33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
November 19, 2017
The Gospels we have heard on recent Sundays, especially the parables, have got us into the habit of looking at life’s events starting from relationship with the Lord: if we learn to know His Heart, His gratuitousness, His desire to give us life, then we go to work in the vineyard without further calculating merits and performances (Mt 20:1-16), there we are like children who welcome all in gift (Mt 21:33-41), we welcome the invitation to His banquet entering there as new persons (Mt. 22:1-14), and so on.
This key also helps us with today’s parable (Mt. 25:14-30), that of the talents.
A man has some wealth and, departing for a long journey, hands different amounts to his servants. Two servants go and invest the money they received, and doubled the amount; another, who received only one talent, goes and digs a hole in the ground and hides it. And, on the master’s return, gives it back to him intact: he did not lose it, he did not increase it.
The heart of the passage is found in the answer the servant gives the master who has rebuked him: “Master, I know that you are a demanding man, who harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid and I went and hid the talent in the ground: here is what’s yours” (Mt. 24:25).
The servant’s problem, his inability to take a risk, is simply due to the relationship he’s established with his master, which is a relationship not founded on trust and love, but rather on fear.
The master was unafraid to trust his property to the servants: he could have been!
He is an open-minded master, a generous and magnanimous master, and he reminds us a little of the owner of the vineyard who goes out at every hour to hire workers, gives the same pay to all, does not calculate how much he owes them and how much he loses: that’s who he is!
The same with today’s master: he trusts his goods to the servants, he does not give them limits, directions, orders. He trusts, he’s unafraid. The first two servants, strengthened by this trust, take a risk and earn twice the amount.
The third servant, instead, is afraid and does not go beyond his own fear, and hides the talent loaned to him.
We’ve seen, in recent Sundays, that, often, sin consists in relying on oneself, on one’s own strength, which the Lord wants to give us, in going outside the relationship with Him, as if it was not a gift. But even today’s servant also does the same thing: refusing to gamble, to risk, he also rejects relationship with the master, and hides it as he hides the talent; he lives as if he has not received anything, as if his master did not give him anything.
Why does he do it? What’s he afraid of?
To understand the heart of this servant, perhaps we should turn to the first pages of Genesis, where the term fear occurs for the first time. The context is that of the first sin, when Adam and Eve, after having disobeyed the command of the Lord, were afraid of meeting Him anew and went into hiding (Gen 3).
Fear, therefore, is born from sin and insinuates itself into the relationship: man developed a false perception of God, he forgot that this God is a father who gives everything, gratis.
And there, where there was a relationship of trust and listening, fear and suspicion have now taken over. Where there was a relationship of love, there is now a relationship of justice.
The servant of the parable, in effect, does not do anything wrong, no mistake: he gives back to the master the exact amount he received, nothing less. He doesn’t hold anything for himself, he takes nothing from the master: a talent loaned, a talent returned. He is a just man.
But this is not enough, and it doesn’t say everything about the relationship that God wants to have with men and women. He does not want servants that scrupulously obey His orders out of fear. He wants children, to whom He can entrust His life, so that they do it; and who remain in relationship with Him in the freedom and creativity of love.
This is how the first two servants in the parable live (Mt. 25:16), to whom a final surprise is reserved, when, returning the talents to their master they discover that their ability to risk, their being serious risk-takers, is worth an incalculable return to them: “Come, your master’s joy” (Mt. 25:21,23).
They thought they were dealing with small matters, in reality they had their entire life in their hands.