Monday, November 17, 2014

To each according to his ability

          A great (and exhausting) weekend here at All Saints.  45 teens participated in the Antioch retreat, Start a Fire, and we really saw how our faithfulness in using our talents made a profit in the lives of these youth and contributed to the building of God's kingdom in preparation for our Master's return.

Closing of Antioch 2014 - Start a Fire

          Fear of failure is the enemy of faithfulness, because it makes us bury our talents instead of using them.  God doesn't condemn us for our failures, but for our lack of faithfulness.  Thus, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain, so go and make a difference in the world!

          Happy feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary!


Homily: 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          Ready or not, secular Christmas has descended upon us.  Much like this winter weather hi-jacked fall and arrived before its time, secular Christmas is already in full-swing.  This is not unexpected, though.  Retailers hoping to profit off of this “season of giving” risk starting earlier and earlier each year in hopes of catching an extra share of gift-givers’ money.  “Christmas only comes once a year”, they say, and so they know that they cannot waste any time.
          My older sister has long been possessed by this “spirit of Christmas”.  It begins on Thanksgiving Day where we not only ingest turkey and dressing, but also the sounds Christmas music already playing on the radio in order to “prime the pump” for what follows next.  For on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a coordinated onslaught by Christmas décor completely obliterates any sign of fall harvest motif.  It’s as if Christmas Day was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and so no man, woman, or child could be left to rest until this transformation is complete.
          What my sister and retailers both demonstrate is that when we know the day and the time that something important is going to happen we have no problem making preparations; even to the point of putting aside everything else so as to ensure that the preparations are complete.  As Christians, however, we often fall far short of these expectations.  We know that Jesus has come to save us and we believe that he desires a personal relationship with us, which is why we celebrate events like the day of his birth—Christmas—because they invite us to know him more deeply and so consider him like a dear friend or family member, but when it comes to preparing for his coming again in glory, we often miss the mark.  We go along with our lives like Jesus’ coming won’t be during our lifetimes and we put off the work of building his kingdom in preparation of his coming.
          This, however, is exactly what Jesus is warning us about in the parable of the talents.  In biblical terms, a talent was a unit of weight and it was not a small unit.  A talent of silver, according to some historians, was worth nearly 15 years of daily wages in Jesus’ time.  Therefore, the amount of money that the master is entrusting to each of the three servants—even in its smallest quantity—is incredibly large.  Even though our modern sensibilities cringe at the idea that one man seemed to do something very risky when he buried the money instead of investing it, his action would have been seen as an acceptable way of protecting the money he was entrusted with: because if you buried it and it was stolen, you wouldn’t be responsible; but if you invested it and lost it through bad investments, you would be responsible.
          As Jesus often does in these parables, however, he takes the expected outcome and he flips it.  In this parable, the servants who were risky with their master’s money were rewarded, but the one who avoided any risk was punished.  Perhaps it’s too easy, however, to conclude that it is because of the profit that the servants made that they were rewarded and that because the one servant didn’t make any profit that he was punished.  I think that there’s something more to this parable.
          If we look at the part where the money is distributed, we see that the master distributed the talents “to each according to his ability”.  In other words, the master knew the responsibility that he was giving to his servants, and he knew his servants well and so also knew how capable they were (or weren’t) to handle his money, and so he calculated how much to give to each servant so as to ensure that his money would be safe while he was away on his journey.  Two of his servants trusted their master’s assessment of them and went and traded with his money, each according to his abilities, and each made a profit.  The third servant, however, failed to trust his master—in fact, he was afraid of him—and so he washed his hands of the responsibility that his master had given him by burying the money until his master returned.
          It is for this failure of trust that the third servant is punished.  When the master returned and saw the profit from the work of the first two servants he said to each of them, “since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.”  In other words, they were rewarded for their faithfulness, not for their profit.  When the third showed his complete lack of faith in his master, fueled by fear, he was punished: not because he didn’t make a profit (he did what was accepted to be the safest way to protect money), but rather because he failed to trust his master and his master’s assessment of his ability to make a profit.  Perhaps he wasn’t even a bad person (I want to believe that he was a nice guy), but he had no faith and so he was punished.
          This is why this parable is such a valuable lesson for us.  God has given to each of us faith according to our ability to make a profit from it for the building of his kingdom.  We, therefore, are called to trust in his assessment of our ability and to go out and trade with it.  Our trading is the building up of God’s kingdom of justice and peace in the world.  And when the master returns—that is, when Jesus comes again in glory—we will each be rewarded or punished on account of our faithfulness: that is, whether in faith we went out and worked for God’s kingdom, even at the risk of failure, or in fear we buried our talent in the earth, preserving what we had been given, but preventing it from growing and producing fruit.
          My brothers and sisters, as we approach the end of the liturgical year, our liturgy reminds us that Jesus’ coming is still close at hand and, therefore, that we must be vigilant in our work to prepare for his coming.  Just as each of us will prepare our homes to celebrate the remembrance of Christ’s birth, so too we must remain committed to preparing our world for his second coming as if the day were as close at hand as Christmas Day is to today.  And there is no reason to fear, because our Good God knows us and he knows our abilities.  Thus, he gives each of us faith to accomplish some work for the building of his kingdom according to our abilities.  Blessed John Henry Newman, a brilliant theologian from the 19th century in England, summed it up perfectly when he said:
“God has created me to do some definite service.  God has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.  I have my mission—I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  I have not been created for naught.  I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep the commandments.  Therefore, I will trust in God.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve God; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve God; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve God.  God does nothing in vain, but knows what all is about.”
Let us, then, be about the work that God has committed to each of us, so that when Jesus, our master, returns, we may receive the reward that faith has won for us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 16th, 2014

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