Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 / Ps 128 / 1 Thes 5:1-6 / Mt 25:14-30
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There was a story of a Chinese boy who came from a very poor family in Hong Kong and never dreamed that he would go far. His parents left him behind to do some housekeeping and construction in Australia. Gifted with talents and skills for doing stunts and acrobatics, he developed and cashed in on this until he rose to become a famous movie actor, multimillionaire, and Asian superstar, that is Jackie Chan.
Brothers and sisters, we are given different talents by the Lord. For example, some of us are good at singing, dancing, and talking. Some are good at the arts, mathematics, sciences, and others. And sometimes our talents are very unique. All of us have talent. We cannot say, “I don’t have talent. I don’t know how to sing. I don’t know how to dance,” and so on and so forth.
The Church continues to reflect about the end of the world and the end of our lives. Last Sunday we were asked to reflect on the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, and we were taught to be ready to meet the Lord. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which opens the last week of the liturgical year of the Church. Today’s gospel points out through the parable of the talents the difference between being ready and being unready when the Lord returns to settle accounts with us.
Jesus gives us a parable that the Kingdom of God is like a man traveling to a faraway land and calling his three servants to take care of some of his possessions. One servant has great ability, and so he gives this servant five talents. The second has average ability and he is given two talents, while the third has little ability because he was just given one talent. The first two servants immediately made their talents work and doubled the number of talents the master gave them, but the servant who received only one talent buried it because of the fear that he may lose it.
When the master returned, the first two servants who made their talents work reported what they did with the money, and the master was very happy with them, and he gave what the two servants earned to them. But when the last servant told him that he was afraid to lose the money and buried it, the master became angry. He gave the one talent to the servant who earned ten talents.
Brothers and sisters, most of us think of a talent as some kind of special ability, gift, or skill. In Jesus’ time a talent was a measure of money. We can understand the talents in today’s gospel as symbols of any of the gifts God has given to us, especially our faith, and we use these gifts to build His Kingdom.
Everyone has received something from God. Life itself is a talent. Time is a talent. Treasure is a talent. They are all talents we have to invest. Knowing that Jesus was describing servants being given huge amount of cash to invest helps us to understand just how generous the master was being and the opportunity each servant was given. The greatest gift God has given to us is the gift of Himself. The talents represent more than just the monetary resources God gives us.
Remember, this is a parable and all of Jesus’ parables are about a bit more than they seem. This parable is paired with the parable of the ten virgins who made the mistake of not having enough oil when the bridegroom arrives. It is also preceded by a story about a servant not using his position well while the master is away. All three stories are about being given something which must be used well and the consequences of neglecting or abusing it. In short, the talents represent what God has given us; our monetary resources, our callings to positions within the Church that can be found in Ephesians 4:11-16, our natural gifts. Each of these things and many others are given by God to use in ways that glorify Him and draw others toward Him.
There is a famous saying in the movie Chariots of Fire, where future Olympian Eric Liddell feels a tension between his chance to be an Olympic runner and his calling be a missionary in China. Eventually he tells his sister he will go to the Olympics and then to the mission field because both honor God. “God made me for a purpose, for China,” Liddell says, “but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give that up would be to hold Him in contempt.” In the end all talents are given by God to glorify Him.
The Bible makes it clear, there is no sacred versus secular world in the way we often think. Yes, there are official positions for certain church tasks; preaching, evangelizing, teaching, etc., and Christians should not be molded by worldly standards. However, all creation was made very good, and we must do all things to God’s glory. So, whatever we are doing, provided it is not a sinful activity, we serve God well by doing it well. As Dorothy Sayers put it in her essay, Why You Work: “If we follow God properly, all the work will be Christian work, whether it is Church embroidery or sewage farming.”
The Bible makes it clear that we don’t really own our gifts. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God according to plans He laid out before we were born to glorify Him forever. The fact that the master owns the money he gave the servants, and he gets the results of their investments highlights who is in control.
We naturally want to believe we can use our gifts as we please. If we grew up in cultures where the individual is primary, we also tend to think we can live as we please. However, if we all want to be little gods of our own lives, serving ourselves, we miss our true place in life. We find our true joy and place in life when we serve God with our gifts. Jesus uses the parable of the talents to help us understand our calling as Christians and our responsibility to use what God has given us to bring Him glory and honor.
We have the most valuable gift of all, the Word of God and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. This gift is for us to share with others through our words and actions. It is a great responsibility with great reward, as described in the parable of the talents. The parable of the talents should encourage us and challenge us to take what God has given us and invest in the Kingdom of God. There is a great reward waiting for those who steward well with what the Lord has given them. May Jesus Christ be praised.