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Sunday, 19 November 2017 16:55

Considering the big questions of life and death calls us to action

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SrVeronicaLawsonrsm 150Reflection on the Gospel- 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A - (Matthew 25:14-30)

As the end of the church year approaches, the liturgy presents us with texts that invite us all to consider the big questions of life and death, including the day of reckoning that will inevitably confront each one of us, writes Mercy Sister Veronica Lawson.

In answer to my usual greeting, “G’day Muff, what are you up to?” my polymath brother-in-law, David (nicknamed Muff), would invariably reply, “Just contemplating the eternal verities!” The conversation that followed, usually over a glass of wine, would confirm the truth of his response. Contemplating the eternal verities was a way of life for my brother-in-law over the six decades of his life, until his all too early death 12 years ago.

As the end of the church year approaches, the liturgy presents us with texts that invite us all to consider the big questions of life and death, including the day of reckoning that will inevitably confront each one of us. Matthew’s parable of the talents is part of a discourse about the final realities. It is sandwiched between the parable of the ten lamp-bearers, five of whom are unprepared for the bridegroom, and the end time judgement of the nations (next week’s gospel).

The previous story has concluded with the warning: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This is usually interpreted as a reference to the second coming of Christ. Today’s story continues this motif. It opens: “For it is as if a man going abroad summons his slaves and entrusts his property to them….” The slaves are entrusted with phenomenal wealth: ten talents, five talents, and one talent respectively. A talent was a measure of weight rather than a coin and one silver talent was the equivalent of 1000 days wages for an ordinary labourer.

The slaves receive no instructions, but later events indicate that the man expects a good return on his wealth. The first two slaves deliver and are invited into the joy of the master, another possible reference to the end time when God will embrace those who are faithful to their mission. The third slave buries his talent and provides a reasonable rationale: the master is a hard man who inspires a fear-ridden response in the slave. The master does not resile from this description. The seemingly unproductive slave loses even what he has and is banished to a place “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Is the master an image of God? There are some elements in the story that may point in this direction. There are other features, however, such as the concentration of wealth in one person and the treatment of the fearful slave, that suggest this may be too simplistic an answer. In face of the present global unrest, we may find ourselves in sympathy with the third slave insofar as he challenges the violence and exploitative ways of the master. Parables are open to multiple interpretations and the eternal verities cannot be encapsulated in one story or one image. They bear ongoing reflection and call us to responsible action.