Here is my homily for the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 16, 2008. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/111608.shtml. Thanks for reading!
Every so often, you will see online, or in a newspaper or in a magazine article a list of what American people consider the most prestigious, most respected of jobs. What occupations people consider the most honorable. While the positions of the top ten can alter from survey to survey, usually the jobs and occupations remain the same. Almost every list includes firefighters, police officers, teachers, doctors and nurses.
There’s a good reason people seem to have an exalted appreciation of these jobs. It’s because they are more than just jobs. We realize that these are normal men and women, just like you and I. But that we trust them with even greater responsibility. We trust that they will have a primary focus on the good of all the people they are called to serve. Think about it – we trust that firefighters will run into burning buildings as people are literally stampeding their way out the door so that they can try to save as many people as possible. We trust that police officers will confront evil in ways we can never imagine (the drug pusher, the abusive spouse, the sexual predator) all to keep the rest of society safe. We trust teachers with an almost intimate responsibility – helping to shape the minds of young people. And anyone who’s ever been sick and realized how incredibly vulnerable that feeling can be, knows the level of trust that is given to doctors and nurses. They tell you to take this pill twice a day for a week, you do it almost without question. That’s why when we hear a scandalous story about people from these professions who’ve abused their authority there’s a deeper level of sadness and anger towards the act. Think about it – there are sick people every day who commit crimes of arson, assault, people who murder others. That’s sadly a given. But there’s a level of justifiable outrage when we hear that a firefighter has been charged with arson; when a cop is being investigated for beating a handcuffed prisoner; when a teacher has physically or mentally abuses a student; when a doctor or nurse has intentionally killed a patient.
The crimes are horrendous themselves, but in those situations, we seem even more disgusted, even more outraged. Because in those instances, people not only did these evil actions, they violated that trust that is given to them simply because they are in those professions. We’re almost hardwired to have a level of respect to the firefighter, cop, teacher, doctor or nurse. We entrust the lives, the safety, the education of ourselves to others, and to hear that one individual has acted so reprehensibly – it’s just not right. We can’t and don’t want to accept that someone has violated the public’s trust in such dramatic ways.
Today’s gospel story is all about trust. This parable has this master giving what is called “talents” to his servants, which is another word for money. One talent, would be considered a pretty large sum of money. And we hear how the first two guys double their talents by investing them and the one who was given just one, was afraid. He didn’t want to lose it – he buries it. He places it somewhere for safe keeping. He hides it so that it cannot be stolen, cannot be misplaced.
And if we are looking at this as a story about the need to invest in stocks, who could blame the guy for being so prudent, especially in this day and age?
But this isn’t about “talents” or money. And it shouldn’t be confused with our God-given talents, like being a good singer, or being a good athlete. Jesus tells us about being good stewards of our God given talents and abilities and the need to share those in building up the Kingdom of God in other Gospel passages. But what we’re talking about today… The talent Jesus is talking about in the parable – is Himself. He is explaining to his listeners that God the Father is entrusting His own Son to all of us.
All of a sudden, when we think about that parable again it takes on a much deeper meaning. We can begin to understand why the Master is so enraged by the one servant who does nothing with this gift. Because He has violated the Ma ster’s trust. He has not acted or responded in a way that one who calls themselves a Christian should. What good is it for you and I to say we are a Christian, to say we follow Jesus Christ, that we believe he is truly the way, the truth, the life if no one would ever be able to know that by looking at us or listening to us. Imagine someone coming up to you or I and saying “really, you’re a Catholic, you’re a Christian? I never knew that” as if they were just discovering you were born in New Jersey or that your ancestors were Italian. (As a priest, I’d really, REALLY be in trouble if someone said that to me!)
Our identity as Christians is more than our receiving the Sacraments. It’s more than fulfilling the obligation to come together as a family every Sunday at Mass. Being Baptized, being faithful to that obligation are incredibly important. But that’s step one. It is here that God gives us that “talent” that treasure that is priceless, each and every week. It is here we are given His Son every time we gather together for Mass. We receive Jesus in his word and his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
So God has entrusted this priceless talent to you and I. What are we doing with it?
That’s why the parable is so real… The idea of investing the talent involves risk. Again, we only have to look at the stock markets right now to see how easy it is to fail, how easy it is to end up with seemingly nothing to show for our investing.
But Jesus is telling us that the reason this guy with the one talent is condemned so harshly is that he let fear stop him from doing anything. We can think of concrete examples of how that fear stops us right here and now in our Christian obligations. The person who hides the fact that they go to Mass every Sunday or doesn’t invite someone to come with them because they’re afraid they will be mocked for it. That’s a possibility – they might be mocked, they might be ridiculed for that – or maybe, just maybe they could touch someone else’s life. That could be the thing that get’s someone else reconnected with Jesus Christ. That could be the catalyst to help change another person’s life to find and experience the Love of God that is poured out in Jesus Christ. And right there, you or I can “double our talent” as well.
To become a firefighter, a police officer, doctor, nurse or teacher – one of the fundamental questions that is asked is can this person be trusted? God, in calling us to be a follower of Jesus Christ, has already answered that question. He does trust us. In the end though, will we be proven worthy of that trust?