As we begin a new Church year, it is good to reflect on where we’ve been. The last two weeks have been quite eventful in terms of the scriptures. Jesus has been reminding us that we need to be responsible if we are going to be worthy for God’s Kingdom. The parable of the talents urges us to use the gifts we’ve been given as the proper way to respond to God’s invitation to be His people.
Everything we’ve received is gift: our possessions, our friends, our jobs–we “earned” nothing. At the end, we return to God with nothing. In many senses we cannot give anything back to God that God has not first given to us. Except for the fact that we can use what He has given us to the best of our ability. That is, our material blessings should be used to help others. Our friends are not to be treated as objects but as subjects through whom we encounter the living God. Our jobs are meant to give us sustenance not to lord it over others or to step on people.
In short, the gifts and talents we’ve received are to be used responsibly. If we fail to use them, we risk the punishment meted out to the servant in the gospel. The point of the gospel story is not how well we use our talents, but that we use them. How often do people fail to even try to use what God has given them? Out of fear of failure or what others may think, how often have we not even attempted to do something? For example, when I was a younger priest, I sometimes sang the Eucharistic Prayer. One day, my goddaughter said to me, “Uncle John, do you have to sing?” “No, not really,” I replied. She then said, “then don’t.” (I should point out that I don’t have the greatest voice.) I still do occasionally sing, but I make sure that I practice beforehand. If my goddaughter had said that prior to my singing, I may not have sung. But I made the attempt and even though she didn’t appreciate it, the effort was there.
My father was a great athlete. I inherited none of those genes. But I am a scholar and musician. I can appreciate athletic ability, but I know that I’m not very good. Despite this, I do tap into those skills learned in my youth. Recently one of my students (who is half my age), asked me to play basketball. My dad used to play and coach basketball. I haven’t played in 33 years. Although I am not good, when the student asked, I accepted. Because at that point in the day, it was for his benefit as well as mine. While I didn’t play fantastic, I held my own. (And I didn’t break any bones!) I made a few baskets. And the student became my teacher suggesting ways to improve my shots. Will I be a great player? No. But I made the attempt and it was for the benefit of both of us. I learned how to take direction and become a student again and my seminarian friend was able to develop his skills as a teacher. In the process, we both became healthier.
In the first week of Advent we are admonished to keep watch and wait for the Lord. In our watching, we are invited to be responsible with the gifts we’ve been given. More importantly, in our daily lives we are invited to see the presence of the Lord. Sometimes the Lord speaks to us through the words of a child who chides us. Other times, the Lord invites us to use talents and gifts that have been dormant for a while. Finally, at all times, the Lord calls us to prepare ourselves for his coming by exercising every gift and talent He’s given us to the best of our ability.
May this Advent season challenge us to seek the Lord in the anticipation of his coming.