Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 13 November 2011
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30
The book of Proverbs ends with a description of the noble wife, a person who embodies all the book teaches about wisdom. She is hardworking, generous and compassionate, makes the most of every opportunity and brings blessing to both family and stranger. She’s like the person who received the five talents in Jesus’ parable. She has great ability and has received a lot – if you read the whole poem, it is clear that she is a woman of considerable means. She takes those gifts and multiplies them so that many others enjoy their fruits.
She, like the blessed person in the psalm, is described as one who fears the Lord. This doesn’t mean that she is afraid and distrustful of God. It means that she takes God seriously. She lives very aware that this is God’s world and, living within that broader horizon, her life doesn’t revolve around herself and her own interests or fears. It is lived in confident obedience to God. This ‘fear of the Lord’ is very different from the fear of the master displayed by the person who received the single talent. He in effect blames the master for his own unwillingness to make something of the opportunity he was given, describing the master as a hard and unjust man. The other servants were able to embrace what was entrusted to them, work hard and take risks. The third servant seems to be paralysed by his distrust of the master and fear of failure. It leads, not to a sharing in the master’s happiness, but to exclusion from the joyful household and deep regret.
Maybe the third servant thought up that excuse at the last minute, as a way of blaming the master for his own laziness. Perhaps he was like the people that Paul describes, enjoying his master’s long absence as an occasion to do whatever he wanted with no thought to his responsibilities. Maybe he was intending to dig up the talent some time later to do something with it, but just didn’t get around to it. He was sleeping on the job. The other two servants were alert and sober. For them the master was not ‘out of sight out of mind’.
What we do with what we are given, matters. Whether it is a lot or a little, we have been entrusted with those gifts and opportunities. If we don’t cultivate our gifts, we lose them. If we don’t seize our opportunities, they pass us by. If we are mistrustful of God and of life and aren’t willing to step out in faith and take risks, we’ll end up with nothing but regret. If we have the courage to live the life that God gives us, we’ll discover joy.