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Talents: The Perspective of Love

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – November 19, 2017-11-18

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Roman Rite
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – November 19, 2017-11-18
Pr 31:10-13.19-20.30-31; Ps 127; 1 Thes 5:1-6’ Mt 25:14-30
Ambrosian Rite
Is 51:7-12a; Ps 47; Rm 15:15-21; Mt 3:1-12
Second Sunday of Advent – “The Children of the Kingdom” – Year B
1) Talents: Love lived as responsibility.
The parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), which is proposed this Sunday, is situated between the parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13), which was meditated last Sunday, and the passage of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46), which will be read next Sunday.
The parable of the ten virgins had us meditate on prudent vigilance: the Kingdom of God can come from one moment to another and, therefore, prudence is necessary to prepare for its coming. The parable of the talents makes one reflect on active vigilance and, therefore, lingers on the growth of the Kingdom: it grows when we use the gifts received to serve. The account of the Last Judgment next Sunday will remind us how to enter in the Kingdom: we enter when we are active in charity towards our neighbour, in particular when we welcome “the last.”
To understand thoroughly this Sunday’s parable we are reminded that the “talents” (as opposed to what is often said), aren’t so much the gifts or abilities (intelligence or other) that God has given each one, but the responsibility that we are called to assume. In fact, the parable recounts that the master gave “to one five talents, to another one, according to each one’s ability.”
The first two servants are the image of industriousness and enterprise: they trade what was entrusted to them and give back double of what they received. So they are described as “good and faithful.” Instead, the third is lazy, passive: he doesn’t trade, he doesn’t run risks, but limits himself to “preserve,” and, therefore, is described as “wicked and slothful” and “good for nothing.” The contrast is, therefore, between industriousness and slothfulness. Although <this parable> has inserted itself in the historical-social plane, promoting in Christian populations an active and entrepreneurial mentality, <its> key teaching concerns the spirit of responsibility with which to receive the Kingdom of God: responsibility towards God and towards humanity.
Today Jesus teaches us to use His gifts well. He calls every man to life and gives him talents, entrusting him at the same time with a mission to fulfil. It would be foolish to think that these gifts are deserved, as well as to renounce using them would be to fail in the purpose of one’s existence. Commenting on this evangelical page, Saint Gregory the Great noted that the Lord does not fail to give all the gift of his charity, of love. He wrote: “Therefore, my friends, it is necessary that you give every care to guarding charity, in every action you must carry out” (Homily on the Gospels, 9,6). And, after specifying that true charity consists in loving both friends as well as enemies, he added: if one lacks this virtue, he loses every good he has; he is deprived of the talent received and is cast outside into the darkness” (Ibidem).
2) The Talent par Excellence
However, I would like to remind that, the talent par excellence, the most precious among the gifts is Jesus Himself, and <God> has offered Him to the world with immense love.
This gift is consigned to the disciples, which we are today. And we are so not so much and not only because we have received Christ’s doctrine and make an effort to observe His ethical precepts, but because we have received Him, as an unforeseeable gift of God who enters in our flesh, makes us His children and renders us fecund bearers of new fruits. Then as now, Jesus’ disciples are attentive, vigilant to receive the ever new gift of the wonder of God and are faithful in letting the received gift bear fruits and multiply.
An example of how to be disciples of Jesus and to be “good and faithful servants” is given to us by consecrated virgins, who are “good servants” because they don’t live for themselves, making themselves strong by their own gifts, but live life as a gift received and to be shared, because they feel that the gift received calls for being given, to be able to continue to bear fruits; and they are “faithful servants” because they abandon themselves totally every day, every instant to Christ with loving trust. “Fidelity is the perfection of love” (Saint <Josemaria> Escriva de Balaguer) and redeems time (Cf. Eph 5:16).
