This Sunday: God Doesn’t Expect You to Change the World
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our Christian vocation is to do great and mighty things, to change the world, to make our unique indelible mark on history.
This Sunday’s Gospel (33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A) encourages a much more mundane take on the Christian life, at least for most of us.
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus describes the Christian vocation not as one of changing the world, but one of doing the most with whatever talents you have.
In the story, a man leaving on a journey leaves talents (the term “talents” referred to a large sum of money, but the term always also had the meaning it has now) with his servants. He gives five talents to one servant, two to another and one to a third.
When he returns, he rewards the servant who received five because he used them to make five more, and he rewards the servant who received two for making two more. But the servant who received one gets punished, because he buried his portion and merely returned it.
Many lessons are clear from this story.
One: God is more like a customer than a cop.
We tend to think of God a divine cop who is mainly interested in knowing if we have broken the law or not. He has his ticket book in one hand, his radar gun in the other, and he is watching us like a hawk in case we mess up.
It is true he doesn’t want us to break the law — the second reading makes that clear. But a divine cop would not have had any problem with the one-talent servant. Our Lord did, because he wants to see us produce for him more and more with the talents he gave us.
That makes him more like a customer and it means we have to look for ways to please the Lord in life, not just avoid the things that make him mad.
Avoiding doing bad things is not enough for Jesus. Those who are truly worthy are those who use their talents to accomplish good things.
Another lesson: God expects vastly different accomplishments from different people.
An example of a five-talent Catholic might be Mother Teresa.
She was an organizer, who built a group of nuns recognized the world over. She was also a deep spiritual thinker who expressed the ideas of the faith with energy and clarity. She was also a great missionary, serving the poor effectively. She also knew how to communicate her work to others, which made her formidable at raising money, and attracting volunteers. She used her talents effectively such that she made an enormous contribution to the world.
One who received two talents might be Father Emil Kapaun.
This Kansas priest didn’t have all the talents of Mother Teresa, but he had two big ones: humility and perseverance. That was enough to make an enormous difference in the lives of the men who knew him in the Korean War, where he was a chaplain. He showed his love for his men by suffering with them and for them, showing there was no job he was unwilling to do and no amount of discomfort he wouldn’t accept to serve them. His heroism in a POW camp won him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
And who might be those who received just one talent? Think of the parent or grandparent who made a difference in your life — or look in the mirror.
This Sunday’s first reading describes the beauty of the vocation of housewife, for instance. A worthy homemaker, it says, “obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.” She may be a “two-talent” person or she may be a “one.” That isn’t the point.
The point is, few of us are called to world changing, astounding feats of apostolic wonderfulness. But every one of us is called to do what we are supposed to do. And that is enough to win Biblical praise.
The only real danger is doing nothing with your talents; to not pray, to not get to know Christ, to not share his life with your family, to bury your talent, to not do what you are supposed to do.
This Sunday’s Gospel warns us what happens to us then.