Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (2017)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
Often, as I go about preparing this weekly scripture reflection, I notice certain ancient words still finding their way into our contemporary vocabulary. The word talent (talents), for instance, happens to be an example of that in today’s readings.
Let us begin with a passage from the Jewish Book of Proverbs. Considering the historical state of women in the ancient Near East when this book was compiled, this is certainly an example of extraordinary praise for a good woman. The biblical author insists that she is not to be praised simply for her personal holiness or her household pursuits but more so because she is the one on whom everyone can depend. She is marked by wonder because all that she brings to the family is good and enriching. She is a blessing on everyone with whom she comes in contact. She is skilled at turning wool and flax into cloth for her family’s use. She extends her hands to those in need as though they were part of her own family. Because of all these various talents, she deserves to be praised at the city gates where crowds gather each day to buy and sell. She needs no public accolades; her works testify to her personal integrity. Not only is this woman gifted with personal aptitudes, she herself is a gift to all who come in touch with her. Her husband is justly proud of her.
As we shall see, this reading from the Book of Proverbs is meant to compliment the parable of the talents in the gospel that now follows. There are many ways that one can multiply God’s talents, one in business, and another in the context of the home. Every occupation can redouble the graces so necessary for this world in which we live. So now let us proceed to the gospel:
Those of us who have watched the TV show Britain’s Got Talent will remember the occasion some years ago when Susan Boyle, a middle-aged lady from a small Scottish village, came on stage to compete for a voice award. To the three judges, she hardly looked the part of a showgirl. Moreover, they already had their doubts regarding her talents as a pop singer. However, when she began to sing, the judges, indeed the entire audience, simply went silent in surprise. As she continued singing in a crystal-clear voice, and confident posture, everyone stood and cheered uproariously. Even today, when we hear the name Susan Boyle we think, “ah, there’s talent.”
That story came to mind when I read the parable Jesus told about the rich man who gave a certain number of talents to would-be investors. A talent is a Roman measure. Today, it would be the equivalent of approximately a million dollars.
So, here we have a man whose cash on hand amounts to something like nine million dollars. He hands it over to three trusted servant-investors. The first individual immediately doubles the money; the second does likewise. The third, however, decides to avoid the risk of embarrassment or personal criticism and simply buries the money.
The outrageous amount offered to the three investors immediately stands out. This is a parable, of course, and the point Jesus is making is that this is exactly the outrageous way God treats each of us, considering the number of free gifts, human and spiritual we often take for granted. Think, for instance, about the gift of life itself; think about the cosmos in which we exist that gives us life, day and night, the rotation of the periods of day and night, the seasons of warmth and cold, the colors of winter, spring, autumn and summer, human companionship and many more. Surely, these are worth more than millions of dollars or talents.
Notice too that the recipients are not allowed to keep the money and place it in their own savings accounts. The money still belongs to the original owner. They are expected to make more of it for his use or enjoyment.
So, in modern terms, the parable is all about appreciating the gifts we have been given and our consequent obligation to increase them according to our individual talents.
The last point of guidance to be taken from this parable is that nothing in life is completely free. If we decide to accept God’s precious gifts, we need to multiply them for God’s glory and the benefit of others. “Use it or lose it,” Jesus seems to say. Talents, whether in coin or in personal abilities belong to everyone; together, they make all of us wealthy.
The scriptures: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 • 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-6 • Matthew 25:14-30
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time