Nov 19; 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Grace, Risks taking and Gratitude33rd SundayOT

In today’s gospel, we encounter the literary genre called the folkloric threesome. Storytellers throughout the ages have discovered that three events, characters or issues in a story provide an importance access point for the hearer. There is often some emphasis, climax or concentration of attention directed to the last character of the series. And so we have the familiar fairytales of the three bears and Goldilocks, the three little pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella and her two sisters plus stepmother. The twist in the story is that the last and third character, who is often depicted at the beginning to be the least likely to succeed, would eventually spring a surprise at the end of the story by emerging triumphant. Thus, the use of the folkloric threesome seeks to turn the perception and values of the audience upside down.

Jesus gives us the parable of the three servants who had been entrusted by their master with different levels of responsibility, one with 5 talents, another with 3, and the last with only one. One would expect, that the story would follow the traditional folkloric threesome ending. The one entrusted with one talent, the least likely to succeed, would emerge champion and prove himself to be the most trustworthy servant of all. But the stories of Jesus do not necessarily have to follow the normal schema of things. In fact, this poor man, perhaps not thought of so highly by his master, which explains the entrusting of just one talent, would actually have to live out the self-fulfilling prophecy of being a loser.

This parable has often been used to illustrate the point that we must all use our God-given talents. This is certainly one of the points which Jesus wishes to make here. But there is something much more profound here – it speaks to us about what it means to be prepared, it speaks to us about how we should respond to the graces we have received especially in the sacraments, and finally it speaks to us of the importance of gratitude.

Today’s parable comes after last week’s parable of the ten bridesmaids, five who were wise and five who were foolish. Both these parables are eschatological parables – in other words, they both speak of the end times. Both these parables provide us with clues as to how we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. If last week’s parable spoke about keeping enough oil for the lamp to be burning, this week’s parable emphasises the need to invest our talents. The oil in last week’s gospel parable referred to something which was internal – our inner life, our spiritual life, our faith relationship with God which is nurtured by prayer, contemplation, the sacraments, devotion and sacrifices. However, the inner life would finally have to find expression in our external actions and behaviour. So, this week’s gospel reminds us that the inner life that we have cultivated must be translated into action – we must always be committed to the mission of Christ. Faithfulness to this mission, symbolised by the other two servants investing their talents and gaining more, will be rewarded. However, a lackadaisical or indifferent attitude to our mission will also be repaid at the end, as in the case of the third servant.

The parable of the talents also speak about the grace of God. One may judge the master as someone unjust who seems to favour some servants over the others. Another way of looking at it, is that it points to God’s gratuity, His abundant generosity – that he would even risk granting a boon, a grace to the third servant, even though he knew that this man would not amount to much. Thus, the real difficulty here is not that God had not given His graces to all three, He did, but to each according to his needs. God’s justice is not egalitarian – everyone is placed on a level playing field. Neither is God’s justice based on merit – to every man or woman what he or she deserves. No! God's justice is this: to every man or woman what he or she needs. God still dispenses graces to those who don’t deserve it. But grace is both a gift and a response. God pours out His graces on us through the sacraments of the Church, but calls on us to respond to that gift by growing in personal sanctification or holiness.

But God’s graciousness should be matched by our willingness to take risks. This was the failing of the third servant. If we wish to be disciples of Christ, we must take risks. Why did the man go off and bury his one talent – why did he do that? He wasn’t dishonest or unethical. He could have been lazy, but perhaps, the real reason was fear, as indicated by his excuse to the master. He took what he felt was the safest way – no action. He felt safer to do nothing rather than take the risk of investing his talent and failing or losing it all. His ostensible fear let him forget that the nature of the gifts entrusted to him is to produce more – it is a call to be fruitful. The real test of discipleship is fruitfulness. It is ironic, that he treats a “living” gift as if it were dead, by burying it. Each day we are faced with thousands of decisions and how often do we opt to do nothing rather than taking the risk of doing something. We worry about what will happen, what others will think of us, if we will look stupid, or if we will fail. When we are unprepared to take risks for Christ, our lives count for nothing.

There may be another reason why the third servant failed to respond to his master’s gift. The answer can be found in his own defence of his actions. He saw the talent not as a gift but as a curse. The real reason for his inability to respond like the other two servants was his lack of gratitude. Gratitude or the lack of it shapes the way we view life. When we lack gratitude, then life seems to be a curse. We begin to see ourselves as victims of injustices, both real and imagined. For someone who lacks gratitude, life would always seem unfair. We refuse to take responsibility for our own lives and continuously find some reason or cause to blame someone else, even God. We eventually grow despondent and cynical. In many ways, we are digging a little hole for ourselves and calling it quits even before the end. Looking at life through the lenses of gratitude, however, changes everything. Every moment becomes an opportunity for growth rather than another obstacle to be avoided or a curse to be rid of. Gratitude helps us to appreciate what we have, rather than to gripe about what we lack.

When the master finally returns, there will be an accounting of His resources, of what He had entrusted to each servant. To each of us has been given a certain amount of time, a certain amount of opportunities, a certain amount of gifts and graces and a certain amount of talent. No point comparing our lot with that of the other guy. At the Final Judgment, God will hold each of us accountable for what we have received from Him. For the unfaithful who chose to take the safe path, who misused the time, resources and opportunities accorded to him and demonstrated unfaithfulness, who saw life as a curse and burden rather than as a gift, he will be thrown “out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.” For those who have faithfully served the Master, who chose to take the risk to follow Him even on the path that led to Calvary, who have used His gifts and graces for His glory, whose hearts swell with gratitude and are able to express that gratitude by sharing it with others, this passage reveals a most splendid promise, “come and join in your Master’s happiness.”