Talents, Bishops, and the Signs of the Times

I was very surprised at mass today when the presider said “The Gospel of the Lord” after only the first of the three servants, the one who doubled his five talents, had been rewarded. Turns out that’s a legit shorter version in the lectionary. Who knew?

He chose the shorter version to bring out the parallel with the first reading, from Proverbs, so that “Well done, good and faithful servants – come share in your master’s joy” would parallel “Give her a reward for her labors, let her works praise her at the city gates.”

I liked the focus on joy. It made me think of Pope Francis’ emphasis. The homily also quoted from a prayer for vocations that the Pope had circulated, which said something like “Authentic faith is always uncomfortable and never just personal. It always involves a deep commitment to change the world.” I liked that, because I’ve used that exact phrase in essays and in poetry. It’s that inaugurated eschatology: the reign of God is at hand, is begun, and it’s part of our job as Christians to make it more fully manifest.

Another good homily for these readings was given by Fr. Joe Komonchak in 1990, one among many now available on his blog. It was then the 25th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which he tied into his homily, which I excerpt here:

At the heart of [Vatican II] lay a dramatic confrontation between two ideas of tradition or at least of how to defend and preserve a tradition. On the one hand, there were those whose views were based on another NT text which also uses a financial metaphor: “O Timothy,” Paul wrote, “preserve the deposit.” The deposit here means something like a bank deposit: a fixed sum entrusted for safe-keeping. . . .

This basic responsibility of each generation of Christians–that they themselves hand on intact what they have received–had, however, been undertaken in a way like that of the fearful servant who had buried his talents in the ground. The people who were responsible for the documents prepared for Vatican II were of the view that a permanently valid way of articulating the Gospel and of drawing out its consequences for human life had been achieved in the previous century and a half; and they were determined to make the Council simply repeat and confirm all that.

The drama of Vatican II was the emergence and eventual triumph of a view that was no less concerned than the first to preserve the tradition, but refused to identify it with particular formulae or particular attitudes and behaviors. Instead they were of the view that the only way to preserve the value of what was entrusted to them was by a constant process of reinterpretation and re-evaluation and re-application to meet ever new challenges. (It is like the difference between investing one’s money as opposed to leaving it lying fallow. As we all know, the latter inevitably means it is devaluated over time.) . . .
It was this second group which basically prevailed at the Council.

“Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.” This line made me think of our bishops, who undoubtedly need our prayers as they endeavor to faithfully re-interpret, re-evaluate, and re-apply the treasures of our faith tradition to respond to the signs of the times today.

You can also read my lectionary reflection from the last time we had these readings, on Talent and Economics, which takes a mimetic view. There’s also an interesting reflection on Jesus the Riddler and the Parable of the Talents over at Black Flag Theology.

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