Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Year A: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Ps 27; 1 Thess 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
The parable in today’s gospel is a part of Jesus’s speech about the end of time – for each of us at the hour of our death, and for all, at his second coming. We heard our spiritual life, our life according to God’s will, described in terms of investment, risks and return.
The investor is God and the investment consists by life itself, caused and upheld by God, and all abilities, actual and potential, he has endowed us with. These are symbolised in the parable by the talents, a word whose other meaning, “to have talent for something”, refers to this context. One silver talent corresponded to the value of 15-20 annual salaries, one gold talent of much more. A few talents thus added up to a fortune. In other words: God has put a fortune in us, in order for us to learn to know, love and serve God and obtain salvation, which is the aim, for which all are created.
God’s distribution of gifts does not match a worldly definition of equality. Everyone gets sufficient according to their abilities to manage and develop the assets, known only to God. All abilities and faculties are equally needed, albeit in different areas, for the service to the Church, in building the kingdom of God in the world. All humans are created equal in dignity and through baptism offered an equal share in salvation. But we have different tasks in, and make different contributions to, the work for salvation in the world, according to God’s ordering of things. This becomes extra visible, and to pure worldly eyes difficult to understand, in the fact that the sacrament of Holy orders is reserved for men, and the sacrament of Holy matrimony for one man and one woman, once; and that this fact cannot even be changed by the Church.
When we are to manage God’s investment, put the resources within us to work and increase their value for God’s kingdom, there are, as in business life, different degrees of risk-taking to reach maximum profit; eternal life with God in Christ. The first degree is to fulfil the fifth of the five commandments of the Church, added to the ten of God: personal commitment to one’s local parish. Here it becomes very clear how different faculties and preconditions really fulfil various, but equally important, tasks: e.g. to contribute financially to the celebration of the liturgy or to charitable works, or to engage in catechesis for children and young people, or as volunteer in other areas, none too small or unimportant. What we risk here is, above all, our time. But if we cannot give the Lord some of our time here, how can we give ourselves completely to him in eternity?
The mid-level of spiritual risk-taking is to deviate from the current seeking for, and posing with, individual success in everything and to do only what triggers applause. So: do I visibly carry a cross or rather a crucifix, the self-giving love of God displayed? Do I sometimes speak of my hope in Christ that death does not have the last word? Do I visit, or now during the pandemic contact the one who is lonely and regarded as troublesome by others? Do I help people in need with life’s necessities, although leaving less for my own consumption? Do I try to see and emphasise what is good in the one who others always complain about? Am I prepared to forgive and heal where needed, for relations being turned right, instead of me having right? Our risk here is about missed individual and visible prestige. But is it not offset by true joy?
The third and highest level of spiritual risk-taking is to stand up for the truth, i.e. the faith in Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church, in an often hostile environment. Do I distance myself from the contemporary, utility-calculating view of human life; foremost shown in the reduction of the unborn child to a part of another’s body, which legislation allowing abortion says is a correct view; as well as the increasingly stronger idea that the old and sick do not live “with dignity” and thus need what is called “the right”, but in practice becomes the persuasion, to euthanasia? Furthermore: do I refuse partaking in the public cult of sex as a self-realizing identity marker or a hobby? What is at risk here is not only a missed but a totally lost status; a martyrdom of everyday life. But hasn’t Jesus said that the one persecuted for his sake is blessed? Or does that only apply to others?
We should allocate our resources across all three levels of risk to maximize the return, varying with person or situation. But spiritual risk-taking is the life in the light and the day described by the Apostle Paul in the second reading from First Thessalonians. When Jesus says: “to everyone who has will be given more … but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away”, he means that sacrificing good values for the Highest Good, ultimately gives profit as eternal share in the kingdom of God, which we by our good works have allowed God to start building already here, through us. To “have”, thus refers to the willingness to risk oneself fully for Christ.
The third servant in the parable lacked this willingness. He illustrates someone who hides vocation and gifts in holes in the ground named e.g. sloth, desire for pleasure, greed and aim at popularity, and risks to lose everything. With this insight he accuses God of being a tyrannical thief who takes what is not his. Such thinking manifests itself in different attitudes obstructing salvation. Above all, the unwillingness to even strive for the Good, and being jealous of what others have received because of a lack in gratitude for God’s gifts to me. Likewise, the judgement that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ to speak for him at all times, should unjustly point at wrong deeds and life choices, where I believe I know what is right “for me”. I.e. better than the one who loved me into existence and wants to lead me to him through the Church.
The Biblical concept of wisdom, as we heard of in the first reading from Proverbs, and as attitude of full trust of our responsorial psalm, is identical to fear of God. This is the demeanour of the good wife in the first reading and two of the servants in the gospel: faithfulness, perseverance and generosity in God’s service. Fear of God is not about being afraid of God in himself, but of what might happen if God’s will does not prevail. Hence, the will to give for the opposite, the willingness, ultimately, to mirror the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, abolishing death’s last word in our lives. The sacrifice, which soon becomes present here in the Holy Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us in this willingness. For a greater presence of Christ in our relations, giving a greater presence of Christ in the world; by God’s actions one day finished into his full presence in us. Amen.