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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (19.11.17)
WHEN RELIGIOUS TRUTH BECOMES PARALYSED
God is Truth, God is Living (John 14:6.), therefore, The Truth is a living entity. But is this how many view The Truth namely, as full of the life of the Holy Spirit? Or do people think of the Truth as a composite of broadly accepted static, unchanging, established facts? For example, we know that 2+2 = 4 as a matter of fact and pay no attention to the deductive thought process that is a) particular to humans and b) indicative of a rational analytical process continually searching for a deeper understanding of the Truth.
Truth is both inexhaustible and unfathomable for us. Truth does not change but our understanding of it is always changing. The closer we draw to God, the more Truth reveals itself to us. The further we drift from God, the less able we are to grasp the Truth.
Matthew (25:14-30) provides the Gospel for this 33rd Sunday in which Jesus teaches through ‘The Parable of the Talents’. The ‘useless’ servant hid his master’s coin instead of using it profitably. His master asked why he didn’t bank it? In an era when the UK’s interest rates have been near zero for years, the master’s question to his ‘useless’ servant may sound quite at odds with contemporary reality. This parable has multiple lessons for us that are not connected with finance.
Clearly, the ‘Parable of the Talents’ is intended to draw attention to the unprofitable or ‘useless’ servant. Jesus had employed multiple parables in an attempt to bring the Scribes and Pharisees to face up to their shortcomings as the spiritual leaders of their people. In Jesus’ eye, the ‘useless’ servant epitomises their wicked and lazy attitude in respect of God’s Law and the Truth encompassed by it:
“So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?”
The ‘useless’ servant believed he could secure his place in his master’s house by being able to hand back the one talent exactly as he had received it, in ‘mint’ condition because it had never been used. The Scribes and Pharisees regarded the Law as something dead, static and incapable of growth. Their aim was to preserve it, like a fossil, in the exact formulation in which it had been given to Moses by God. To the Scribes and Pharisees any growth in the understanding of the Law, resulting from human growth and development, was anathema.
Generations of Scribes and Pharisees, from the 3rd century BC, had constructed a protective fence of 613 ‘mitzvot’, ‘interpretations’, that were intended to enable God’s people to know how to live God’s Commandments. This manmade and frankly impossible maze of regulations allowed the Scribes and Pharisees licence and leeway in interpreting how to approach the observance of the Law and simultaneously allowed them to claim that the Law itself remained unaltered. In Matthew 23:13 we read how Jesus found fault with this thinking:
“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let in those who wish to enter.”
The Scribes and Pharisees had, by the manipulative procedures of their 613 insuperable preconditions, made it virtually impossible for the ordinary Jew to follow God’s Law. The Parable of ‘The Talents’ teaches how God laments shut minds and devious hearts.
In giving us the Commandments God set down a template, a bottom line, a starting point for his creation. Having uniquely gifted us with intelligence and grace, God knew we would hunger for knowledge and search for the Truth. Divine providence had provided humanity, made in God’s image and likeness, with a sure start from which to search for the Truth.
God never asks us to show abilities we do not have. He does ask that we use, to the full, the abilities with which he has gifted us. People are not equal in talent, but we can all be equal in effort. The Parable of the Talents teaches that whatever talent a person has, be it little or great, it must be used, first of all, in the service of God. Moreover, we are freed to choose to combine our human talents for the good of all. The role of the Body of Christ on earth, the community of the Baptised under the leadership of the Vicar of Christ (the Pope), is to enable all on our shared pilgrimage to eternal salvation.
The parable tells us that the two servants who had done well and multiplied their talents were commended and then given greater responsibility. Idleness or relaxation does not feature in the Divine economy. Jesus underlines the virtue of humble service for the common good in Luke 17:7-10:
“Will any one of you who has a servant] ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
The ‘useless’ servant, in the parable, who was punished was the one who did not try. He didn’t lose his one talent, he just did nothing with it! Any effort to increase his talent, even one that had failed and lost him the talent, would have been better than doing nothing at all. The condemnation of the ‘useless’ servant was because he would not even try to use it for the common good.
This is a Sunday when each Baptised person would do well to examine his/her conscience as to what she/he has done with the talent(s) he/she has been given. The appropriate follow-up to that question would be – ‘what more should I be doing with the talent(s) I have been given?’
The temptation that ensnared the ‘useless’ servant in the parable ensnares many people. “I have so little talent, what on earth can I do with it?”, people complain, “It’s not worth my trying for the little that I can contribute.”
Matthew 13:31-32 has one answer:
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
The mustard seed is tiny but when linked with God’s good creation …. it grows! So, too, with seemingly tiny talents!