A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Archive for November, 2017

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Why our “talent” should be useful.

There are people who say, “It sure would be nice if I could  play a musical instrument, or be a star athlete.  I would be famous.  But I don’t, so I’m not.  Why?”  These people feel cheated because they don’t have the skills that they hoped to have.

Somehow, it seems unfair to blame God for not giving us the gifts that we wanted.  St. Paul tells us that we have all received gifts. Different ones but gifts just the same.  In fact, no one has been cheated.  (I Cor. 12:4-11, esp. v.7).

In the Gospel for the thirty third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 25:14-30) Jesus speaks to his disciples, in the form of a parable, of a man who entrusts others with money loans.

A man about to go on a journey calls in his servants for a very specific task.  He is going to entrust them with some money so that they may gain more while he  is away.

To the first servant he gives 5 “talents”  (a”talent”in Jesus’ time was a piece of silver worth much money).  To the second servant he gives 2 “talents.”  To the third servant he gives one “talent.”  The request was to see if the servants would utilize the money well.

When the man returned, he asked the servants for an accounting.  The servant who received 5 “talents” wound up doubling them, and this made the owner happy, so he rewarded the servant.

The servant who received 2 “talents” also doubled them, so he received praise and a reward.  But the servant who received 1 “talent” buried it.  This servant was chastised because he did nothing with the “talent.”

So, what could this Gospel be saying to us?  First of all, the word “talent” refers not only to the coinage in the parable, but it can also refer  to the “gift” that God has given us.  When we use the word “talent” regarding ourselves, we refer to the gift that we have, for example. being  able play a musical instrument or being a successful athlete.

Secondly, we are all born with talent/s, to be distinguished from the limitations which we have.  The challenge is to be able to tell the difference between the two so that our limitations do not dominate our relationships with other people.  The talents (gifts) should do that.

For instance, people who come asking for advice may be more open to listening to us rather than to our non existent piano playing.  Yet, there could be some who would be better soothed by our piano playing than by our constant chatter.  Depends upon the gift.

In other words, we are all born with certain talents (gifts) AND limitations.  That is to say that there are things that we can do easily, and other things that would be virtually impossible to do well.

Practice makes perfect.  Whenever we are in contact with other people, we should display our talents (“gifts” such as justice, compassion, understanding, and the like) rather than our limitations (the lack of the above).

The servants who  were given 5 and 2 talents wound up doubling them.  They were praised and rewarded.  We who have received several “talents” (gifts) should be using them for the benefit of others, thus “doubling” them, thus bettering the situation.

The servant who received 1 “talent” buried it. For this he was punished. We who have received one”talent” (gift) should use it to benefit the welfare of others.  For this was the gift given.  Simply put, we should thank God for the gifts that he has given us whatever they are.

And that gratitude should contain the request to help us be very aware of the differences between limitations and gifts.  Because that knowledge will make our “talent” (gift) very useful

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Who is in charge?

Many people have trouble with authority figures.  Most likely, it is because they think that the authority figures have control over them since they are their “bosses.”

Recently, in the news there has been much coverage of how some men have “taken advantage” of women because these men have been the women’s “bosses.”  How does one deal with something like this grave disparity?

In the Gospel for the Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 23:1-12) , Jesus deals with authority figures and offers appropriate responses.  He does so by speaking of two significant issues.  The one internal, and the other external.

First, the internal.  Speaking to the crowds  and to his disciples, Jesus says regarding the Scribes and the Pharisees (authority figures during Jesus’ times), “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to help them.  All their works are performed to be seen.”

Jesus’ response to the present crowd and to his disciples regarding their “religious” bosses”?  The simple statement, “You are all brothers,” calls to mind the Genesis perception that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.  (Gen. 1:26)

The Greek word used here for “brother” is adelphos which refers directly to the family member. This means that among family members there should not be “bosses” who feel they have control over other members.  Jobs of responsibility, in which one gives orders and another accepts them, for the betterment of society—yes.  Jobs of control over others—no.

The internal aspect of this relationship (boss and worker) is the realization that we are all family, hence brother and sister to each other, so there should be the treatment of mutual dignity.  However, this internal aspect must be expressed in order for the relationship to be functional.  How does this happen?

Second, the external.  Jesus’ response to the internal expression of  this family relationship is to be of genuine service to others.  (Matt. 23-11)  The Greek word is diakonos which is a word that deals with concrete issues, for example, doing justice, being compassionate, expressing forgiveness, and the rest of Jesus’ teachings.  This is how members of God’s family should deal with each other.

In sum, we take seriously what Jesus alludes to in the Gospel.  Internally, we are all members of God’s family (including bosses/workers). This internal realization expresses itself externally by way of service.

The final statement in this Gospel is, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  What does it mean to be “humble”?  Fundamentally, it means being yourself, aware of your gifts and limitations.  No one has been cheated, we all have gifts.  We simply have to find out what they are. Limitations become clearer as time goes on.  So, humility means being aware of our gifts and employ those while dealing with others.  Humility also means being aware of our limitations and not allowing them to become more prominent than the gifts.

What we say and do tells people how humble we are.  When gifts are more evident than the limitations in our human relationships, then people will know that we are in charge.

 

 

 

Whatever your question, love is the answer

Most likely you have heard someone say, “I love your outfit.  The colors look well on you”  Or perhaps, “I love that piece of music.  It seems to calm me.”  We know that these statements of “love” actually refer to more meaningful words such as “like” or “appreciate.”   In fact, there seems to be a growing misuse of the word “love.”  Do the words “like” and “appreciate” seem to interplay with the word “love” and then get mixed up?

What does the word “love” truly mean?  In the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 22:34-40) Jesus attempts to put the word/idea into context.

One of the Pharisees, a lawyer no less, asks him if he could sum up the Jewish Law because there appear to be so many rules and regulations. Without doubt, a verbal trap. Jesus replies by saying that the Law could be summed up in two commandments.  No doubt this statement raised a few eyebrows.

“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  And a second is like it.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matt. 22:37-40)

What does this mean?  Jesus said that to love God one must love him completely with heart, soul, and mind.  This strongly suggests that this love is prompted by feeling, that is to say that it is “internal,” quite likely the expression of gratitude for the many blessings received and yet to come.

But this internal love becomes “external” when it leads to action, such as deeds of justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and everything else that expresses the teachings of Jesus.

That is to say, that loving God completely for all his gifts and blessings (internal) is manifested (external) in the ways that I treat my neighbor.  Consequently, the law is summed up by loving God and loving neighbor.  Both are part of the same dynamic.

It seems t0 me that we could appreciate this dynamic by focusing our intention on our Baptism.  Why?  Our Baptism reminds us of the Sinai covenant where God established a mutual relationship with Israel.  Moses is the middleman.  Through Moses God said to the Israelites, “Now, therefore, If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples….”  (Exodus 19:5)

Israel was to keep the covenant, and God would protect his people.  A mutual commitment. The covenant contained the Ten Commandments which includes responsibilities to God and to people.  Our Baptism makes the same demands from us.  Consequently, love of God and love neighbor sum up all of our responsibilities.

Now that the feast of Thanksgiving is verging on the horizon, this would be a good time to recount all of our gifts and blessings and begin anew the love of God and neighbor.

 

 

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