• 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time A

    Posted on November 12, 2017 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels

    We should note the master’s approach to these servants.  He could dictate exactly how each servant will use his money, but does not.  Instead, he exhibits great trust, leaving them latitude to take advantage of opportunities as they might arise.  Furthermore, he treats each of them as individuals, allocating resources in accord with their abilities.  Finally he leaves.  As every supervisor or parent knows, walking away is the hardest step—and the one that demonstrates the greatest trust.

    Scholars estimate the value of a talent variously.  One person puts the talent as worth 15-20 years of earnings for the common man.  Another says a talent is worth a lifetime’s earnings.  It is clear that we are speaking of an immense sum of money.

    Note the contrast between the verbs used for the five-and two-talent servants and those used for the one-talent servant:

        The five and two talent servants “went off at once,”

                                                                    whereas the one talent servant “went away.”

        The five and two talent servants “trade” or “worked with the money that had been entrusted to them,

                                                                    While the one talent servant “dug a hole.”

        The five and two talent servants “made” or “won” additional talents,

                                                                    But the one talent man “hid his master’s money.


    The verbs used for the five and two talent servants are progressive, whereas the verbs used for the one-talent servant are regressive.  This verbal difference reflects contrasting opinions of the master.  The master’s trust emboldens the five and two talent servants.  Their trust in the master reflects the trust that the master has shown in them.

    The Master-Lord rewards the five and two talent servants in three ways:

    1)           He pronounces them “good and worthy.”  While this might seem a small thing, we can expect these servants to remember these words fondly, probably for the rest of their lives.  Very few things feel better than words of praise given by a highly respected person and honestly won. We all need affirmation.

    2)           He gives them increased responsibility.  The ministry of love need not be a burden, but has the potential to be a great joy.

    3)           He says, “Enter into the joy of your master” (vv.21,23) This probably takes us beyond the parable setting¼into Christian expectation regarding the Messiah’s victory banquet.

                The master rewards these two servants equally, even though one has gained five talents while the other has gained only two.  The master’s words to both servants are exactly the same. The one talent servant characterizes the master as harsh.  Is he perhaps resentful within for having received a smaller quantity than the other two?  This characterization is unfair.  The master, encountering faithful service, goes beyond fairness to generosity.  The first two servants made the best of their opportunity, but that involved risk.  They could not have acted so boldly had they not trusted the master.  They acted with confidence, not just in themselves, but also in their master.  The one talent servant, however, acts in fear.  He has not affection for his master, is concerned only for his own security, and is not about to risk himself to enrich the master.  He allows fear to dictate his action.  He buries the money, thinking that will relieve him of responsibility.    In the first reading from Proverbs the industrious and generous woman is praised precisely for her “fear of the Lord”.  What is the difference between this woman’s fear which is praised and the one talents servant’s fear?  In the context of Israel’s wisdom literature, fear of God is a profound awe of the Creator that frees one from the fear of anything or anyone else, and it energizes one to act justly and generously.  The first and second servants were acting obediently according to that healthy fear, whereas the third servant was hobbled by a lesser, craven fear.  How are we to interpret these words:  “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (v.29) Matthew probably means to moralize to the effect that gifts unused atrophy, but gifts exercised increase.    But we must not miss the high risk activity of the first two servants.  The major themes of the Christian faith—caring, giving, witnessing, trusting, loving, and hoping—cannot be understood or lived without risks.            We usually consider certain things as talents and overlook others.  Artistic or academic ability will get me recognized as talented.  But, there are so many other talents that we fail to recognize or take for granted, failing to assign them near-infinite value.  No one is without talents,  No matter how weak and fractured the image of God may seem in us, not matter how severe our disabilities, by the very fact that we have life, we know we have talents.  Affection is a talent.  Service is a talent.  Generosity is a talent.  The ability to evoke and facilitate the talents of others is a talent.  For some people, perhaps suffering is a share in Christ’s talent.  We should cultivate an ability to recognize talents, our own and others’.  When we do that, two things happen.  The first is that in recognizing talents, we can better put them to use for God’s kingdom.  Overlooked talents may become buried talents.  The second is that we begin to understand the generosity of God.


    If we read this parable in “economic terms”, it looks quite different.  The one talent man refuses to be part of the economic system that the man going on the journey proposes. from:Mike Rivage-Seul’s Blog” It’s about the world of investment and profit-taking without real work. It’s also about dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class.

    The parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss – “a demanding person harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, like the system of capitalism itself, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of others. The conformists go along with that system which to them has no acceptable alternative.

    Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable refuses to go along. And he suffers the predictable consequences for doing so. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system represents the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy.”

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