33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 15, 2020 

In these latter days of November – every year – we listen to passages from the Scriptures that point to the end times.   And we’ve been listening to such passages for centuries, with no clear evidence that the end times – the Day of the Lord – are on our doorstep.

Yet, who among us hasn’t wondered at some point during the course of this year just what God is trying to tell us!  …  Our world has been enveloped by a global pandemic that has left us frustrated, fearful and in some tragic instances, fraught with grief over the loss of those we loved.  …  Our communities and country are more polarized than ever.  …  The scourge of racism that should long ago have been relegated to a sad chapter in our country’s history continues to raise its ugly head.  …  There are dreadful wildfires in a good portion of our land that have destroyed property and lives beyond imagining.  …  And even our Church – and that includes us – has hardly presented itself as the spotless bride of Christ, given the scandals that have surfaced particularly during the past few years.  …

What else could all of these things be pointing to, if not the coming of the Lord in judgment?

Jesus, however, seems to approach such signs in a different way, doesn’t he?  Just before he shares with his disciples a vision of the judgment of the nations that we’ll hear proclaimed next Sunday on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Jesus offers today’s parable that sets the stage for that moment of divine reckoning.

The measure of how we will be judged in the world to come is made clear in the parable of the talents.  The Lord will judge us according to how well we used the “talents” and gifts that every one of us has been given.  The greater the capital that we’ve been given, the greater God’s expectations.  …  A pretty simple and straightforward understanding of how God expects us to live as his disciples – at least when we take the parable at face value.

If we probe it a bit more deeply, however, there’s another interpretation of the parable that we’d do well to consider.  It pertains to the third servant who fails to do anything with his one talent except to preserve it by burying it away.  Some scholars believe that this servant represents a movement within Judaism at the time of Jesus that sought to preserve its religious traditions to point of excluding any actions that might give life to the great commandment that weaves together the love of God with that of our neighbor.  This movement saw one’s relationship with God as exclusive – with no concern for the well-being of the world in which one’s life was immersed.

One can only imagine the reaction to Jesus’ words in the verses following today’s gospel parable, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me.  …  But when did we see you this way, Lord?  …  As long as you did it for one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it for me.”

Ultimately, at the heart of today’s gospel parable of the talents is a call to authentic discipleship – a call that beckons us to address the question that each of us must ask ourselves every day:  How will I live this day as a follower of Jesus?  …  How willing am I to pay the price of discipleship?  …  Am I willing to risk moving out of my comfort zone to use the gifts and talents that God has given to me in order to recklessly to imitate Jesus and his life of selfless love, mercy and forgiveness – come what may?  Am I willing to feed the hungry – welcome the stranger – and forgive my enemy?  …  Or is it simply easier for me to live as a Christian on the surface of life, meticulously following rituals, self-righteously embracing the letter of the law while neglecting its spirit and keeping at arms-length suffering, broken hearts that are made in the same image and likeness of God as my life – and yours?

In his most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, on fraternity and social friendship, Pope Francis captures the essence of today’s gospel parable with another familiar parable, “The Good Samaritan.”  Our place in God’s kingdom – our judgment by God – will be determined on whether we seek “to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders;” whether we’re willing to risk going beyond what is known and comfortable in service of our brothers and sisters.

The Holy Father goes on to state that in the parable, “the Samaritan became a neighbor to the wounded Judean.  By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers.  Jesus concludes the parable by saying: ‘God and do likewise’ (Lk 10:37).  In other words, he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked.”

May we give away the gifts and talents so generously given to us by God and so find our life, our peace and our salvation.