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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore the Parable of the Talents, understood from the third servant’s perspective; engage Catholic Social Teaching on rights and responsibilities; and embody bringing our personal talents to the Church and world with the examples of Catholic Women Preach and the music of Elvis Costello.




Commentary by Liam Myers

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time


Reading 1

Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

A perfect love—who can find her?
She is valued far beyond pearls,
instilling confidence in her partner’s heart,
providing no small profit,
Bringing advantage and not hurt
all the days of their lives.
Always busy with wool and with flax,
doing her work with willing hands;
setting her hands to the distaff,
fingers grasping the spindle.
Holding out a hand to the poor,
greeting the needy with open arms.
Charm deceives, and beauty flees;
but those who reverence YHWH
are deserving of praise.
Give them a share in what their hands have worked for,
and let their works tell their praises at the city gates.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 128

Response: Blessed are those who fear the Most High.

O blessed are those who fear the Most High / and walk in God’s ways!
You will eat what your hands have worked for. / Happy will you be and favored.
R: Blessed are those who fear the Most High.

You will be like a fruitful vine / in the heart of your house;
Your children like the shoots of the olive tree / around your table.
R: Blessed are those who fear the Most High.

Indeed thus will be blessed / the one who fears Our God.
May Our God bless you from Zion / all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children in a happy Jerusalem! / On Israel, peace!
R: Blessed are those who fear the Most High.

Reading 2

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

But as to specific times and eras,
sisters and brothers,
you do not need me to tell you anything —
you know very well that the Day of God is coming like a thief in the night.
Just when people are saying,
“At last we have peace and security,”
then destruction will fall on them with the suddenness of labor pains,
and there will be no escape.

But you, sisters and brothers, are not in the dark.
The Day of God will not catch you like a thief.
No, you all are children of light and children of the day.
We do not belong to the darkness or the night.
So let us not be asleep as others are — let us be awake and sober!

Gospel

Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus told this parable to the disciples,
“Again, it is like a wealthy landowner
who was going on a journey and called in three workers,
entrusting some funds to them.
The first was given five thousand dollars, the second two thousand,
and the third one thousand, according to each one’s ability.
Then the landowner went away.
Immediately the worker who received the five thousand
went and invested it and made another five.
In the same way, the worker who received the two thousand doubled that figure.
But the worker who received the one thousand instead went off
and dug a hole in the ground and buried the money.

“After a long absence, the traveler returned home and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received the five thousand came forward bringing the additional five, saying,
‘You entrusted me with five thousand; here are five thousand more.’
The landowner said,
‘Well done! You are a good and faithful worker.
Since you were dependable in a small matter,
I will put you in charge of larger affairs.
Come, share my joy!’

“The one who had received the two thousand then stepped forward
with the additional two, saying,
‘You entrusted me with two thousand; here are two thousand more.’

“The landowner said to this one, ‘Cleverly done!
You too are a good and faithful worker.
Since you were dependable in a small matter,
I will put you in charge of larger affairs.
Come, share my joy!’

“Finally the one who had received the one thousand stepped forward,
and said to the landowner,
‘Knowing your ruthlessness
— you who reap where you did not sow and gather where you did not scatter—
and fearing your wrath, I went off and buried your thousand dollars in the ground.
Here is your money back.’

“The landowner exclaimed, ‘You worthless, lazy lout!
You know that I reap where I do not sow and gather where I do not scatter, do you?
All the more reason to deposit my money with the bankers,
so that on my return I could have had it back with interest!
You, there! Take the thousand away from this bum
and give it to the one with the ten thousand.

“Those who have will get more until they grow rich,
while those who have not will lose even the little they have.
Throw this worthless one outside into the darkness,
where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.’ ”


The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.

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Another Look at the Parable of the Talents


In order to lift up those who are living on the underside of justice, we must continue to act creatively in exposing the injustice of the status quo. Therefore, we must recognize that the personal sacrifice of choosing to hide our talents, which the empire seeks to exploit, is an act of subversion. In our gospel today, The Parable of the Talents, we can look to the third servant for wisdom in seeking a model to follow. 

William R. Herzog II’s book Parables as Subversive Speech; Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed provides critical exegesis of the parables which are read through the lens of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Herzog wants us to ask: “What if the parables of Jesus were neither theological nor moral stories but political and economic ones?” and “What if the parables are exposing exploitation rather than revealing justification?” In this reading of the parable the term ‘talent’ is understood both within its historical context as an ancient Greek term indicating a unit of weight used for something like gold, or another precious substance, and with a modern understanding of talents as a natural gift or skill. This allows for an economic analysis of the parable to be in conversation with the question of how to share our gifts with the world. 

Throughout this book, Herzog expresses his discontent with the way that the parables have been historically interpreted. He argues that we must not default to interpreting the master in each parable as a God figure, but rather that we must analyze each character as they “belong to identifiable social classes” (84). Herzog also argues that the characters in the parables are not solely meant to be individuals on their own but rather are meant to be representative of a social type within the larger agrarian society of the time. Therefore it is crucial to understand that “the parables cannot be understood without first attending to the social construction of reality that they apply” (54). 

Now, utilizing wisdom from Herzog, let us look more closely at the Parable of the Talents (If one only hears the shortened version of this gospel they will not fully hear the master’s response to each servant, so it will be important to be familiar with Mt 25:14-30). When listening to a sermon on this parable one will likely hear a message more in line with capitalistic notions of success than having to do with building God’s beloved kingdom. Preachers are then tasked with providing justification for the actions of the master in this parable, especially considering his harsh words towards his third servant. 

