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Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 13, 2011 (33A)
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
I remember when I was a boy I sometimes went with my father when he had to go in to work on a Saturday morning. He was the manager of a yard where scrap metal was exported from the small port of Sharpness at the northern end of our parish.
Besides being proud of my father and the work that he did, it was an extraordinarily interesting place for a boy to visit. There were the ships, of course, and the great piles of scrap metal and the cranes and bulldozers used to move the metal.
But there were also many trucks which had to go onto a weighbridge as they came in and out in order to calculate the weight of metal delivered for export. Sometimes I got to operate the weighbridge which for a young lad seemed to be a very responsible thing to do.
I don’t suppose children are ever allowed near such a place these days with all the health and safety regulations. I can see the sense of this, but in another way it is a pity.
One thing I found difficult was when I tried to speak to the dockyard workers who were working on the site operating the machinery to load the ships. One of them slyly remarked that I was a bosses’ son and shouldn’t be speaking to them. He implied that somehow I came from a more privileged class than they did.
I didn’t agree since I knew that they were unionised and earned good wages. I also knew very well that there were eight children in our family that as a result we weren’t well off at all. But, of course, there was nothing I could say that would have made my presence acceptable to him.
Actually, most of the workers were just fine; they tolerated my presence and were no trouble at all. But this one chap viewed managers as people who didn’t do very much and who could boss the workers about whenever they liked. He clearly thought that a boss lived a pressure free life and had it easy, and this led him to experience resentment.
The reason I’m telling you about this is that there are some strong similarities between the experience of visiting my father’s workplace and the Gospel presented to us today.
When the Master gives the servants the talents to look after he basically turns them into managers. They are no longer servants and in a real sense they have crossed a boundary and are now Masters themselves.
They are expected to make decisions about how to manage the vast amount of money placed in their care. Remember a talent was a weight of precious metal equivalent to about 40 kilos. Now that they have become managers they have to make decisions and take responsibility for the money advanced to them.
That dockyard worker clearly thought that my father as a manager had an easy life. It was true that he didn’t have to do manual work out in the cold. But even I at the age of twelve knew that his work was quite tricky.
He had to make sure everything went according to plan and he had targets to meet and problems to solve. He had to deal with breakdowns of equipment and staff absences and had to keep his managing director happy.
If things didn’t go according to plan and the system broke down then theose dockyard workers would be soon out of a job.
I understood that my father had to gain the confidence of these men and keep them focussed on their task, and I knew that this wasn’t easy and that disputes could easily arise which had to be quickly sorted out.
Although the labourers had to work very hard in sometimes difficult conditions it was clear to me that they had very little stress in the workplace. When they were finished for the day, then that was it; there were no problems to take home, they had nothing to worry about.
In the parable we are the servants and God is the Master. God is so far above us in every respect that we can only consider ourselves as his servants. We are utterly dependent on him and owe everything we have and everything we are to him. It is only right that we should be his servants and carry out his will in all things. In a real sense we should consider ourselves privileged to even call ourselves his slaves.
But God does not treat us as servants or slaves. He gives us autonomy and responsibility and many treasures. Instead of regarding us as far beneath him, he treats us as his co-workers and raises us up in status to be almost equal with him.
He places enormous trust in us and enables us to act in the world with a huge amount of freedom.
By trusting those servants with the talents the Master raised them up in status from ordinary workers to be masters in their own right.
Some of them understood what was being asked of them, they understood that the gifts they had been given were not to be wasted but to be put to work and used to bear fruit. They understood that they could not now sit back and do nothing but had a new role in the world. They immediately put the talents to work and reaped a harvest accordingly.
The servant who buried his treasure in the ground was unable to accept the responsibility given to him. He hid it and ran away, clearly the amount he had been given put him under stress and he did not know how to deal with it.
He was a bit like that particular dockyard worker who saw a twelve year old boy as a bosses’ son and therefore someone he could not associate with.
In these last few weeks of the Liturgical Year we are invited to think about the End of the World and the Last Judgement.
This Parable of the Talents points directly to Judgement Day when we have to give an account of our stewardship. If we want to be found worthy to live with God forever in heaven then we have, in this life, to show him that we think as he thinks, that we can use whatever we have been given to do the things that he would do with them.
We cannot treat our personal gifts and the good things that come to us in this life as if they were just there to make things easy for ourselves.
No, all these things are given to us to build up God’s Kingdom here on earth. They are given to us to use for the benefit of others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves.
Preachers of old used to speak about the Last Day as a dreadful day, a day of fear and trembling. They thought that fear was a good way to motivate people to live a life in accordance with the commandments.
Jesus didn’t use fear. And a good example of his method is his use of this parable which teaches us that God wants to raise us up to be his co-workers in the building of his Kingdom. This is a better way of getting people to live a righteous life, it is better because it corresponds to reality, it is better because this is actually the invitation that God extends to each one of us.