Jakarta, 19 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
THE PARABLE OF TALENTS EXPLAINED
(A biblical reflection on the 33rd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 19 November 2017)
First Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Psalms: Psalm 128:1-5; Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 5:1-6
The Scripture Text
“For is will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talent made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30 RSV)
When you find a difficult story in the Bible, reading what comes immediately before and after helps since the evangelists often grouped parables or stories together because they had something in common. For example, a parable preceded and followed by stories about judgment probably also has something to do with being judged. The parable in today’s Gospel reading is a perfect example of this.
The parable is about a man who gave three of his servants different sums of money and then went on a journey. When he returned, he summoned his servants and demanded an accounting of the funds he had entrusted to them. The master was pleased with the first two servants who doubled their money but he was furious with the third servant who had the same amount he started with. The master then took the money from this last servant and gave it to one of the others.
Taken by itself, it’s difficult to determine what this parable is supposed to mean. Whom does the master symbolize? Who are the servants supposed to stand for? What is the moral of this story? These are questions we can best answer only after examining the context in which we find the parable.
Other parables and stories about the reign of God and Jesus’ second coming precede and follow today’s Gospel. They are about judgment and our relationship with others. It’s logical to assume the parable in today’s Gospel has a similar theme.
The master stands for Jesus, and we are the servants. The money represents the talents and abilities God has given us. Just as the master went away for awhile and then returned, Jesus will one day also return to the earth and will demand an accounting of the gifts God has given us. He will ask if we used our talents and abilities for good or for evil or if we wasted them by not using them at all. How we answer these questions will determine if we will share in the master’s joy (be called into God’s Kingdom) or if we will find ourselves in the darkness outside, wailing and grinding our teeth (experience the pains of hell).
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 110-111.)
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for all the gifts You have given me. Help me to be aware of these gifts, that I may surrender them to You and use them cheerfully and generously to build up Your Kingdom. Amen.
Jakarta, 18 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
EVERYONE SHOULD ALWAYS BE PREPARED
(A biblical reflection on the 32nd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 12 November 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:1-13
First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalms: Psalm 63:2-8 Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 4:13-17
The Scripture Text
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:1-13)
In first century Palestine, Jewish wedding celebrations were very special events involving the entire town. The festivities began after dark with the bridegroom and his friends making their way to the house of the bride. As they walked through the dark streets, members of the wedding party carried torches of oily rags wrapped atop brass poles. They often needed an extra supply of oil to keep these torches lit.
The groom usually tried to catch everyone by surprise by keeping secret the day and the time he chose to claim his bride. However, someone usually went ahead of the wedding party to announce that the groom was on his way.
The bride joined the procession when the groom arrived at her house and – accompanied by much singing, dancing, and merry making – they returned to his home for both the wedding ceremony and the seven day celebration that followed. During this return procession, people came out of their homes and into the street to join the festivities and to offer their congratulations to the happy couple.
Once the wedding party arrived at the home of the groom, only the invited guests went inside. Because the door was barred shut with a heavy beam, making it difficult to open and close the door, latecomers were not allowed in. This explains why the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel were not admitted to the celebration when they arrived at the groom’s house. The ceremony had already begun and removing the beam not only would have been a chore but the resulting noise would have disrupted the proceeding. Thus, the foolish bridesmaids missed the long-awaited wedding ceremony because they were unprepared.
The bible often uses a wedding as an image for the reign of God. In the parable in today’s Gospel, just as no one knows the time of the bridegroom’s arrival, so no one knows the day or the hour Jesus will return to the earth to establish the reign of God. It could be today, tomorrow, next year, or ten years from now. Since no one knows when Jesus will return, everyone should always be prepared and should not be caught sleeping like the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel parable.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 108-109.)
Short Prayer: Thank You, God the Holy Spirit, for dwelling in me! Enkindle in me the fire of Your love. Refresh me, so that I may be ready to meet Jesus when He returns! Amen.
Jakarta, 10 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
WHOEVER HUMBLES HIMSELF WILL BE EXALTED
(A biblical reflection on the 31st ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 5 November 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 23:1-12
First Reading: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b,8-10; Psalms: Psalm 131:1-3 Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 2:7b-9,13
The Scripture Text
Then said Jesus to the crowds and to His disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi, by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12 RSV)
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 tells us to love God with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind. Immediately following this passage we find the command to bind these words to our wrist and let them be as a pendant on our forehead. The Jewish people took this command literally, made little black boxes (called tephillin or phylacteries), and placed handwritten copies of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and other verses in them. They then tied one of these boxes to their foreheads and another to their wrists with leather straps.
In Deuteronomy 22:12, God commands the Jews to wear fringes on the borders of their garments. These fringes and four tassels, one on each of the four corners of the outer garments, were to remind the Jews of God’s commandments. In Jesus’ day, some Jews wore wide phylacteries and big tassels to call attention to themselves.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus criticizes some of the Pharisees for wanting the places of honor in the synagogue. Because the location of a person’s seat reflected social status, the most important people usually sat in the front of the synagogue and the least important sat in the back. Therefore, everyone was sure to notice a dignitary arriving and making his way to his front just before services began.
Finally, Jesus talks about how some of the Pharisees liked to be called “Rabbi”, a title that means “my master” or “my teacher”. In first-century Palestine, a person’s social status was also evident by how others addressed him. The more important the person, the longer and more elaborate the greeting.
Jesus bases his objection not on the meaning of the word “rabbi” but on the common opinion that a rabbi was more important and deserved more respect than one’s own parents because the rabbi passes on spiritual life through his teachings while parents are only able to give physical life to their children. For this the rabbi received longer and more elaborate greetings in public places.
Because all of the practices Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel were ways people could call attention to their own holiness, we should understand Jesus’ comments as a warning against using religious acts to enhance our reputation.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 106-107.)
Short Prayer: Jesus Christ, You are my Lord and my Savior. I sincerely desire to be one of Your true disciples. Grant me true humility and purity of intention so all I say and do will be said and done for Your glory and honor, not mine. Amen.
Jakarta, 4 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim
We must die with Christ if we wish to live with Him. It is obvious that death is a gain and life a penalty. Saint Paul says it: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” What does Christ mean to us here if not the death of the body and the breath of life? And so we must die with Him in order to live with Him. There should be in us a daily habit and disposition towards dying so that our soul may learn to cut away all carnal desires and take on itself the likeness of death, by seeing things as from the height of heaven, out of reach of the lusts of the world, where they cannot bind it to themselves: so it shall escape the punishment of spiritual death. The law of the flesh, we know, wars against the law of mind enmeshing it in the law of error. And what remedy have we? “Who will deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Saint Ambrose on the death of his brother Satyrus)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray, that as our faith is built on the Risen Christ, so too our hope may be steadfast as we await the resurrection of all the faithful departed. We pray this in the most precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 2 November 2017
A Christian Pilgrim