Nov. 18, 2017

Thirty-Third Sunday

OUR RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Readings: 1st- Prov. 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 2nd- 1 Thes. 5:1-6; Gospel- Matt. 25: 14-30 

It is called ROI (Return On Investment), a common terminology in the business circle. A return on investment is the benefit to an investor resulting from an investment of some resource. That’s what we witness in the gospel of today about the parable of the talents. The gospel reads, “A man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, to a third, one- to each according to his ability” (Matt. 25:14). Kindly pay attention to that phrase: “to each according to his ability” used in this parable.

In the context of Paul’s invitation in the second reading, believers are asked to prepare. Preparedness here means putting our talents to good use. Each servant is given some talents. The master also expects the servants to bring dividends just as their talents correspond. This is evident in his words of acknowledgment to the first and second servants. When the first person comes to him and says, “Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more”, the master replies, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. The second servant receives similar commendation when he says, “Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more”. Both are equally commended for their efforts. The master does not frown at the second for not making five more talents out of two. He knows each servant’s ability and gives him his talents accordingly.

Regarding the third servant, his problem is the lack of vision to invest his talent. That he is given one talent is not the issue. Rather, that he fails to utilize his talent. One talent in the Jewish background is not like one coin, it represents a monetary unit of high value. The master only looks forward to his return on investment no matter how little it is. He didn’t invest. Instead, he hides his one talent. Wrongly, he exclaims; “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter”. “… out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground”. That way he hands it back to the master.

There is no return on investment from this servant, he represents a period of waste for the master. The descriptions for him are terrible: “You wicked, lazy and useless servant!” These are very negative qualities- Wicked, because he intends failure for the master by not investing his talent. Lazy, because he cannot do anything with what he has. Useless, because he doesn’t realize the implications of burying the talent on the relationship with his master. He loses not only the talent but the relationship. He is like the foolish virgins who sleep away their time. He lets fear take the better part of him. The parable of the talent is striking in our various roles and responsibilities. We can easily make out from the parable that the Master is referring to the Lord’s return to judge our actions as servants entrusted with different talents.

The first reading refers to the king Lemuel of Massa in the Book of Proverbs. The mother is the one speaking to the king (Proverbs chapter 31). The king’s mother tells him, “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls…. She brings him good, and not evil… She reaches out her hand to the poor, and extends his arms to the needy. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates”. How does this connect to the gift of talent in question? The phrase in the gospel says, “to each according to his/her ability”.

God gives men according to their masculine ability. God also gives every woman according to your feminine ability. Each has to recognize their ability and not compete with the other’s ability, otherwise you end up burying your talent. Today, we hear the various voices that seem to be competing- women competing with men, and men competing with women regarding roles in the family. The most important thing is that men respect and recognize women’s roles, and women respect and recognize men’s roles. The question of who is the head and who is not does not even solve the problem if there is no love and respect. The worthy wife does not contest with her husband. The worthy wife lets the husband answer the head while she is the neck that turns him around. We know that the head is stiff and powerless without the neck turning it. The neck turns it either left or right and keeps it straight. This is what the wise woman does. She realizes what God has given her according to her ability as mother and wife. The worthy wife recognizes the importance of the home and keeps it secure. She coordinates the home. She moves the husband to doing good works. She initiates charity for the needy. She enables the family to invest wisely the talents given to them by God. The worthy wife does not compete in the family, she completes the family.

Men invest in seeking the worthy wife. Women invest in seeking out the family’s treasures. To each is given different talent according to his/her ability, to the man as man, to the woman as woman. I give you an example here. As we were planning for the archbishop’s visit a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with the committee organizing the liturgy. As I was drawing the list of altar servers for the mass, I needed to confirm from their parents about the availability of their child. I brought out my phone to call the parents. I had both phone numbers for the mom and the dad, and was not sure whom to call first. So, I asked the members of my committee: “Who do you guys think I should call, the mom or the dad?” Unanimously, they echoed, “Call the mom”. I called the mom and immediately it worked. The moms I called only had to look at their calendars and fixed their kids for the altar serving. Women know how to invest their talents as women, in a manner that men cannot. Men do theirs differently. There is no inferior talent, and no superior. The talents only vary according to our abilities, and God knows us.

What does God want from us? It is a positive return on our investment. As Christians, our return on investment is the spiritual benefit from what God has given us. Those love we show, those truths we defend, those cares we express. Those responsibilities we take up in our homes. Those times we commit to impacting positively on the life of others around us. Saint Paul reminds us, “anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well; and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well” (2 Cor. 9:6). A man will give his return on investment as dad, husband, brother or uncle. A woman will give her return on investment as wife, mom, sister, or aunt. A priest will give his return as priest, pastor, preacher; each according to his ability. And the Lord and Master will reward each of us with words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). The Lord has invested in us, let us invest in others according to our abilities.