First Reading: Proverbs 31:10 – 13, 19-20, 30 – 31. Psalm: 128. 1 Thessalonians 5: 1 – 6. Matthew: 25: 14-15, 19 – 21.
Well done my good and faithful servant…. You were faithful in small matters (Mattthew 25:23)
Don’t we all long to hear these words from Jesus when we meet him face-to face? Though we stumble and fall, we put our faith in our Lord’s mercy. W hope that one day, we will greet our Master with joy and confidence rather than with fear and trembling. But how can we see this hope fulfilled? Today’s Gospel gives us a clue. In this parable, Jesus is doing more than giving financial advice. He’s teaching us how to be ready for his return in glory.
Earlier in this discourse, Jesus told two similar parables. First, he spoke of two servants who are put in charge of their master’s house-hold (Matthew 24: 45 – 51). One is responsible and provides faithfully for his fellow servants. He is rewarded and put in charge of all his masters property. The other is lazy, selfish, and cruel to the others, he earns a severe punishment.
Jesus second parable involves two groups of women awaiting a bridegroom (Matthew 25: 1 – 13), Some are wise and bring oil, some are foolish and do not. When the bridegroom returns, only the wise women have oil to light their lamps. They are ready to greet him and enter the feast. The foolish rush off to buy oil, but in the end, they are too late to join the celebration.
Now in today’s parable, Jesus tries once more to show his disciples how to be ready for his return. He wants them and all of us to enter the feast of heaven and ‘share (our) master’s joy’ (Matthew 25: 21). And that requires faithfulness. Jesus wants us to be like those servants who earned a return. He’s urging us to stay alert, obey his commands, and be faithful “in small matters” (25: 21). Every act of love and obedience will help us to live as children of light. Then our hearts will be ready to greet Jesus and hear him say, “Well done!”
The rich man in today’s parable was well aware of the abilities of his servants. Before he set out on his journey he entrusted his property “to each in proportion to his ability.” He knew what each of his three servants was able for, and he only gave as much responsibility to each of them as each could carry. The man who received five talents of money was capable of making five more; the one who received two talents was capable of making two more; the one who received one talent was capable of making one more. The first two servants worked according to their ability. The third servant did not, giving his master back the one talent he had been given, instead of the two talents he was capable of gaining. What held this servant back from working according to his ability was fear. “I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.”
Many of us may find ourselves having some sympathy for the third servant, because, deep down, we are only too well aware how fear can hold us back and prevent us from doing what we are well capable of doing. Fear can be a much more powerful force in the lives of some than others. There can be many reasons for this. Those who have experienced a lot of criticism growing up can be slow to take a risk and may develop a fearful approach to life. We are familiar with the Irish proverb, Mol an oige agus tiochfaid siad. Praise the young and they will make progress. The converse can also true. Criticize the young and they will be held back. Unfair criticism can stunt our growth and prevent us from reaching our God-given potential. We hide what we have been given in the ground. There it remains safe, but useless.
Jesus was only too well aware of the disabling power of fear in people’s lives. It is striking the number of times in the gospels he addresses people with the words, “Do not be afraid.” When Simon Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” Jesus replied to him, “Do not be afraid, from now on it is people you will catch.” When fear threatened to hold Peter back, Jesus called him forward into a new way of life. Jesus was present to people in ways that released them from their fear. In particular, he did not want fear of failure to hold people back. He could cope with failure in others. He knew that many people could learn from failure. There was little to be learned from staying put. There was much to be learnt from striking out, even if failure was experienced along the way.
The tragedy of the third servant in the parable today is that, out of fear, he hid what had been entrusted to him, even though he had the ability to use it well. We have each been graced in some way by the Lord for the service of others. If I hide what the Lord has given me, others are thereby deprived. Most of us need a bit of encouragement to place our gifts at the disposal of others. Part of our baptismal calling is to give others courage, to encourage others. A couple of verses beyond where today’s second reading ends, Paul writes: “Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” In these difficult times for the church, the ministry of encouragement is all the more necessary. There is much to be learned from the mistakes of the past, but the Lord would not want us to go to ground. Now is not the time to hide our Good News in the ground out of fear. Rather, it is a time to encourage each other to share this treasure so that the church may become all that God is calling it to be.
One of the main reasons why people do not use their talents is because they have been belittled in the past. To belittle is to put someone down, to make them feel small, lessen their sense of self worth. There are many ways of demeaning another person: cynicism, sarcasm, non-appreciation, taking for granted. The antidote to belittle is to lift people up, to encourage them to value themselves.