Against the background of this Sunday’s celebration of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul let us recall the ancient maxim that "the Church prays what she believes and believes...
It is with an ever increasing frequency that I am surprised by the discovery in the Sunday readings of something never before noticed. I suppose I must have preached on
THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [PROVERBS 31: 10 – 13. 19 – 20. 30 – 31] and the GOSPEL [MATTHEW 25: 14 – 30] on innumerable occasions and never discerned something of real value.
The value is to be found through a careful reflection on the apposition of the good wife and the servants entrusted with the master’s property.
We need to start with the question posed at the start of the Old Testament extract … “who can find a good wife?” The scripture proceeds to outline what is looked for in such a woman and continues to list a number of expectations. Basically, the good wife does the job and “works with willing hands.”
However, the final sentence of the reading is important. We hear “give her the fruit of her hands” which is helpful in understanding the servants of the Gospel reading who are rewarded. Then it is suggested “let her works praise her in the gates.” In other words her work with willing hands will be acknowledged in the public forum: she will be recognised for what she is and what she has achieved.
A GOOD WIFE IS TRUSTED
Notice that at the very beginning the Gospel tells us the man “going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” Before going any further we need to focus on the word fear which appears in the Proverbs’ reading as well as
TODAY’S PSALM [128 or 127]. Proverbs speak of “the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Such a person is not afraid of the Lord. There is nothing praiseworthy about that. Our Psalm commences with the words “blessed are all those who fear the Lord.” In the last stanza this truth is emphasised with the words: “Indeed thus shall be blessed the man who fears the Lord.” Again, being afraid is not a cause for being blessed. We need to remember that fear of the Lord in scriptural terms is indicative of holding the Lord in reverence and high esteem. In addition being blessed includes all of happiness, peace and contentment.
Now it becomes so much easier to understand the interaction between the three servants and the returning master of our Gospel reading. In years long gone when I was entrusted with seminarians or young deacons for internships in the parish they quickly learnt that the rebuke to be taken seriously was when they were ‘summoned’ to the ‘lion’s den’ and were told – “Good help is so difficult find these days!”
In the Gospel we must be aware that each servant was entrusted “each according to his own ability.” None of them was trusted with more than they could handle. The first two servants are rewarded because they had proved themselves faithful to the trust placed in them, and as they had developed their abilities more was to be expected of them in the future. The third servant failed in the trust placed in him. Why? Because he was AFRAID! He did not fear his master. He was afraid of him. This is what paralysed him. It was a paralysis of inactivity and inertia. He made no effort besides digging a hole in the ground.
He “hid your talent in the ground.” Remember this is a parable ….. the servant who was afraid actually hid himself in the ground. He buried his ability and so did not allow it to blossom. In fact, his talent withered and died.
When we bury our talents, we bury our abilities and remain useless in the achieving of the task with which we have been entrusted. This task is for the care and development of the Lord’s kingdom.
There are too many Christians suffering from muscular atrophy when, like the good wife, it comes to working with willing hands. It is not a question of anything being taken away from us. Rather, it is a process of self-destruction. It matters nothing that we have grown old and weak – even confined to quarters. Who does not have the ability to pray? What stops us from developing the talent and ability of prayer? What are we afraid of? Then, there is the ability of affirming and encouraging others instead of carping criticism and a negativity filled with self-pity? The development of any talent and ability is always ‘seen’, acknowledged and appreciated in the gates. Everyone does not need to be a storm-trooper. There is a need for the delivery of ammunition.
Saint Paul confirms this in
TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [1THESSALONIANS 5: 1 – 6]. There the apostle proclaims – “but you are all (children) of light and (children) of the day … so then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”
We are all
, as Proverbs proclaims, “more precious than jewels.”