This weekend is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here. The Gospel is about the parable of the talents. When I was younger, I was this parable strange on a couple of levels. First, I was confused why the third steward was admonished so severely. No, he did not increase his wealth but at the same time he did not squander it. He kept it safe and returned it in full to the master. This struck me as a stark contrast to the parable of the Prodigal Sons. (No doubt part of the confusion comes from grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and parents who remember World War II rationing and who distinctly remember deep poverty). Second, why was the third steward’s wealth given to the first. The first was already wealthy while the third was the poorest. Taking from the poor and giving to the wealthy could not be more contrary to the overall Gospel message. Needless to say, the childhood me was very confused on how this parable fits in the message of Christ.
Now that I am mid-career and a least a small ways down the path of my spiritual reconversion, I completely get this parable. It is about sharing your gifts and more importantly, taking calculated risks to share the Gospel message. For my job, I work with entrepreneurial organizations and individuals who want to create and commercialize technology. This week I attended a statewide entrepreneurial conference that discusses the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurs. It was a great event and the passion and energy of the entrepreneurs were compelling. It was enjoyable being around people who love what they do, who want to make a difference in the world and are not afraid of failing. Indeed, failure (as long as the idea is well thought out in advance) is often celebrated as a great way to learn so one will not make the same mistakes next time.
As I was driving home from the conference last night I was thinking, this is the message that Pope Francis is trying to get send. In Western culture, the message of Christ is being swallowed up in a culture of extreme individualism and relativism. Like his predecessors, Pope Francis is asking us to first fall in love with the living Christ (not our projection of who we want Him to be) and then be bold in sharing this message of joy, love and mercy. Do not be afraid to “make a mess”.
But in order to do that, we need to understand and relate to our “customers” both inside in the Church and outside the Church. We need to understand their needs so that we can communicate Christ’s message in a manner they can understand. The great missionaries understood the local needs and cultures so they can present the Gospel in a compelling way. Do not be afraid to take risks in doing so.
“What if the true, living, and only God has no interest in keeping score? What if God’s concern is simply that we all get up and take a turn at bat?
The Good News of Jesus gives new meaning to success and security. Success is found, not in accumulating more than we can ever use, but in our willingness to risk in response to God’s invitation. Security is found, not in keeping pace with our rising paranoia, but in the utterly reliable God who trusts us before we trust ourselves, who risks, and asks that we risk also.
To sum up, let me share with you words from the French scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In his best-known book, The Divine Milieu, he writes:
“God obviously has no need of the products of your busy activity since he could give himself everything without you. The only thing that concerns him, the only thing that he desires intensely, is your faithful use of your freedom and the preference you accord him over the things around you. Try to grasp this: the things that are given to you on earth are given to you purely as an exercise, a bank sheet on which you make your own mind and heart. You are on a testing ground where God can judge whether you are capable of being translated to heaven and into his presence. You are on trial so that it matters very little what becomes of the fruits of the earth, or what they are worth. The whole question is whether you have learned how to obey and how to love.”
The Parable of the Talents is not really about money or abilities. It’s a story about trust, a story about risk. Life’s the same way. What’s important is not money or abilities in themselves, but our decision to use them in ways that show our willingness to risk and to trust. The central question about life is not “What did we accomplish?” but whether we learned to obey, whether we learned to love.”