November 15, 2020
Revised Common Lectionary
Judges 4:1-7 or Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 123 or Psalm 90:1-8 (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, (see 1a)
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-15 (16-18), 19-21 (22-30)
Many life decisions require us to weigh the risk involved with fear of loss, failure, or disappointment. Should I make a lifetime commitment to this one person? Should we move our family to a new home? What might happen if I leave my current job, begin a degree program, or change careers? Just as every decision carries risk, so too can our responses sometimes be impeded by fear.
In the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel reading, each of the three servants has been entrusted with talents to invest during a long wait for the master’s return. These were very large sums of money, with each talent representing approximately fifteen years’ wages. We aren’t told exactly how, but two of the servants clearly took considerable risk to double the value of their funds. Meanwhile, the third servant explicitly cites fear as the reason for digging a hole to protect that one talent. We can almost see him cowering in fright as he confesses, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man” (Mt 25:24).
But we shouldn’t take the third servant’s characterization at face value. Yes, the master admits, “I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter” (25:26), but there is plenty of evidence that he is also generous and empowering. After all, the master extended to the servants high degrees of both trust and freedom, handing over to them great wealth with no preconditions as to how they should go about investing. The first two servants took advantage of opportunity while the other servant allowed himself to be gripped by fear of retribution.
It is tempting to view this story merely as an encouragement to industriousness, but that misses the point that Jesus is making. We need to understand the parable first in relation to the other parables that surround it and then within the broader context of Jesus’ entire teaching and life. The story we hear today, the third is a series of four, is not so much about wealth or business, but rather about how disciples of Christ are to live as we wait for the Lord’s coming.
Jesus risked everything, including his very life, to proclaim the coming of God’s reign in his words and in his works. As we wait for him to return in glory, we too are to take risks in using the gifts we have received on behalf of the kingdom—serving, caring, teaching, healing, giving sight, opening ears, and setting free those who are bound.
Can you recognize in your own life the overflowing generosity of God who has provided you with talents and abilities that can benefit others and advance God’s justice and peace in the world? What gifts have you received that God is calling you to put to work in service of the kingdom? Can you lay aside your fear and respond generously to that call? Will you take the risk of stepping out and embracing change?
A Hymn for Today: “With Gifts That Differ by Your Grace”
Today’s Gospel text inspired this hymn by Ruth Duck, FHS. As each of the three servants was entrusted with a different amount, so too in the Christian community individuals receive a diversity of gifts for the work of proclaiming and witnessing to God’s reign. As we sing the second stanza, we confess our fear of risk and failure and then pray in the final stanza for the transforming power of God’s Spirit to offer our gifts in service as a “sacrifice of praise.”
With gifts that differ by your grace
Your Spirit fits us all,
That Christians in each time and place
May answer when you call.
You strengthen some to take a stand,
To prophesy or preach,
While others give with open hand,
Or heal the sick, or teach.
And yet, because our faith is frail,
We bury gifts you give.
Afraid to risk, afraid to fail,
We are not free to live.
At times we use your sacred gifts
For only selfish ends.
Our purpose fades, our focus shifts,
And conflict soon attends.
Come, Spirit, build your Church anew,
That all may do their part,
Together, finding life in you,
Diverse, yet one in heart.
So may your people seek your will,
Transformed in all our ways.
We offer body, mind, and skill,
A sacrifice of praise.
Text: Ruth Duck, © 1996, The Pilgrim Press. Used by permission under OneLicense A – 729857.
Suggested Tune: MOZART (GOSHEN, ST. MICHAEL’S)
Image Credit: Parable of the Talents, manuscript illumination, attribution unknown
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.