The Gospel for the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time comes to us again from the 25th chapter of Matthew, incidentally right after last week’s reading. In this parable, Jesus describes three servants who are each given a share of their master’s wealth. To one, five talents are given, to another two, and to a third one. The master leaves for a journey, and when he returns he seeks an account of what the servants have done with his money. We all know the story. The first two have taken their talents and doubled their money. But the third, afraid of his master, who is a demanding individual, takes his talent and buries it, rather than risking it through investment.
As we said some time ago, a talent was no negligible amount of money. Each talent was equivalent to 1,000 silver pieces. So these servants are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility.
We must be careful not to impose our English language on this Gospel and think too closely about monetary talents and our own personal talents. Although this is a very common route to take, I want to steer us in a different direction.
Keep in mind that over the past couple of months, our cycle of readings has increasingly focused on the Kingdom of God, the coming of the Lord, and the day of reckoning that is to come. Jesus continually exhorts his disciples to be reading, for we do not know when our Lord will come again.
If we look at last week’s Gospel in terms of actualizing our Faith through that profound interior movement of the spirit and seeking to participate actively in the Christian community, then today’s Gospel reinforces that by exhorting us to grow deeper in our Faith.
By virtue of our Baptism, each of us has been entrusted with a precious gift, the gift of Faith. Our Master, the Lord God, gives us all Faith. This Faith, friends, is indeed a gratuitous gift, given freely by our Lord, and is not our own. It does not belong to us, nor is it a personal faith, because it is the Faith of the Church—the whole body of Christ’s Faithful; and it is the role of the Church to safeguard this tremendous Gift of Faith from abuse and misuse, from heresy and misinterpretation. Our Faith is not a personal possession that can be manipulated or distorted according to our whims, in order to suit our own needs. And Jesus’ parable makes that very clear. For at every point in the story, it was the master’s money, and not the servants’. And so, this Gift that God gives to His children is one which requires us to be faithful stewards, but never to presume ownership to where we might misuse it.
And God does not give this gift equally to everyone, does he? No. There are effectively three typologies of faith-filled people. The first is represented by the servant who was given five talents. These are the people that we all strive to be like, but whom we rarely encounter in our daily lives—the sort of people from whom holiness seems to emanate. Their Faith is so apparent that we know them just by seeing them! The second is the group that most of us fall into—the servant with two talents. This is the average person of Faith, who does what is expected of him, but little more. This person attends Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, obeys the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church, and would be considered the average, good Catholic. Then there is the third—the wicked, lazy servant who squanders the gift of Faith by burying it, giving it no opportunity to grow. (Chances are, none of them are reading this blog!)
So, God gives us all the Faith, but not in equal measure. As Jesus says very explicitly in the Gospel today, the master gave the talents to his servants, “to each according to his ability.” Who knows better our strengths and weaknesses than God? And He gives us Faith according to our ability to actualize our Faith. To those to whom much Faith is given, God expects great things. To those to whom He gives little, he still expects a return on his investment, but does not expect the same level of performance as those with more. That would be unjust.
We know that God is truly just, and His justice is most evident in the reward of actualizing our Faith and making it grow. To the first two servants, he says the exact same thing: “Well done, my good and faithful servant...Come, share your master’s joy.” Despite the fact that one servant made so much more money than the other, their reward is the same, because the reward of Faith is the same for all God’s faithful servants: the joy of Salvation!
This is the end for which we are created—eternal life sharing in the joy of God. Our God, who is all-loving and infinitely just prepares a place for his faithful children. Because God Himself is pure joy, it is only fitting that, wanting us to share in His life, He welcomes us into his joy. This joy, which knows no bounds, is the same for all—whether we have a super-abundance of Faith, or whether we just barely squeak by! In this lies the reality of the vision that God has for all of humanity, and so wide is his mercy that only the most wretched, wicked and lazy—those who squander the gift of Faith and do nothing with it whatsoever—are left to languish in the dark, bleak turmoil of eternal damnation.
We must constantly be on our guard, though. We can never become so lazy in the Faith that we begin to squander our great Gift. What is necessary is that each of us to whom Faith has been given seeks daily to comprehend the amount of Faith given, and to know that which is necessary to make that Faith grow into an investment worthy of our master’s praise, that on His return he will see what we have done with His Gift to us, and will welcome us into His Kingdom with the phrase our souls so desperately long to hear: “Come. Share in your Master’s joy.”