33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A - Nov. 19, 2023

 

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A - Nov. 19, 2023

Proverb. 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30

 

Theme: Fidelity to our Baptismal Commitment 

We are approaching the end of the liturgical calendar. Next Sunday, the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ the King, will mark the end of the Liturgical calendar Year A. In this context of the end, our Mother Church (since last Sunday, today, and next Sunday) suggests we meditate on the Scripture readings that refer to the end of time and the fulfillment of the salvation story. Because we do not know when the end of time will come, whether it be for the whole creation or for ourselves individually, the Bible readings exhort us to stay awake, vigilant, and faithful to our Baptismal commitments. The Gospel readings of these three Sundays come from chapter 25 in the Gospel of Mathew. The first part of this chapter is the parable of the Ten Virgins that we heard last Sunday (vv. 1-13). The second part is what we read today, the parable of the Talents (vv. 14-30). And the third part is what we will hear next Sunday, the “Apocalyptic Discourse” (vv. 31-46).

In the parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to the ten virgins who went to meet with the bridegroom. Each of them had a lamp (the lamp symbolizes our personal relationship with God). Five were wise because they assumed that the arrival of the bridegroom could be delayed, so they prepared themselves accordingly by bringing extra oil with them (the oil without which the lamp cannot function represents the prayer life, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist (Mass) and Confession, and charity works without which our personal relationships with God cannot stand strong). The other five were foolish because they did not think about the probability of the delay of the bridegroom, so they did not bring extra oil. Effectively, the bridegroom was delayed in coming. He showed up at midnight, the unexpected hour. The wise virgins were able to trim their lamps using their extra oil which allowed them to meet with the bridegroom and enjoy the wedding feast. The foolish ones could not trim their lamps because they lacked extra oil. After they realized that it was not possible for their friends, the five wise virgins, to share with them their extra oil, they were forced to go to the merchants to buy extra oil. On their way back, they found the hall door locked already and the bridegroom told them he did not know them. So, they stayed outside and missed the wedding banquet. Jesus concludes the parable by inviting his listeners to stay awake. This parable taught us to pray a lot, attend the celebration of the Eucharist, use other sacraments, and do charity work. They are our “extra oils” that strengthen our one-on-one relationships with God which helps us to meet with our Lord when he comes back at the end of time.

Today, we meditate on the second part of chapter 25, the parable of the Talents. Like the first parable, this parable is also about the end times and how we might behave so that we pass the last judgment and inherit the heavenly kingdom. Here Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who was going on a journey, called in his three servants, and entrusted his possessions to each of them. He expected them to invest in them. The first servant received five talents, the second two talents, and the third one talent, each according to his ability. The parable states that the first two servants did great jobs by doubling their master’s money. In recognition of their efforts, the master called them “faithful servants” and he authorized them to share in his “joy”. “‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’” (Vv. 21, 23). The third servant, however, was not invited to share his master’s “joy” because instead of investing his master’s money, he chose to bury it. When the time for accounting arrived, he returned the same amount of money without any interest. Consequently, the master treated him as a “wicked”, “lazy”, and “useless” servant. He had him be thrown into the darkness outside, where there was wailing and grinding of teeth.

We first need to comprehend some details in this parable to understand its meaning better. First, the Greek word talanton is a monetary unit or weight measurement. Second, one cannot say that one talent that the third servant received was not enough money to invest in. Note that one talent was not insignificant; it was a huge sum of money. The estimated value of a talent was 80 pounds of silver. That is the equivalent value of 6,000 denarii (a denarius was a full day’s wages for most workers). So, one talent that the third servant received was still a substantial sum of money because it was the equivalent of over 16 years’ worth of wages to invest in.

The analogy of this parable is like this: the master represents Jesus himself. “Going on a journey” and “coming back to settle accounts with his servants” refer to his death, resurrection, ascension, and his second coming at the end of time for the last judgment. You and I are Jesus’ servants who receive from him different baptismal graces according to our abilities. Jesus has entrusted us with these graces, not to bury them as the third servant did, but to “invest” them in helping advance the coming reign of God while we are living until its full glory is revealed when he returns at the end of time.

The third servant failed to invest his master’s money because he was afraid and lazy, and he did not trust his master. “‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’” (Vv. 24-25). Fear, laziness, and lack of trust continue to prevent many of us today from investing our baptismal graces in the fulfillment of the reign of God in societies, Church communities, families, and wherever we live. Let us overcome our fear, let us become courageous, and let us trust our God by using our baptismal gifts and building the kingdom of God wherever we live.

The parable says that each servant received his talents according to his ability. Also, both the second servant who had two talents, and the first who had five were rewarded in the same way. They both shared their master’s joy. This means that we all receive baptismal gifts according to our abilities and we will all be saved in the same way. The difference in the baptismal gifts is based on our “abilities” as parents/grandparents, children, youth, and young adults, priests/religious and lay ministers, schoolteachers, catechists, and any functions with which people serve in the Church and societies. We all are called to invest them for the good of God’s people.

Our first reading exalts a gracious wife who faithfully dedicated herself to the marital commitment of her time and culture. Although today many people might have difficulty embracing this reading due to what we might call gender stereotyping, we need to focus on the theological message that it conveys. This reading calls us to be faithful to our baptismal commitment as this woman is faithful to her marital commitment. Let us remain faithful, alert, and sober because the “day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” says Saint Paul in our second reading.

May the liturgy of this Mass enable us to stay always awake and faithful to our baptismal commitments by investing the gifts that God has entrusted us for our salvation and that of other people until the return of our Lord Jesus. Amen.  

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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