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What good is the Good News if we keep it to ourselves?: Homily for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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From the vault: my homily for this Sunday from 2014:

The gospel this Sunday is familiar to a lot of us.

We tend to think it’s all about ability, or talent — what special gifts God has given you. Certainly, that’s a big part of it. But I think there is more to the parable of the talents than just a lesson in using your ability to sing or dance or juggle.

First, it’s important to remember that in Jesus’s day a talent was something concrete: it was a unit of weight, about eighty pounds, and when used for money, it was the value of that weight in silver. A talent was a way of measuring something of great value. So Christ is speaking of something specific and very familiar to his audience.

But there is a second element in the parable: it is what you do with that most precious commodity.

The artist Eric Fischl—a painter, sculptor and printmaker—once compared psychoanalysis with the creation of art. Fischl noted that both professions have something in common, because they require exploring the subconscious. But Fischl added: “There is a fundamental difference between the two. In psychoanalysis, you try to retain a discovery. In art, once a thing has been made, you let it go.”

To my mind, that idea is key not just to art, but also to the gospel and, by extension, our lives. And that is what the parable of the talents is really about. It is taking the greatest treasure that God has given us – his Word, his Gospel, his message of salvation — and sharing it. Living it.

Letting it go into the world.

In this parable, each servant does something with the talent he’s given. But the ones who prosper, who are rewarded, don’t keep it to themselves. They share it. They invest it. They reap more with it.

In a sense, like an artist, they let it go.

But then there’s the servant who doesn’t put his talent to work. He is so frightened, he digs a hole and hides it, where no one can see it, and no one can find it. As a result, it doesn’t appreciate in value. It goes unused.

The question before us:

What good is the Good News if we keep it ourselves?

Christ’s message—the Good News of compassion, of mercy, of justice, of hope— is meant to be lived. It is meant to be shared. It is meant to be spread to others.

Are we doing that? Or are we too frightened of what that might involve?

Again and again, we hear in the gospels these simple words: “Do not be afraid.” In this parable, we see the consequences of being afraid.

But the call to live the gospel is a call, in fact, to be fearless.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, this passage is the final parable before The Passion, the last lesson. As the master gave talents to his servants, Christ gives this one last parable to his followers. Jesus is pointing toward the last chapter of his earthly life—and, really, the last chapter of ours. His final advice: use what you have and make more.

Make everything I’ve told you matter.

This message is about using time—and it is timely.  All this month, we have been reminded: life has its limits. We began November by honoring all saints and all souls. Every day here in this parish, we have been remembering our beloved dead. We announce their names at Mass. We see this open book here by the altar and recall those we have lost—parents, friends, neighbors, children. This gospel looks at the sum of our life’s work and asks, “What have you done with the time you’ve had?” It stands as a challenge to us— a call to live with purpose. To use what we have been given. Because there will be a reckoning. We have to give an accounting.

I think of that moment at the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” where the dying captain looks into the eyes of Private Ryan—a young man for whom so many had sacrificed so much. And the captain whispers with his last breath, “Earn this.”

Earn this.

Jesus gave his life for our salvation. We can’t possibly give as much back in return. But we can make what we do matter. We can carry Christ into the world. We can love others as Christ loved us.

We can spend our days trying to live out the gospel we heard at the beginning of this month: the Beatitudes. Being people who are merciful. Who hunger and thirst for justice. Who are peacemakers.

We can make of our lives—with whatever God has given us—gifts.

We can make them works of art.

Eric Fischl managed to sum up a powerful idea about talent—and, without realizing it, about Christian love.

The fact is that each of us is called to create something beautiful and new with what we have been given.

And each of us has to give it away. To let it go. To use the “talent” in our hands and in our hearts.

In the end, that is what makes a masterpiece.

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