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Gospel                                                                                 Mt 25:14-30

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master's money.

"After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five.
He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
'Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
'Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.'
His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"

Upon Reflection

Sunday, November 19, 2023

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)



Upon Reflection:   A former colleague of mine and now retired Friar once stumbled across a word that he felt was a good summation of Franciscan values:  Enoughness.  Surely he has since used the word in many a homily, but I think that if ever there was a Gospel to preach on Enoughness, this week's Gospel reading would be it.   


It is true that most of us hear this parable that Jesus tells, or hear sermons about it, or maybe even read scriptural commentary about it, and conclude that Jesus is teaching us to use the gifts that God has given us lest we be held accountable in the final judgment.  Although this is a fine message and surely something Jesus would talk about, there is another interpretation of this passage that holds a completely different meaning.  If you would indulge me, I'd like to offer it to you here.


There are a few giveaways to suggest this alternate interpretation:  First, most of these parables that we have been hearing throughout Matthew's account of the Gospel begin with the phrase, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like.."  But here, he does not begin with that phrase.  This is not a parable describing the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is a parable describing the kingdoms of this world.  


Second, usually when Jesus speaks of a "master of the house," he is referring to God.  But the master of the house that he refers to in this parable resembles nothing of the God whom Jesus presents to us throughout his public ministry.  "Demanding, harvesting where he doesn't plant, gathering where he doesn't scatter, taking away from those who don't have and giving it to those who already have:"  If that's an accurate description of God, then we're all in trouble!  


Within this interpretation, the parable is not a description of God, but rather a description of the god of power and money.  


The parable uses the term, "talent."  A talent is a measurement of money equivalent to 19 years worth of wages for a typical servant.  In other words, it is A LOT of money.  This master is super rich.  The first two servants (probably seeking a promotion) knew their master's love of money, so they did whatever they could to make him even richer.


However, the third servant who appears to have absolutely no concern about being promoted, does nothing with the money.  He seemingly doesn't even have any interest in making his master interest!  What our American ears hear at this point is that the first two servants are good and the third servant is bad.  But in actuality, it is the opposite!  The third servant is the hero because he refuses to play the game.  


Jesus is warning his disciples about what is going to happen when they do not participate in playing the game of helping the rich get richer.  While those servants who worship at the altar of making more and more money for their master get promoted, those who refuse through civil disobedience find themselves cast out.  


This is exactly what happened to the early Christians.  They lived with a spirituality of enoughness, refusing to live otherwise and refusing to enter into the system of the one percent who owned everything yet still wanted more.  


Today, most in our community may be the 99% in the United States, but the truth is that as citizens of the world, we are the 1%.  Compared to the vast majority of people in the world, many of us do not live with an attitude of enoughness.  Sadly, as a nation, we're not even close to being a country of enoughness.  


Perhaps that is why we like that other, more conventional translation of this parable.  It certainly is a lot easier to hear and fits our capitalistic mindset much better.  But I and others are convinced that this alternative interpretation offers a message that is just as important.  It demands honest self-examination, both as Christian individuals and as a Christian community. 


For me at least, it is an uncomfortable truth that causes me to question which kingdom I live within and which kingdom the society that I am a part of lives within.

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