In contrast to these interpretations, Herzog pays close attention to the social-historical context. By doing so, he troubles the assumption that the “man going on a journey” is a God figure. He is then able to recognize the systems of exploitation the master is able to benefit from. Therefore, Herzog’s interpretation of this parable is from the perspective of the third servant who has been marginalized, not only within the context of the setting of the story, but also within the history of interpretation of the parable itself. Therefore, this is an interpretation from below

To set the scene, Herzog states that “the opening scene depicts a wealthy aristocrat assigning to three retainers proportions of his assets” (158). He states that the servants, or more accurately described as retainers, are within the “most trusted inner circle” of the aristocrat, who is the “man going on a journey.” Therefore this “situation is one of the powerful becoming more powerful through successful execution of their orders” (159). This is all to say that all of the characters in this parable are wealthier than the many impoverished Israelites, while the servants must do the master’s bidding to maintain their class status, and are exploiting those in the lower class. This context is important for understanding the master’s response to each servant. 

To the first two servants, the ones who used their talents in order to double them, the master responds in the following manner:

‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’

If we are to recognize that this master is one who is exploiting his workers, then we must question this ‘joy’ that the servants will share with the master. Herzog speaks to this passage by saying the master “is inviting his clients into a celebration of their plenty in the midst of others’ deprivation and want” (163). We must therefore ask; What does it mean to experience joy when that joy comes by means of others suffering? These servants are caught up in systems of violence, just as we are today, which lead them to seek ‘joy’ in the wrong places. Therefore we can learn that until one recognizes their complicity in the exploitation of others, one cannot experience true joy. 

The master’s response to the third servant is quite intriguing. Herzog clearly states that “The hero of the parable is the third servant” (167). This is because the third servant has in a sense ‘woken up’ to his role within a system of suffering. “By digging a hole and burying the aristocrat’s talent…the third retainer dissociates himself from the system he has so cleverly exploited to attain his position of power and influence” (167). He dared to question the authority and the intentions of the master, with recognition that it would be at a personal sacrifice. “He realizes that he will pay a price, but he has decided to accept the cost rather than continue to pursue his exploitative path” (167).

The complex character of the third servant can be a model for us to follow. It is important to note that he did play a role in exploiting others, as many of us do. But then he recognized this, and took actions in order to lessen his complicity within the systems of suffering, by hiding his talent. This action was done at a personal sacrifice, and was done with recognition of solidarity. This servant knew that he could not experience any ‘joy’ as long as others continued to suffer. This servant lessened himself in order that others may be brought up, and their own burdens may be lessened. This was his work toward making a more inclusive community, one that may resemble God’s beloved kingdom.

Commentary by Liam Myers


Liam Myers is a freelance writer, an adjunct professor of religious studies, and member of the Catholic Worker Maryhouse in NYC. Liam finds beauty in the everyday; in a slow walk through riverside park, in a good bowl of potato leek soup, and in playing his saxophone with friends.
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Engage Catholic Social Teaching


A key tenet of Catholic Social Teaching is Rights and Responsibilities. A brief description of this teaching is that “human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.” Therefore, to achieve a healthy community we must work together toward the flourishing of others, which sometimes comes at a personal cost. 

Considering talents, we all are responsible to bring our talents to the church in order for the fruition of God’s kingdom to come. As we work collectively towards making space wherein all will be able to contribute their talents, we must recognize that it is crucial to be critical of institutions that are not open to the contributions of those with certain identities (including our church). 

Considering our society, there are many people who do not have the luxury to share their talents with others. People who are not welcomed into the community, and not certainly not invited to share their talents, their gifts. This narrows our vision of the world, and therefore of God. 

Therefore, those of us who are able to share our talents in the world must continue to think carefully about how we do so, and about how we are able to lessen our roles when need be. This is a part of leadership, stepping back to allow others to step forward. 

Engage

A Contemplative Exercise


Pause here to consider how the readings for today, and of this reflection, are landing within your body. Take a moment to quiet your heart and your mind. Take a couple of deep breaths, and recognize yourself in the presence of God. 

Parables have been described as earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Jesus’s way of storytelling allows us to interpret and to continuously make meaning out of our lives through His. 

Think for a moment about how you would tell a parable about God’s beloved Kingdom. 

How does God manifest in your daily life? What is a story you could tell others which sheds light upon the beloved community? Where are places in which you have seen heaven here on earth? 

Take a few moments to continue to reflect on these questions, and to write down a story, a parable, which you would tell others in order to communicate the nature of God’s kingdom, or kindom. 


A Community

Catholic Women Preach

Catholic Women Preach is a project which uplifts the talents of women within the Catholic Church. This is critically important within our patriarchal institution, which historically has not made space for women to share their gifts and talents. Catholic Women Preach recognizes that until we are able to hear preaching from the entire body of the church, we will be lacking crucial understanding of each other, and therefore of God. 

Art

What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?

To speak of peace, or try to love one another, or attempt to build bridges toward understanding, are the only ways toward experiencing true joy, a joy that is built on love of one’s neighbor. Just as the third servant did, we must wake up to the complex reality of the systems of suffering we are living within, and hide our talents from the empire in an effort toward peace and love. As Elvis Costello sings, “What’s so funny?” we too know that we may never be understood, and even laughed at, in this road towards justice. 

Embody