s money at risk was what Jesus expected!
Part of the message of the parable is that God does not expect the ordinary. God expects us to invest the faith He has given us, to use it in ways that will make it grow and spread. We must risk our gift if it is to become anything more than it is now. Simply sitting around and avoiding evil gains us nothing!
We shy away from the notion that God would punish us; but here stands a parable stating quite the contrary. Again, Jesus’ listeners would have applauded the servant who had buried the money for safekeeping; however, Jesus calls him a “wicked, lazy servant.” Too many of us think, “I’m a pretty good person. I’m not that bad; its not like I have murdered anyone. God would not condemn me.” The parable strongly suggests, “Oh, yes, He would!” If we do not use our faith and make it grow, God will take it away from us and throw us outside of His Kingdom.
The third servant feared the master whom he described as reaping where he did not sow, and harsh. The master agreed that he reaped where he did not sow. Our Master reaps where we sow the seed of faith that He has given us. However, the master in the parable did not agree that he was harsh. How could a master who gave thousands to three servants and then trusted them to use it without instruction be harsh? This is trust. Further, the master gave the same reward to the first two servants, regardless of the difference in the money they made. He rewarded their efforts on his own behalf and was not concerned about quantitative results. This is not harsh. This is loving.
We cannot wait until the last minute to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner, or to do all our Christmas shopping and baking. When Jesus comes and asks for His talents back, the fruits from the gift of faith that He has given us, what are we going to be able to give Him?
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