A Reflection on the Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 19, 2023
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of ancient literature, the purpose of which is to impart wisdom, and the wisdom it purports to teach covers a wide range of subject matters, some purely secular (such as the ideal wife we read about in this week’s first reading) and some dealing with moral and religious truths.
The opening verse of Chapter 1 attributes the authorship of the Book of Proverbs to King Solomon, the patron of Hebrew wisdom. It states that the purpose is the teaching of wisdom and discipline through the use of proverbs, parables, and riddles. The introduction to this book in our bible states that some of the “wisdom” of the book could be attributed to Solomon but others added many other parts at other times, so Solomon is not considered to be the author of the Book of Proverbs.
Our reading this week is from the last chapter of The Book of Proverbs, from a section entitled: “The Ideal Wife.” If we read this entire section, we see that it extols the virtues of the wife working diligently to provide for and care for her family. (As a side note, according to verse 23, her diligence also allows her husband to idle his time away sitting at the city gates among the elders. How would that work out in the modern world?) The chapter ends with the praise of the ideal wife because she fears the Lord and will receive the reward of her labors. The message for all of us (whether wife, husband, or unmarried) is that fear of the Lord and diligence in our labors will have great rewards. Our Responsorial Psalm reiterates this theme with: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord.”
In our 2nd reading, St. Paul reminds us that “the day of the Lord” is coming. But because we know not when it will come upon us, it will come “like a thief at night.” Therefore, we are to be prepared and live as though today may be “the day of the Lord.” When it comes, there will be no second chances. And those who fear the Lord and diligently live according to God’s law are not in darkness but are “children of the light.” But those in darkness will not escape judgment on “the day of the Lord.”
In our gospel passage this week, Jesus again teaches by means of a parable. In this parable, the word “talent” actually refers to a unit of coinage of high but variable value depending upon the metal it contained (gold, silver, etc.). Still, we should see it as a reference to the talents or gifts (the graces) given to each of us by God for a specific purpose. Not all of us have the same talents, but we are to use the talents we have for the purpose for which they were given.
The passage begins: “It will be as when a man was going on a journey …..”.
Although the connection is not specifically made, the implication is that: “The kingdom of heaven will be as when a man …..” So, the parable uses earthly life and experiences, things we understand and can relate to, to point to the heavenly realities we have no experience of. Only Jesus knows what heaven is really like, and no earthly language can relate heavenly realities to us who have no experience of those realities. So, Jesus’ use of parables using earthly examples that point to heavenly realities can bring those realities to light and cause us to say: “Oh, I’m beginning to see what you mean.”
Notice that each servant was given something, “each according to his ability.” So, the lazy one had some ability and was given additional grace in the form of one talent as a chance to improve. But in the end, he could not overcome his laziness, and the grace (talent) was taken from him. Even though he was a “servant” (a disciple), he was cast out (cast into hell) for failing to be a good disciple.
The church teaches, and we believe, that each of us will be judged at the moment of our death, and that will be a judgment based on how we lived our earthly lives compared to the way Christ taught us to live. Some will enter the eternal happiness of heaven, either immediately or through the purification of Purgatory, and some will be immediately condemned to everlasting damnation. In addition, each of us has God-given talents that we are to put to use for the common good. In this parable, the “talents” given to the servants by the master should be seen as the graces God gives to each of us to carry on Christ’s mission on earth “for the common good.” Those graces allow us to grow in our love for God and our neighbors. As with the lazy servant in the parable, we all have some ability, and God’s graces give us the opportunity to increase our ability to serve God’s purpose for us in our earthly lives.
Again, as in our first reading, fear of the Lord and diligence will have great rewards, but in the case of this parable, faith is not enough. We must use the gifts and talents given us like the ideal wife to improve ourselves and the world around us, and like the servants who received the ten and five talents.
The “golden thread?” Recognize that each of us is given talents by God to be used in the praise of God and to improve the world around us. But it requires diligence and discipline on our part to put those talents to work. Doing so will bring great rewards. Failing to do so like the lazy servant, well, we know from the parable how that works out.
Reference: Painting: Copyright LPI