Virginity is the highest way of living the parable of the “talents,” because with the consecration of the whole of oneself, the person who offers himself to God, opens his heart to the great and liberating gift of Christ. Rendering free in a special way man’s heart, so as to enkindle him, in the main, charity towards God and towards all men, the consecrated virgin witnesses that the Kingdom of God and His justice are that precious pearl that is preferred to every other value, no matter how great, and is the talent that fructifies.
“Because of this the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism as opposed to that of marriage, because of the altogether singular link that it has with the Kingdom of God. Although having given up physical fecundity, the virgin person becomes spiritually fecund, father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God’s plan (Saint John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 14).
The consecrated person shares in a special way the Talent-Christ.
In fine, it is not forgotten that today’s parable insists on the interior attitude, I would say, virginal, with which to receive and value this gift. A mistaken attitude is that of fear: the servant who is afraid of his master and fears his return, hides the coin under the earth and it doesn’t produce any fruit. This happens, for instance, to one who having received Baptism, Communion, Confirmation buries such gifts under a blanket of prejudices, under a false image of God that paralyzes faith and works, so as to betray the Lord’s expectations. However, the parable highlights more the good fruits brought by the disciples that, happy over the gift received, did not hide it with fear and jealousy, but made it fructify, sharing it, participating it. Yes, what Christ has given us is multiplied by giving it! It’s a treasure that is given to be invested often, <and> shared with all:
“Virginity has the symbolic value of love that doesn’t have the need to possess the other, and in this way reflects the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s an invitation to spouses to live their conjugal love in the perspective of the definitive love of Christ, as a common journey toward the fullness of the Kingdom” (Pope Francis, Amors Laetitia, n. 160).
Finally, we keep present that God gives Christ and all “his goods” to all of us, according to each one’s ability,” which He knows.
Everything depends now on how each one responds with his freedom to the responsibility freely entrusted to him by Him, even giving him His “own goods,” who wants to involve “His servants” in a plan of joy and happiness. Let us force ourselves to be “vigilant” disciples and to live life as a space of freedom entrusted to us, which gives each one of us his own gifts, to live one’s life intensely. Everything is gift: life, trust, Love, freedom is a gift, to live without fear. The only thing that is requested is to receive the gift and not suffocate, not hold back, not render Love vain.
Patristic Reading
Saint Jerome
In Matth. IV, 22:14-30
He will be, in fact, as a man who, about to make a long journey, called his servants and gave them his goods. He gave one five talents, another two, and another only one: to each according to his ability! (Mt 25:14-15). There’s no doubt that this man, this master of the house, is Christ himself, who, while He prepared to ascend victorious to the Father after the Resurrection, called the Apostles to Himself, entrusted to them the evangelical doctrine, giving one more and another less, not because He wants to be more generous with one and with another less so, but because He knows the strengths of each one (the Apostle says something similar when he affirms to have fed with milk those who were not yet ready to eat solid food) (1 Cor 3:2). In fact, then with equal joy he received him who, trading the five talents, made ten and him who of two made four, considering not the entity of earning but the will to do good. In the five, as in the two and the one talent, we discern the different graces that were given to each one. Or one can see, in the first who received five, the five senses, in the second who had two, intelligence and works, and in the third who had only one, reason, which distinguishes men from beasts.
“He who had received the five talents went at once and traded them; and he made five talents more” (Mt 25:16). He received, that is, five earthly senses, he doubled them, acquiring through created things the knowledge of celestial things, knowledge of the Creator” rising from corporeal things to the spiritual, from the visible to the invisible, from the contingent to the eternal.
“So also, he who had received the two talents, made two talents more (Mt 25:17). He too, the truth that with his strength he had learned from the Law, doubled them in the knowledge of the Gospel. Or, one can understand that, through science and the works of earthly life, the ideal characteristics are included in the future blessedness.
“But he who had received the one talent, went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money” (Mt 25: 18). The wicked servant, dominated by earthly works and the pleasures of the world, neglected and stained God’s precepts. Another evangelist says that this servant kept his money in a napkin (Lk 19:20), that is, living in softness and in delights, he rendered inefficient the teaching of the master of the house.
