The Catholic Moment: The final reckoning
November 13, 2011
By Terrance Callan
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30
Knowing that we will be evaluated – receiving a grade for a school assignment, undergoing a performance review at work – usually makes us feel at least somewhat anxious and uncomfortable. But if that anxiety does not paralyze us, it can help us to focus our attention and effort where they should be focused.
The reading from the Gospel according to Matthew is a parable about a man who went on a journey. Before leaving he entrusted his money to three servants. To the first, he gave five talents, to the second two, and to the third one, each according to his ability. During their master’s absence, the first two servants each doubled the money given them; the third dug a hole and buried his master’s money.
After a long time, the master of the servants returned and settled accounts with them. When the first two presented the money they had doubled for him, the master said to each, “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.”
When the third servant simply returned the talent he had received from his master, the master gave it to the first servant, saying “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.”
The return of the master is like the second coming of Jesus. The parable warns us that there will be a reckoning at that time, and urges us to act so as to be reckoned righteous. The parable makes it clear that being reckoned righteous does not depend on our abilities, nor on what has been given to us, nor on the absolute amount that we are able to accomplish. It does depend on appropriate use of what has been given to us. To be reckoned righteous when Jesus comes again requires doing something with what we have been given, whatever that may be. Simply possessing gifts is not enough.
The reading from the Book of Proverbs gives more details about the characteristics of the righteous person. The reading praises the “worthy wife.” “She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands.” “She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” Most of all she is a woman who fears the Lord. Doing one’s work, caring for those in need, fearing the Lord – these are examples of the proper use of the gifts we have been given.
The reading says that the value of such a woman “is far beyond pearls.” The reading also observes that “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.” The reading presupposes that people tend to prize wealth and beauty above virtue. That is still very much true today. Making appropriate use of what we have been given requires acting on values different from the ones that dominate our culture. It requires that we prize above all the fear of the Lord, i.e., the reverence and obedience due to God.
The reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians urges us to wait constantly for the return of Jesus. Since “the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night,” we must be ready all the time. Those who do not know that Jesus will come again will be completely surprised by His coming. But we know that He will come, though not exactly when. Therefore, we should not be completely surprised. Paul urges us not to “sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.