|33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
So as to be more receptive to the graces of the Word and Eucharist, imagine Jesus talking to his disciples. He notices a woman doing her household duties and her husband standing in amazement at all the tasks she does and how beautiful she is within all her busyness. Jesus uses this setting to instruct his followers about their being called to such fidelity expressed in actions both great and small. We see the disciples wondering whether or not they could live with the gifts, demands and responsibilities to which Jesus points as they watch fidelity in motion.
We are nearing the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teachings. The summary of his speeches is being presented to us these last two weeks of Ordinary Time. We are invited to reflect upon what we have been given and what we have been given to do with these gifts. We pray with the beliefs which Jesus has revealed to us both about the true personality of God as well as the true personality of those to whom much has been entrusted. We can pray with the great and little deeds which bespeak our own fidelity within our parishes, families and communities. We have been the believers, the receivers and sent to be the achievers.
Usually the First Reading leads quite obviously to the themes of the Gospel. Today’s First Reading seems more appropriate to Mother’s Day or for a funeral of a departed and beloved wife and mother. The Church either made a mistake, or we are invited to listen beyond the words and images to the grace embedded in these lines from a poem from the book of Proverbs.
Instead of speaking of wives and their duties, we hear of ourselves who have been entrusted with God’s love. The whole poem, and this little section we hear today, relates the ways of those who have been entrusted with love. “Hands,” “fingers” and “arms” are the articulation of humble and loving service. The needy and poor receive the attention and care of those who know they are beloved. The outward beauty may be skin deep, but the deeper beauty is the works of those who believe they are beautiful in the eyes of God no matter the amount of work or the public awareness of their touches.
The Gospel is the relating of a parable, which by its very nature is meant to be extreme so as to highlight a central idea. Literalists have great fun at times with parables and spin off many exaggerated thoughts and beliefs. A parable is a puzzle which has to have every piece put properly in its place to bring forth the true and intended picture. So, let this parable take shape, the shape Matthew intended.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for accepting their responsibilities flowing from their belief in him. He is preparing to go away for a long time as visible “master.” The parable has two servants who differ in “ability,” but not love of and for their “master.” The third servant gets the least amount and buries what he has received.
This fellow admits, upon the master’s return, that he himself has an image of the “master” which prevents his investing and profiting. So here’s the question: Is the servant punished for his having a distorted image of the “master” or for his fearful laziness? The answer is “yes”, both; the image of the “master” distorts his own image of himself and his ability.
Faith and and the works which flow from faith differ from certainty
and the deeds therein done. God has invested in us and our responses
are the investments we make in doing the works of faith and love.
The fear of the third servant allowed him to escape his risking, or the
works which are a gamble. He is lazy, not in the sleepy sense, but
in the distancing-himself sense. He does not have to risk, trust,
and gamble in the goodness of the “master.” He thought the “master”
to be such and so and this frightened him into a burial.
The “Divine Economy” is different for all of us. God entrusts gifts of ability and faith to us and then labors with us. We minister, work, with and not for God as master, but God as invested in us. “Invested” may seem like an odd word, but vestis is the Latin word for “clothing.” God has taken our clothing of flesh as a permanent state. We are born into human clothing to bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a risk, a gamble, because we could also invest in the clothing of the kingdom of greed, immediacy and self-establishment.
We, as with the listening-disciples, are invited to a correct image of our “master” and a consequently more accurate image of who the “master” has said we are. When we can accept this truth, we will more likely allow the “master” to labor with us for the advancement of the Kingdom.
When we were young Jesuits and working out in the gardens, lawns or around the house, we were to work in silence, but we could say one thing to those whom we might encounter. “Remember who you’re working for.” I am still trying to remember and live with the risks; gambles and joy to which we are all invited by the “master” who is not our superior!
“It is good for me to be with the Lord and to put my hope in him.” Psalm 73
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