“Now, after a long time, the master of those servants returned and called them to render account. Therefore, he came who, having received five talents, presented another five, saying: ’Lord, you gave me five talents; behold, I’ve earned another five’” (Mt 25:19-20. There is much time between the Saviour’s Ascension and His Second Coming. Now, if the Apostles themselves will have to render account and will rise again with fear of the Judgment, what will we ever do?
“And the master said to him: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over much: enter in the joy of your Lord.” Then the other came forward, who had received two talents and said: ‘Lord, you gave me two talents; see, I have earned two others.”’ His master said to him: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful in little, I will give you authority over much:  enter in the joy of your Lord” (Mt 25:21-23). Both servants, he who of five talents made ten and he who of two made four, received identical praise from the master of the house. And we must highlight that everything that we possess in this life, even if it seems great and abundant, is always little and small compared to the future goods. “Enter – says the master – in the joy of your Lord,” that is, receive what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived (1 Cor 2:9). What greater thing can be given to the faithful servant than to live together with his Lord and to contemplate His joy?
Finally, he who had received only one talent came forward saying: “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Mt 25:24-25). What is written in the Psalm: To seek excuses for sins (Ps 141:4), is applied also to this servant, who to laziness and negligence also added the fault of pride. He who should have done nothing other than confess his idleness and beseech the master of the house, on the contrary, slanders him and holds that he acted with prudence, not seeking any earning out of fear of losing the capital.
“His master answered him: ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents” (Mt 25:26-28). What he thought he had said in his defense, is silenced instead in condemnation. And the servant is called wicked because he slandered the master; he is called lazy, because he didn’t want to double the talent: so he is condemned first as proud and then as negligent. If – the Lord says essentially – you knew that I am hard and cruel and that I want others’ things, so much so that I reap where I have not sown, why did this thought not instil fear in you so a to make you understand that I would ask you duly for that which was mine, and to push you to give to bankers the money and silver that I entrusted to you? In fact, the Greek word arghyrion means the one and the other thing. It is written: “The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Ps 12:6). Money and silver are the preaching of the Gospel and the divine word, which must be given to the bankers and to the usurers, namely, to the other doctors (as the Apostles did, ordaining in every province Presbyters and Bishops), or to all believers, who can double it and restore it with interest, in as much as they fulfil the works they have learned from the world Therefore, the talent is taken away from this servant and is given to the one who made ten, so that we understand that, although the joy of the Lord is the same for the effort of each of the two, namely of he who doubled the five talents and he who doubled the two, greater is the prize of him who traded more with the master’s money. Therefore, the Apostle says: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching (1 Tm 5:17). And of what the wicked servant dares to say: “You reap where you have not sown and gather where you have not winnowed,” we understand that the Lord also accepts the honest life of pagans and philosophers, and that He receives in one way those that have acted justly and in another those that have acted unjustly, and that finally, comparing them with those who have followed the Natural Law, those are condemned who violate the written law.
“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt 25:29). Many, although being wise by nature and having a sharp wit, if, however, they have been negligent and with sloth have corrupted their natural richness, compared to him who instead is a bit slow, but who with labour and industry has compensated the lesser gifts he has received, will lose their natural goods and will see that the prize promised them will be given to others. We can also understand these words thus: he who has faith and is animated by good will in the Lord will receive from the just Judge, even if because of his human frailty he accumulated a smaller number of good works. Instead, he who did not have faith will also lose the other virtues that he thought he had by nature. Effectively, it says that from him “what he thought he had will also be taken from him.” In fact, even everything that does not belong to faith in Christ must not be attributed to one who has used it badly but to him who has also given to the wicked servant the natural goods.
“And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 25:30). The Lord is the light; he who is cast out, far from Him, lacks the true light.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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