The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15 November 2020
Lectionary Readings: Prov. 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Ps. 127:1-5; 1 Thess. 5:1-6; Matt. 25:14-30.
Theme: Walk courageously in God’s service.
It has been said that “the Parousia (the end time/the return of Christ) is not for wimps”! The importance of leading our lives as though the end of time were indeed just around the corner is the message of Matthew’s Gospel today. Just as the ending of the parable of the ten bridesmaids which we read last week seems harsh, so, too, does the ending of the parable of the talents today. The poor third servant, who hides the one talent his master gave him instead of being creative in making it “work” for him, receives a bitter response and severe punishment, his excuse is to accuse the master of being “a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered”, which is scarcely fair, as the master had given away vast sums of money (even “one talent” was the equivalent of the wages of an ordinary worker for twenty years!). what is more to the point is that this servant had, though having been given so much, lived out fear.
After the predictions of the end time and the threats of severe judgement a waiting the unfaithful as Jesus’ return, Matthew is urging his community not to be timid and fearful, but to take risks. The paradox is that a merciful, gracious, generous and compassionate: God who frees us from slavery is also the God who will judge us on the use of our gifts. Every gift of God is a call to make it bear fruit in God’s service. We can see this at work in the reading from Proverbs, which, in Jewish tradition, is said of his wife by her husband at the family meal on Friday evening, bringing in Shabbat/the Sabbath. The woman being extolled in Proverbs most certainly has made good use of all her God-given gifts. “holding out her hand to the poor […] opening her arms to needy”. Most importantly, she “fears the LORD”, which is not the craven fear the third servant in the gospel parable, but that love and reverence which spurs her to action. It is fitting to recall that the liberation of Israel from Egypt begins with the revolt of the Jewish midwives who affirm life in the faced of death when they disobey Pharaoh’s command to kill the Jewish babies. We read in Exodus that, “because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them” (Exod. 1:15-21).
Echoes of these themes are found in Psalm 127 which, like the Book of Proverbs, is part of the Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible. Blessedness, true happiness, is to be found if we “fear the LORD and walk in God’s ways”. All will follow from that. This psalm begins in the same way as Psalm 1 which sets the one for the whole psalter: “happy/blessed indeed is the one/who follows not the counsel of the wicked;/nor lingers in the way of sinners/nor sits in the company of scorners/ but, whose delight is the law of the LORD/and who ponders God’s law day and night”. We find here the recipe for living a full human life: following God’s ways.
This, too, says Paul in his Letter to the Thessalonians, should be their (and our) mantra as they wait for the return of Christ for, he says, “we do not belong to the night or to darkness”. In all this, he says they must “give encouragement to each other, and keep strengthening one another”. Living our lives as we do, between the first and the second coming of Christ, we must no let fear govern our lives, but encourage each other to take risks use with creativity and enthusiasm the gifts we have been given – in God’s service.
Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Sr. Margaret Shepherd NDS, England