The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (19 November 2017)
Prov 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Ps 128; 1 Thess 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30
Theme: Blessed are those who fear the Lord
The woman whose praises are sung this Sunday is so full of energy. In the passage as a whole (Prov 31:10-31) we learn she not only makes garments but sells them, she gets up while it is still dark “and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls,” she buys a field, she plants a vineyard, she gives to the poor. Her strong arms and skillful hands are always at work. This is someone whose fear of the Lord is expressed by active engagement in the life of her family and her community.
Such a life of active service is held up for our imitation by Matthew, not only in the parable of the talents but in the two preceding parables, first of the faithful and unfaithful slave and then of the ten bridesmaids (Mt 24:45-25:13). These three parables are followed by an account of the judgment of the nations, at which we will be rewarded or punished according to whether we have served others or have not. In serving others we serve Jesus, who is our master. As our master he will judge how well, or poorly, we have served him.
Michael Crosby writes: “The concept of ‘doing’—in contrast to ‘saying’ –and ‘doing good’ in contrast to ‘doing evil’ or nothing at all in the face of injustice and evil is central to Matthew.” (Crosby, 37) One image for the contrast of doing good to doing evil/doing nothing is the image of light as opposed to darkness, which appears in all three of this Sunday’s passages. We are told of the woman in Proverbs that “her lamp does not go out at night (31:18). Paul tells us that we are “children of the light” so we should not “sleep as the rest do but…stay alert and sober.” Paul’s words echo Matthew: “Blessed is the slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (Mt 24:46) The servant who buries his master’s coins in the ground is condemned to be thrown “into the darkness.”
The parables of the bridesmaids and the talents can make us uncomfortable. Couldn’t the wise bridesmaids have given some oil to the foolish ones? (Even though oil sufficient for five lamps would not have provided light for very long when distributed among ten lamps.) The third servant may not have made his master any money, but he has not lost him any money either; burying coins for safe-keeping was normal practice. (The fact that it was normal practice may explain why the master entrusts his servants with money rather than other forms of wealth such as olive groves or flocks of sheep. The parable requires property than can safely be hidden in the ground.)
But these parables were not written to instruct us in how we should treat our colleagues – who has not at some point either borrowed or lent ‘oil’? – or deal with workers who try to get by with doing as little as possible – yes, the man was timid and lazy but being thrown into outer darkness seems excessive. We must remember that the message of the parables is how we are to serve Jesus—the bridegroom and the master. If he wants ten lamps burning or his property to thrive that’s what he should have. After all, how hard would it have been to bring a flask of oil in case the bridegroom was late or to take the coins to the bank?
Bibliography: Crosby, Michael H., “Matthew’s Gospel: The Disciples’ Call to Justice,” in The New Testament-Introducing the Way of Discipleship, ed. Wes Howard-Brook and Sharon H. Ringe (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 16-39
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What have I been given—e.g., good health, education, money—that I have hidden in the ground rather than use it to serve? 2. How could I dig up my ‘talent’ and put it to use?
This week’s Sunday Gospel Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, BA, MA, MA (Theology); Bat Kol Alumna 2010
Email address: email@example.com
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