Homily for Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A
Nov. 14/15, 2020
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
The Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30
Deacon Mike D’Addabbo
St. Louis Catholic Church
Growing up in Connecticut I loved this time of the year. The leaves would change from green into red, yellow, gold or orange. It was a kaleidoscope of colors that was fascinating to view as a kid and even today as an adult. We had a big yard with lots of trees and that beauty comes with a cost. I am the oldest of eight children and after our Sunday ritual of a family dinner at my Italian grandparents’ house we would spend the rest of the day, weather permitting, raking leaves. We enjoyed the beauty of the leaves in the trees but eventually they had to be cleaned up to restore the beauty of the yard. It was, and still is, an annual cycle. It is a simple lesson that everything we enjoy, that we take simple pleasures in, requires work so that we can enjoy them again. We also had a tangible reward. My dad would go to the orchard up the street, buy some freshly picked apples and my mom would make us hot chocolate and a fresh apple pie or fresh apple sauce. Our lesson was that if you do the work you will be rewarded. My siblings and I all have a strong work ethic which we attribute to examples like this. They were instilled in us, like many of you, as children and through the examples of our parents.
Today’s Gospel is that same kind of story. We have the landowner who is going away on a trip. He gives each of his servants a portion of his wealth (called talents) to manage for him while he is gone. He gives each of them different amounts of his wealth based on what he thinks they can responsibly handle. Two of the servants doubled what the landowner gave them. They did well. The other servant buried his allocated share and returned it in whole to the landowner. He did not take a risk because he was afraid of failure and incurring the landowner’s wrath. The servant did not trust that the landowner knew the level of responsibility the servant could handle. The servant was afraid of the landowner’s reaction in case of failure. So, the servant was surprised at the landowner’s reaction when he gave him back the same amount of talents that had been entrusted to him. The landowner sharply rebuked and punished the servant for failing to invest his talents. The servant was expected to overcome his fear of failure, invest what was given to him, earn a return and bring that return to the landowner. The landowner gave the servant responsibilities that did not exceed the abilities of what the servant could handle. He gave that servant the least amount to manage yet the servant buried it because he did not have faith in the landowner and was afraid of failure and displeasing him.
Today’s world is very much like that Gospel from 2,000 years ago. Employers, by their very nature, must make decisions daily on how much responsibility to give employees and whether that employee can handle it. I worked for just one employer in my 39+ years career. Since the beginning of my tenure with them they would give me as much responsibility as I wanted. Our rewards were commensurate with the responsibility we had and the performance and return we brought to the company. That is the same today as it was with the servants and the landowner in today’s gospel. Now I worked with many people of different nationalities. I worked with a young Chinese man. We would discuss religion and the bible. He had read it cover-to-cover upon first arriving in the U.S. from China to attend Dartmouth. We talked about this gospel one time as I was writing a paper on it for diaconate class. He thought the landowner was totally out-of-place for punishing the servant for not doing anything with what he had been given. Now my friend is an extremely bright guy, a Dartmouth graduate and works as a commodity trader. He is tasked with certain responsibilities of which the goal is to make a positive return on investment. That will be one of many factors in any reward he earns. I asked him if he should be paid the same as someone who drives a truck, or answers the phone, for us. They also have important responsibilities. However, one job is to earn a return and increase profitability. That is a more responsible role because risks are involved. The other jobs are a necessary service but with less risk to the company. My friend said the person with greater responsibility should be rewarded accordingly. That showed my friend why the landowner was angry with the servant who did nothing with what he had been given. The servant violated the faith the landowner place in him.
Now consider that Jesus is the landowner, and we are His servants. He has entrusted us, his faithful, with various levels of talents and responsibilities. Our responsibility is to use our knowledge of His teachings, His commandments, His investment in us, to earn a return for Him. That return is to bring others to Christ, to increase His followers. Jesus told us not to be afraid, that He will not give us more than we can handle and that He is always with us. Jesus will reward us for being successful. That reward is eternal life with Him. He will chastise us, just like the landowner did to the servant, if we fail to have faith and trust in Him and do not do His will.
How will we know if we are successful? Because on that day when we are chosen to come home Jesus will look at us and say “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.” (MT 25:21). Isn’t- or should not- that be our desire? We all want to be praised by our employer. Isn’t God’s praise more important? Rewards on earth are temporary. Rewards with Christ are eternal, but they are not easy. We must work for them. Our challenges will not exceed the abilities Christ knows we have because He knows what has been given to us.
Lastly, Thanksgiving is approaching and this appears to be a year that the normal traditions we look forward to- the gathering of family and friends to give thanks for all our blessings- will not be taking place for many of us, particularly the elderly and most vulnerable, due to the covid-19 pandemic. We cannot let that negativity govern our thoughts and actions. Like the landowner in today’s gospel Jesus has not given us a challenge we cannot meet. The best thing we can do now is to do what Jesus would want us to do. We should all wear masks. Our rights not to wear a mask only go so far, to the point where that right infringes on another person’s rights. We are seeing a resurgence in the number of virus cases right now. We must act if we are going to succeed in overcoming this virus and return to some semblance of normalcy- whatever that may be. I have family members who are immune-compromised, I have family members who have had the virus and I have family members who have been caregivers on covid floors in a hospital. I have heard their stories of the suffering people go through with covid. Naturally, all that makes me extremely cautious. I cannot, and will not, take any risks that could place my immediate family at risk of getting the virus.
An exceptionally good friend of mine has been in the hospital for almost two weeks with covid-19. He is younger than me and in better shape than most people. This virus can infect anyone. He was in the ER for four days before getting a room. He was there for just a short time before being moved to an ICU step down unit where he would get better care. But his next move was into the ICU because his condition continued to deteriorate. And he is still there today. He is currently on an oxygen machine because it is too difficult for him to breathe on his own. He is struggling awfully hard right now. His family is also struggling with the fear of possibly losing him. None of us want to put people we know and love through that experience, but we could do just that by refusing to wear a mask.
My friend and his wife were overly cautious when going out and yet they still contracted it, he much more severely. My plea to all of you is to wear a mask whether you like the idea or not. It is not 100 pct. but it is much better than nothing. Remember, nothing in life is guaranteed. You will not know, until it is too late, whether you have the virus or not, even if you do not show any symptoms. And, as evidenced by my friend, your general state of health does not preclude you from getting the virus, spreading it or being able to fight it off. Ask yourself what would Jesus do? Three weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell us that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves and that the whole law and prophets depend on that. We should obey that commandment.
I do not know anyone who wants to get this virus, and if we do not want it, then it is irresponsible of us to not wear a mask and potentially infect someone else or get it from someone. Last week we heard in the gospel that we do not know the day or the hour that our time will come. Our time here is limited so we must use it wisely. Be cautious and be safe. Do what Jesus Christ would expect you to do so that He can tell you on the day you meet Him “well done my good and faithful servant”.
May our almighty, glorious, and ever merciful God bless you, your family and friends keeping them safe during the pandemic and this holiday season. Let us give thanks to God for our blessings and continue to pray for His help in defeating this virus. Pray often, and pray hard, for all those affected by this terrible plague.