33rd Sunday Year A
Sunday 19th November 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Mt 25: 14-30
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who went off travelling. Before he left he called in his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To the first slave, he entrusted a million dollars, to another a quarter of million and to a third $100,000. Then he was off.
The first slave took up the opportunity offered and traded with the million making another. The second slave did similarly doubling his money as well. While the third slave dug a hole and just buried $100,000, hiding it away.
After a long time, the master returned and called in his slaves so that they could give an account of themselves. The first slave who had received the million dollars came in with his second million and said: ‘Look, Master! You gave me a million. See what I was able to do – here, another million as well!’ ‘Fantastic!’ the Master replied, ‘You’ve done so well with that small amount, I’m going to give you even greater things to work with. Come and share my joy.’ Then the slave who had received a quarter of a million came forward and said, ‘Master, here’s half a million – the first quarter you gave me, the second I made trading with it.’ Again the Master was thrilled, ‘Fantastic, well done. I’m going to give you even more to work with. Come and share my joy!’
Then the third slave came forward. ‘Master, I heard you were a tough man, virtually making money out of thin air, so I was afraid. I went and buried your money, so now, here it is back. It’s yours.’ The Master eyed him up and down and said; ‘You wicked lazy man! So I virtually make money out of thin air, do I? So why didn’t you take this money and invest it at the bank, then I’d at least have the interest as well as the capital? Here, take the money from him and give it to the slave who made a million. For the one who makes something will get even more, while the one who makes nothing will lose even what he began with. Now take this useless slave away and punish him.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 127: 1-5
Blessed is the one who fears God,
walking always in God’s ways.
Eating the fruits of your own labour,
you will be filled with happiness and goodness.
Your spouse like a luxuriant vine
giving heart to your home.
Your children like olive shoots
springing up around your table.
Look this is how God blesses
those filled with reverent fear.
God will bless you in Zion,
in Jerusalem you will know happiness,
today and all the days of your life
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, the richness of your love is shown in the many blessing you bestow upon us. Give us the wisdom of your Spirit to use these gifts to preach the Gospel of Jesus by our lives by our love and also by our words. We ask this in his name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This parable of the talents is the third in a series leading up to the scene of the Last Judgement which will be read next Sunday. The purpose of these parables is to show the proper attitude we should have in the face of the coming Son of Man. As often happens in parables, it operates on at least two levels.
Firstly, it was directed at the religious authorities who had hedged the Torah, the Law of God around with so many rules, that it became a series of duties to be fulfilled instead of being a guide to a creative and adventurous life of faith. The Law which should have released people from their personal weaknesses to serve God had become minute rules to be executed exactly according to ‘tradition’. Instead of being used creatively, it had become a binding and deadening force.
Secondly, the parable is directed to every Christian. Each of the slaves had been given talents according to his ability. They were not given primarily for the Master to make more money but rather as an opportunity for the slaves to show their calibre – to share in the Master’s creative ability. The fear and laziness of the third salve was ultimately self-serving. To justify himself, he built up a negative image of the Master and then blamed the Master for his own failure.
‘Use it or lose it’ is clearly a principle here – whether it be the exercise of faith or hitting balls around the golf course. A basic principle of human existence is that we improve by actually doing – not by wishing, wanting or reading but by actually having a go in our real and practical world. The way we accept a gift of God is to work at making ourselves more proficient in its use and the way to glory in our giftedness is to use our gifts in the loving service of others.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
When the third slave offered his excuse to the Master, it was essentially: “It was your fault I did nothing.” He listed what he saw as the Master’s failures: he was hard, he was successful, finishing with “I was afraid”. Such judgement of the Master and such fear doesn’t seem to have hampered the first two slaves. In fact, when given an extraordinary amount of money, they saw it as an opportunity to act like their Master – to be creative, to take risks. In the [Jesus Mafa painting](http://www.workingpreacher.org/controls_media/header/tool_wp_feature_picture_readings/feature_images/Mafa_Parable3Servants_710.jpg) (click red text to view the picture) we see the differences between the slaves well-illustrated. The first two slaves are joyful, full of life. The third slave stands back aloof, but also smug. While playing the role of ‘poor me’ he had actually judged the Master in such a way as to justify his own laziness.
The image we have of God can hamper or hinder our actions. If we view God as a tough Master waiting to pounce on our every failing, we will be like the third slave, querulous and ineffective, blaming others for our failure. But if we view God as a generous, creative Master, who has lavishly bestowed on us differing abilities and who daily offers us opportunities to show loving-kindness and mercy to all, we will find ourselves not only desiring to be like God but acting like God as well. Then we will find that our lives are rich in love and that we have entered into the joy of our Master.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
‘Well that’s the least you could do.’
Usually when we hear those words, they are spoken with disdain, looking down on the job that was or is about to be accomplished. It is just not good enough. Jesus’ words to the man who had done nothing with his talent show that Jesus does not share in this type of disdain. He would have appreciated the man having done something, anything, even the least that he could do. The man was not condemned for having done too little – he was condemned for having done nothing at all.
One of the challenges to Christians who believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God is to opt out of working for the salvation of all. We think we can just leave it all to God. But God doesn’t see it that way. Made in the image of God, we are to bring the glory of grace into people’s lives and God doesn’t mind how small or how hidden our efforts are, so long as we give it a go. Often we dismiss ourselves from doing anything because it seems so little compared with what others do. But imagine what could happen if we looked at our littlest talents and saw what we could do with them. Can you drive? Well, there are often elderly people who could do with a lift to the doctor. Can you cook? There are mums, and sometimes dads, and also those elderly, who would appreciate a meal arriving at the door when illness or disaster affects the family. Can you smile? There are lonely people in our supermarkets and shopping malls who would appreciate a friendly word more than you or I could imagine. When we start imagining what we can do with the least we have, we could be quite surprised with how God’s grace can multiply and sanctify the smallest actions.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– Rembrandt’s pen and ink drawing stresses the sense of reckoning at the return of the Master.
– John Morgan’s The Parable of the Talents .
– The Parable of the Talents by A. N. Mironov. (click red text)
– In this Jesus Mafa painting notice the difference in body language between the three slaves. The third slave looks so smug while the two who risked the money given them alive and vibrant.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
When we hear the words ‘talent’ or ‘gift’ or ‘ability’ we quite often presume that we don’t have much to offer because we tend to privilege outstanding qualities that make a big impact. As you go through this week, mull on the small things that you can do or say that would show God’s love in your world. Mull on how you can use your smallest abilities, a smile, a word, a gesture to make another person’s life more pleasant. And after you have mulled on such small things, make them real.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
When you are at rest, consider the gifts and talents that God has given to you. Name them and as you name each of them consider how you could creatively use it in your life. Let your imagination run free. It doesn’t matter how grandiose the images may be so long as what you imagine is loving – towards God, other people and yourself.
Take one of these imaginings and ask yourself why you would or wouldn’t put it into practice – is it lack of practicality, common sense or fear that would stop you? Ask the Spirit to give you the wisdom to discern what you can do to use your gift.
Rest in the love of your God.