33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel seems relatively straight-forward, but there are a couple of odd details worth talking about that will help us get to the meaning and purpose of the story Jesus tells.
The first thing that’s often difficult for us to understand is the idea of entrusting money to servants. Stewardship was very common in those days. They didn’t have banks or a stock market, so people with wealth would entrust portions of their money and holdings to their staff. And these servants would, essentially, be trusted to run little side businesses to grow that wealth.
So, this wealthy man going on a journey was doing a very common thing, apportioning his wealth among certain servants with the expectation that they would run his businesses in his stead - and make money for him - while he was gone.
The second thing that we need to understand if we want to really grasp the scope of this gospel is the value of a talent. It’s a massive amount of money. It’s not like this landowner is peeling $20 bills off a bankroll. Were talking the equivalent of millions and millions of today’s dollars. So, even the one given the least was being entrusted with more money than he could ever expect to earn in ten lifetimes. It’s no trivial sum that we’re talking about here.
And if we understand these two things, the profound message of the gospel becomes apparent. Because Jesus isn’t talking about money here at all. He’s talking about us and our relationship with him.
We’re at the end of Matthew’s gospel now and Jesus is preparing to go away. He is the rich man. And as he gets ready to depart, he is entrusting us to continue his business until he returns again to settle accounts. There is an expectation - the expectation that he won’t be able to directly influence his investments, but that we will do so in his place. The only way that wealth grows, the only way that the kingdom of God grows, is if each of us does our job.
And it’s not like Jesus is leaving us empty-handed. He has taught us exactly what needs to be done through the gospel and the church that he leaves behind. This is also no small sum. Even the least of us receives an amount that is worth many lifetimes of what we’d understand if we were left to do this on our own.
But we need to be willing to get in the game. We must first recognize the gift that we have been given. And, second, doing something with it.
Recognizing the gift is harder than it may seem. As we are beaten down by the world everyday, it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate the value of the gift that lies within us. As the bearer of the gift, we each have innate value.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And in case you haven’t heard it lately, each of you are a beloved child of God. He has trusted each of you with wealth beyond your imagination. He has given each of you special talents that will rock this world - if you are willing to put yourself out there.
And this is the second, and perhaps more difficult, part of the whole deal. We need to choose to do something with those gifts. We need to overcome our fears - fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of not being worthy.
There’s this tension that occurs when we are given something that we feel is beyond our abilities. The tendency to hoard and gather it in rather than use the gift for its intended purpose, which is giving it away. The tendency to disengage versus engaging with the world.
Father Ron Rollheiser talks about this tension by suggesting that at the bottom of this is a fear of the truth - truth that Jesus’ mission depends on us to achieve its purpose. That we are a necessary part of Jesus’ Incarnation. We must overcome our fear of losing what we have in order to risk everything for something greater.
At the end of the gospel, it talks of the darkness outside where there is wailing and grinding of teeth. Some suggest that this is a reference to hell. I think that’s a cop-out and too easy an explanation. The reality is that the darkness and wailing and grinding happens right up here - in our head. And we do it to ourselves.
We need to recognize that we have been given everything we need to be apostles of the Word and proclaim that to the world. We must trust that we are loved unconditionally by God and, in doing so, we will be free to achieve our destiny.
It’s no accident that the word talent has carried through the English language. Back in Jesus’ day, it was merely a measure of monetary wealth. Today, we apply the word to people. To have talent is to have a special skill. It means an abundance of special gifts living inside each of us.
Discover the talent that Jesus has placed in you and share that gift with the world. True humility recognizes our own talent … to deny that is to deny the unique gifts God has bestowed on each of us.
This is our chance to shine and become the face of God in the world. We should be grateful that we’ve been given the means to become who we are meant to be. Amen.