Here in North America we are preparing to celebrate the old, ancient, liturgy with a few translational changes. In two weeks we will pray with words which are a more literal and exact rendering of the Latin which is intended to bring about a greater sense of the unity of the Roman Catholic Church. Some prayers and music will be different, but the Eucharistic celebration remains.
Changes are not always easy or comfortable. We question so easily whether changes are for the better or are we moving backwards? The familiar is, well, familiar and in the liturgy, what changes mainly is ourselves. The Word and Sacraments are meant to enliven, rearrange, stretch, and strengthen us for the following of Jesus. Not everyone whom Jesus met liked the changes He was proposing.
As we prepare this week to celebrate His Word and Sacrament, we might reflect upon the daily changes of schedules, relationships, and moods which interrupt the usual and familiar. We can pray with and for the freedom to which changes call us.
The Book of Proverbs is full of proverbial sayings. “Do not boast about tomorrow since you do not know what will bring forth.” “Let the other man praise you, but not your own mouth. A Stranger, but not your lips.” Prov. 27, 1-2. Our First Reading is taken from the chapter which contains sayings of Lemuel, a king, that he learned from his mother. The very first teaching he received from his mother was that he should not spend his energy on women nor “your loins on these destroyers of kings” What we hear is a long description of the “Perfect Wife.” These verses are the ending of the whole book. We hear only a few lines from the long picturing of what a good woman and wife does in her family and community.
The key word here is “value” and the “works” she does give her the praise.
Do our works give us “value” and therefore we receive honor? The word “evaluate” stresses that deeds are what gives value to the person. The letter “e” comes from the Latin “ex” meaning “out of” or “from”. Literally then, “evaluate” means a taking out of the deed its value and applying it to the doer of the deed. The wife in this reading is asked to do the cultural things which wives are expected to perform and their value derives from the perfect execution of those expectations. Our value is not so much from what we do, but from who we are.
Our faith in the constantly-creating God offers us a truer and more lasting identity than the fleeting results of this or that activity. There is a value embedded in each of us which expresses itself in how we do and what we do. In a sense then, we “in-valuate” our actions with our fingerprints, our spirit, our name. We speak into our doings, the being “inside each one dwells”.
Our importance comes from our significance and not the other way around. Our works point beyond to the Giver, the Doer Who labors through us to be the Ultimate Importance and Supreme Value. “Signum” is the Latin word for “sign”. We are made to be signs of a God Whose “works” are to be praised and many of those “works” are accomplished by us. Our “works” are important and of true “value” when they render to God all that belongs to God, and all does belong to God.
The Gospel is the last in the series of parables to which we have been listening these past weeks. The audience has been the Pharisees. They have been challenged and insulted by the words and stories Jesus has directed toward them. This parable however is offered to the disciples for their encouragement. Jesus is the Master going on a journey. We are nearing the end of Matthews’ account of the life of Jesus. The disciples are the servants with whom Jesus has entrusted the relationship of faith. The master in the story goes on his journey and then returns expecting a fruitful accounting of his investments. There are three servants who received different amounts with which to do something. Two did and one invested, out of fear, in the earth.
As with the man who came into the wedding feast improperly attired, this fearful fellow gets thrown out into the dark outside and where there will be nothing but regret. The other two get invited into the “joy” of their master where even greater responsibilities will be shared.
This is not a teaching about the proper use of personal or physical gifts exactly. The “talents” are a symbol for the gift of faith and the parable is about the proper employment of that gift. The winning couple were active, allowing faith to assist them in making choices of being reverent and receptive to all of God’s other gifts. They responded. The third servant was afraid of the master and doubted, because he was given only a small amount. He buried his faith and did not allow the gift to fructify, but just let it be nothing in his life’s choices and attitude.
Next Sunday’s Gospel is the story which follows this parable. We will hear quite directly and clearly what faith does, when invested faithfully. Faith gives us our value and are outreaching, our caring, our dying-to-self, our being for others. These are the sacramentally significant gestures which begin God’s kingdom within and around us.
“It is good for me to be with the Lord and to put my hope in Him.” Ps. 73, 28
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