The readings today could be – and often are – interpreted as reminding us not to think of ourselves as greater or more important than we are – per St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians – and that no one should fail to do well with what God has given to them – as in Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Matthew.
But – like many passages in the Scriptures – these readings can be open to more than one valid interpretation and when they appear in the readings of Mass like this, they can even interpret each other in unique ways.
Together, these readings remind us to not think less of ourselves than God does, and to not fear what God can do through us when we strive to follow God’s will for our lives.
In the Gospel, the three servants are given talents. Sometimes we focus on the differences – for example, why does one get 5 talents, one get 3, and the last get only one? But consider instead that the master in the story – a stand in for God – sees that each one of the servants – stand-ins for us –have great potential to use the gifts given to them. After all, the master is less concerned about how many extra talents the servants each make; he wants each to experience the joy of having used their gifts.
God is the same way – giving different gifts, talents, capabilities to everyone. God knows that we can all do great things.
In the parable, the first and second servants understand this and share in the master’s joy. However, the third servant we are told – directly by him no less – that instead of being driven by hope and joy, he was driven by fear. He thinks no matter what he does he won’t measure up. His fear paralyzes him and so he does nothing with his one talent. But this isn’t a natural or good fear that can help protect us in times of difficulty or distress. This is a fear rooted in a false belief of the servant that he just isn’t worth the master’s time or effort.
Probably at different times in our lives, we can see ourselves in the first two servants or in the fearful one. Jesus’ lesson is clear: Do not succumb to a fear that makes you think you are somehow worth less to God! Do not think that God wants you to fail or to not make use of your gifts. Jesus calls us to courage and affirms our value even when we think we don’t matter.
St. Paul’s words remind us to be humble – not because we don’t matter, but precisely the opposite! Paul reminds us that the wisdom of God is found in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ and reminds us to trust that wisdom in moments when we are both full of joy and hope and awareness of our gifts, or when we are fearful or think less of ourselves. Christ’s wisdom is the great equalizer for all of us.
How appropriate these readings come to us on the Memorial of St. Monica – the mother of St. Augustine, who is remembered especially in her perseverance in prayer and in relationship with her son, who famously led a very immoral life before his own heart was transformed by Christ. St. Monica is said to have prayed for Augustine’s conversion for decades!
Think of what would have happened if Monica had been like the fearful servant in the Gospel. She might have thought she had failed as a mother because her son did not care about being moral and just and caring for so many years. She could have given up and said “There’s nothing more to be done!” She could have buried the relationship like the servant buried the talent.
Yet she didn’t. She knew that nothing was impossible for God’s grace and she applied her gifts of persistence, Gospel vision, and care for many years – even when it seemed fruitless – and she did so with a tenacity of spirit that can inspire us today. Perhaps we can give thanks for the “Monicas” in our lives who inspire us by their spiritual tenacity and care for us; and perhaps you have been that for someone else as well!
As we celebrate the Eucharist in which Christ gives us the gift of his enduring presence, we will receive that gift as strength for the work of the Gospel, work which we know will bear fruit through God’s persistent work and encouragement of us.
May God give you peace!