33rd Sunday of Year A (Matt 25:14-30)
November 19, 2017
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
THE parable of the talents, like last Sunday’s, is clearly allegorical, although as Jesus himself told it, it probably had a different point. Most likely, it was intended for the Jewish religious authorities, such as the scribes and the Pharisees, who like the third servant, were so much concerned with the preservation of the religious tradition they had been entrusted with that they refused to hear the new message that Jesus brought. But this main point has given way to allegorization. As it stands in Matthew, the master’s invitation “Come, share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21b) obviously refers to the messianic banquet in the Kingdom of God. The servants (v 14b et passim) stand for Christians who, through baptism, accept Christ as their master. The silver pieces (v 15) represent the faith that God gives them through baptism. And the “going away” and the long absence of the master (v 15b, 19a) refer to the journey of Christ to heaven and his physical absence from the world. His coming home (V 19) is the parousia, the second coming of the Lord. The early Church moralized the parable with the addition of the saying, “Those who have will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not will lose even the little they have” (v 29). Concerned with the coming eschatological event, it is now a parable of judgment.
While it is true that in this allegorization the story revolves around the three servants to whom the master disbursed his silver pieces, it gives far greater attention on the third servant. In the dialogue between the master and this servant, the former sharply rebuked the latter for his failure to do something with the silver pieces entrusted to him. This unproductive servant is held up as an bad example of one who, having been entrusted with capital, was more concerned about himself and thus about keeping the money intact—an attitude which, in Matthew’s redaction, shows his lazy and sterile life. Because his desire was security, however false, he was unable to obey the master in a very creative way, unlike the two other servants who made capital gains. If Matthew dwells at length on this lazy and unproductive servant, it is because the parable is meant to teach us that the gift of faith given to us at Baptism must grow while we await Jesus’ second coming so that, upon his return, we can give a good account on what we have done to the faith we received. This growth of faith is our creative response to the offer God has given us, while living in the period between now and Christ’s arrival at the end of time.
What does this mean? Like the first servants who, having received five thousand silver pieces, went to invest it and made another five, so we must be believers whose faith grows and bears fruit. Or, if we look at the parable as an allegory on the membership of the Kingdom at the end-time, we are supposed to work out our salvation in the same way that the first two servants invested the master’s money. Of course, salvation is God’s grace (Titus 3:5), but our part is to make a creative and proper response to it. In the second reading (1Thess 5:16), Paul expresses this in terms of being “awake and sober” (v 6)—“We who live by day must be alert, putting on faith and love as breastplate” (v 7). A productive faith is one that bears fruit in love. Thus Paul: “Your love must be sincere. Detest what is evil, cling to what is good. Love one another with the affection of brothers. Anticipate each other in showing respect. Do not grow slack but be fervent in spirit; he whom you serve is the Lord” (Rom 12:9-11). The first reading makes the same emphasis when it speaks of works: “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates” (Prov 31:31). Of course, Paul himself makes a laconic expression of the growth of faith in love, when he says that in Christ what counts is “only faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal 5:6).
If the master was harsh with the third servant because he was concerned only with his own security, this implies that the growth of faith must benefit others. This brings to mind James’ assertion about unproductive faith: “If a brother or a sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day and you say to him, ‘Goodbye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed’, but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless” (Jas 2:14-17). Obviously, the parable stresses that like any gift, faith, no matter how small, is precious, and has to bear fruit for others.