The gospel accounts of last weekend, this weekend and next weekend are all taken from the 24th and 25th chapters of St. Matthew. The teachings presented in them by Christ are his last ones before he was to enter into Jerusalem and there be put to death. They are his final testament to his disciples, intended to guide them and us in the “already but not yet” time, that time between his presence here on earth and his Second Coming at the end of the world. These final teachings are therefore of great importance. And, when you plumb them to their depths, they are challenging – even menacing.
Last week’s parable told us about the five wise and the five foolish virgins. The foolish ones did not look ahead and make provision for the coming of the bridegroom. They were guilty of the sin of presumption – presuming that in their lack of oil for their lamps the wise ones would provide for them. Their even greater presumption was that once they finally arrived at the banquet the bridegroom would let them, along with the others who had prepared themselves, into the wedding feast. They found the door slammed in their faces.
Today’s parable (Mt 25:14-30) is about the servant who lacked courage, and who being fear-driven, was consequently unproductive, excusing himself by accusing his master of being a hard man. This servant, like the foolish virgins, was looking for an excuse. He was in a state of denial, denying his own responsibilities.
Next weekend we will be hearing about others who were do-nothings, who were unproductive, and who found themselves to be outsiders because they ignored all that God had given them.
God has given us enormous treasures, talents, in Christ his Son. We have a powerful currency, the powers that God has given us. Christ is interested in productivity. He isn’t looking for passive dependent persons to follow him, to be his post-Ascension agents here on earth. He wants, rather, gamblers and risk-takers to be his followers and to vivify his Church. Doesn’t it strike you that the parables of Jesus center on farming, fishing and business activities, all involving risk–taking? Remember the man who found the pearl of great price and then risked all of his net worth to acquire it? Remember the fishing episodes when Jesus asked Peter to throw out his nets yet again even though he had gone through the whole night without catching a single fish? And remember, too, that episode when Jesus came upon a poor little fig tree that produced nothing and thereupon was going to annihilate it, but held back when the landscaper asked him to wait a year so he could manure it, tend it, and bring it to bear fruit.
Christianity without courage is Christianity without blood and spirit. God encourages us to jump into life and run the risk of growing. It doesn’t take courage to hide in our fear. It takes courage to risk something new.
All around us these days we hear talk about our sluggish economy. Experts, pundits, and commentators incessantly present us tiny bits of evidence upon which they predict that our economy is turning around and will come roaring back in another year. Productivity figures are bandied about. The University of Michigan Consumer Confidence Index is cited over and over again by Wall Street analysts and commentators.
What are our economists all looking for? Risk-takers! Go out and spend, they tell us. Invest, buy and get the currency changing hands again, they insist.
I hope you also notice that they are all asking us to have faith, to make faith-based decisions, to act, and act boldly, on faith.
Well, Christ is giving us the same challenge. He’s telling us that faith isn’t something we can get and keep all to ourselves. Rather it is the currency of the Divine Economy, the engine that drives it. And faith isn’t something we can hide, clutch, and hold only unto ourselves. It needs to be invested in the lives of others and thereby multiplied. Only then can it possibly bear fruit. Only then can our world get better. We were given the Faith not simply to save our own skins… but to save the world!
Turning the other cheek is a profound risk. It requires a tremendous investment in self-confidence to turn the other cheek. So does forgiving seventy-times seven times. One takes a tremendous risk when one tells another “I love you” and “I want to belong to you for the rest of our lives.” Assuming that others, even your adversaries, are acting in good faith requires a great expenditure of your spiritual capital. Showing compassion and giving tender loving care to those who are anything but loveable, who are self-concerned, self-centered and grasping, requires an investment of your own risk capital.
Having the courage to be openly Catholic is something that is personally demanding to each one of us here. It’s not easy to stand up for good priests and defend them in the face of the withering scorn directed at them and our Church these days, especially by the cultured despisers of religion and who are regular opinion columnists in our elite media.
Coming to Mass, especially when it’s not convenient, requires a risk, a risk that must be made in order to increase your own spiritual productivity, not the sort of productivity that benefits just you yourself, but that which is productive of good fruit in the lives of those around you.
There’s a lot of talk these days about accountability, usually the accountability that must be made by others – Enron executives, WorldCom executives, Wall Street banking and investment house officials, and Roman Catholic bishops. And I’m happy that they are being called into account.
But what about us? Do we realize that we too will face our own Day of Judgment; that our own little world will one day come to an end? What about our own productivity and accountability? Are our decisions fear-based or faith-based?
These last Sundays, bringing us to the end of the Church year, ought to challenge us – even disturb us. While it is true that Jesus is meek and mild, boundlessly compassionate and merciful, and that he loves us unconditionally, it is likewise true that he has great and high expectations of us. After all, God our Father didn’t create us to do nothing. It’s what he created us for that ought to occupy our attention, disturb our conscience, and prod us into spiritual productivity.
How else can we reveal God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?