THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Mt. 25:21
Helen Keller, the woman born blind, once said: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
I think Jesus would agree with her.
Take today’s gospel reading as an example. It is loaded with all kinds of meanings and interpretations. There are so many, in fact, that Jesus once again uses a story format to teach us – a story design that is called a “parable.”
Now, admittedly, this style of teaching frustrates us at times. Why doesn’t Jesus just speak to us in a clear classroom, lecture style? Then there would be no misunderstanding. Then we’d all be singing out of the same hymnal. Simple, clear, no questions asked.
But Jesus is a risk-taker.
Like Helen Keller, he wants us to enter into a “daring adventure.” He wants us to go deeper, embrace the danger, and plunge into a story that will not just inform us, but, much more importantly, challenge us, surprise us, shake us up, and maybe even indict us.
In other words, the genius of Jesus’ teaching through parables, or short stories, like in today’s gospel, is to cause one single thing to happen within each one of us: see the world in a different way. And the best way to do that, according to Jesus, is to challenge each of us to uncover the hidden aspects of our own lives and see what values we truly can call our own.
As a consequence, Jesus is suggesting that you and I might be a whole lot better off taking a risk – the risk of thinking less about what a story “means,” and far more about what that story can “do”: confront us, disturb us, provoke us, astonish us.
Take the risk, Jesus is telling us, because “life is either a daring adventure or it’s nothing at all.”
Now, if we do take the risk of diving into the depths of today’s story, what do we find? The quick answer is: so much, it would be hard to sum up quickly.
So I would propose looking at just two main premises that this story features: 1) being open to the grace to transform fear into trust; 2) being open to the grace to share whatever talents we have each been given for the common good of all.
Let’s begin with Fear: the number one defeater, the number one hostage-taker, the number one preventer of a life lived as a “daring adventure.” Listen to what it does to the third servant in today’s reading: “out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.” Scripture is so wary of fear and so opposed to it driving the bus of our lives that it uses this one phrase 365 times throughout all of its books: Do not be afraid!
One psychiatrist gives this description of neurotic fear: “It’s a disease of the imagination. It is insidious and invisible, like a virus … It steals its way into your consciousness until it dominates your life.”
Jesus’ response to the enslavement of fear is to teach us to trust – trust in God and the infinite love he has for each of us.
Possibly nowhere in all of the Bible is this better stated than in Jesus’ plea that is presented so beautifully in a translation called The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language: “Do not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Do not be afraid …. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” (Lk, 12:25f)
In a word, Jesus is telling us that the way out of being held hostage by fear, the way to escape “burying our talents in the ground” is to trust, to take the “daring adventure” of throwing ourselves into the arms of God and resting in the conviction of his really meaning it when he tells us: “You’re my dearest friends.”
Once we escape the bondage of fear, then we’re free to embrace the second major teaching of today’s gospel story: the openness to the grace of sharing whatever talents we have been given for the good of all.
Perhaps Albert Einstein can help us here. He put it this way: “A ship is always safe at the shore – but that is not what it is built for.” Again, we’re not built to be safe out of fear of the unknown. We’re built to be risk-takers. We’re built to move out of ourselves and our own little ego-needs, and move into the deep waters of life.
It’s the risk-takers that we honor. It’s the risk-takers that we memorialize. Why? Because they refused to allow fear to dominate their lives. They refused to just stay safe in the harbor.
Instead, they understood that great, often unforeseen opportunities often come from risk-taking. They found that they learned from risks, especially the lesson that risks can take us to see new vistas and walk new paths – vistas and paths that enrich them. They understood that risk-taking greatly helped them overcome fear, especially the fear of giving instead of always settling for getting.
Did you know that Jesus talked about wealth and poverty more than any other issue except forgiveness? Think of that. Because of Jesus’ unparalleled sensitivity to the horrible suffering caused by the disregard for human dignity shown to people who are barely managing to eke out a living, economics – solidarity with the poor – is second only to the plea for mercy in all of the gospels.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is daring us to enter the zone of risk: the risk of faith, the risk of sharing. We are goaded to trust in the infinite assurance of a God who wants nothing more than to shower upon us his untold wealth of friendship. We are beckoned to the challenge of a different way of living: the way of taking the “daring adventure” of sharing our many talents, the way of risking the loss of fear, the way of becoming like our God – a God who calls each of us “my dearest friends.”
And the same God who, assuming we follow his way, promises to say to each of us at our final hour: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.