This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 25:14–30:
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one— to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘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.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘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.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 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.’”
What are we to do with our wealth? Is it truly ours, or are we merely stewards of it? In some ways, both are true. I believe I may have shared this story before, but when I sponsored a friend’s son through confirmation, we talked about stewardship and ownership. I own my home in the legal sense — well, me and the bank, but mostly me these days — which means I can do what I like with it.
In another real sense, however, I am a steward of this house and property. It will exist after I sell it, and it will exist after I pass away. In a moral sense, I have a duty to maintain it properly for those who will own it after me. There are certainly economic incentives to maintain it as well, but there are also moral imperatives to this as well. Those are not as easy to quantify in a culture where ownership has a rightfully strong imprint, but in the end, all Creation belongs to its maker, and we have a responsibility as stewards to see it prosper.
The parable in our Gospel reading demonstrates that sense of stewardship that is expected of us in God’s Creation, as well as illuminating our responsibility for evangelization. We have a duty to be active in our discipleship, not passive, and to put the Master’s wealth to good use.
Our first reading today from Proverbs 31 makes the distinction between active and passive in defining a “worthy” life. The prophet puts this in terms of marriage, itself a reminder of the matrimonial aspect of life with the Lord in His plan for salvation:
When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty fleeting.” These are passive virtues, to the extent they are virtues at all. They require little work and produce nothing of value. The value of the “worthy wife” comes from her ability to put to use the gifts of the Lord; she gets wool and flax, and spins those into useful fabric and clothing. Through that work, she lifts up those who have fewer or no gifts at all, rather than work for her own benefit. Her works will “praise her at the city gates” in heaven, demonstrating her sense of stewardship not just for the gifts but also for those around who need them more than she did.
With that in mind, let’s return to today’s parable. On the surface, this looks like a weird lecture on commodities investment, but of course the point here isn’t profit in the commercial investment sense. The Master wants to see how much each of his servants have invested of themselves in putting His gifts and resources to use for His sake. The Master does not give anyone a larger responsibility than they can bear, because He knows His servants very well. Those who have worked to put those gifts to His use get praised and rewarded.
What about the “wicked, lazy servant”? He doesn’t steal from the Master, or spend the gifts on himself; in fact, he just hands the gift back. The Master is displeased because this third servant didn’t bother to do anything with these gifts — and even more, didn’t trust the Master, accusing Him of dishonesty. This servant couldn’t be bothered to use his gift for any purpose. Instead, he just buries his one talent and neglects it until the Master suddenly returns.
This is not what we are meant to do with the Lord’s gifts and with the resources we steward. They are here for us to use, but we are meant as good stewards to use them to spread the news of salvation and lift up those who have little or nothing of their own. These gifts and resources may be ours in the legal sense, but they come from God, and He gives them to us so that we can find our way back to Him — and illuminate that path for others. Burying these gifts is not just passive neglect, but a deliberate defiance of the Lord, as the third servant’s words are to his master in the parable.
At some point, our Master will call us home and ask us to account for our stewardship. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Thessalonians, we do not know that day or hour, but that does not mean we live in darkness. We are called to be “children of the light and children of the day,” working each day with the gifts we have for Jesus and the path to salvation. If we commit to that stewardship, the Master will not come as “a thief in the night,” but as the bridegroom for the worthy wife. And we shall all rejoice at that moment.
The front page image is a detail from “The Parable of the Talents” by Willem de Poorter, 17th century. On display at the National Gallery in Prague, Czechia. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.