November 17, 2023

Christ the Cornerstone

Thank God for your gifts—share and increase them

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The Gospel reading for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt 25:14-30) includes the Parable of the Talents. Jesus tells his disciples about a man who was going away on a journey. Before he left, he gathered three trusted servants and gave them money to invest for him. “To one, he gave five talents,” St. Matthew writes. “To another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Mt 25:15).

The parable’s outcome is familiar to us. According to St. Matthew’s Gospel:

The one who received five talents went and traded with them and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. (Mt 25:16-18)

After a long time, the owner returned and asked each of his servants to render an account of his stewardship. The two who were given the most money to invest reported significant returns on their investments. But the one who was given the least—the one who buried his talent—had nothing to show for his efforts except the amount he was given originally.

It’s not surprising that the two productive servants received high praise for their responsible stewardship of the owner’s property. To each in turn, he says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt 25:21). But, as we know, the third servant is harshly rebuked:

You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?

Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth (Mt 25:26-30).

In fact, we may be tempted to think that the faithless servant is too harshly treated. Yes, he has been irresponsible, and perhaps wicked and lazy as the owner suggests, but does he really deserve to be cast into darkness “where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 25:30) which, of course, is a biblical image of hell?

Parables are rarely stories to be taken literally. They are frequently exaggerations that are made for emphasis. And yet, it’s also true that the parables of Jesus are meant to be taken seriously. Our Lord spoke in parables to help us understand that his way is challenging and difficult. The gifts that we each received at our baptism are meant to be taken care of responsibly and shared generously with others. This is what Christian stewardship means: to thank God for all his gifts, to care for them, share them, and return them to God with increase.

The great failure of the faithless servant was his misunderstanding of what was expected of him as a steward of the owner’s property. Instead of receiving the one talent gratefully and investing it wisely, he neglected it. He abused his responsibility as a trusted servant, and he squandered the one opportunity he was given to give it back with even a modest increase.

The two responsible stewards are invited to share in the owner’s joy. The faithless one is miserable (“wailing and grinding his teeth”).

By means of this parable, Jesus is telling his disciples (and all of us) that responsible stewardship is a source of great joy. If we take the gifts and talents we have been given, care for them responsibly and share them generously with others, we will grow them beyond anyone’s expectations. In this way, we will return God’s gifts with increase, and so share in his joy.

God is never mean or vindictive. His love and mercy are always available to us if we repent and seek his forgiveness. But if we neglect the gifts God has given us and fail to be grateful, generous or responsible stewards, our own actions (or failure to act) will result in our unhappiness. This parable tells us that good stewardship leads to joy while irresponsibility can only bring misery.

If we’re faithful in small matters, we will be given even greater responsibilities. Let’s pray for the grace to recognize God’s blessings. And let’s ask our loving God to help us be good stewards of all his abundant gifts. †

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