33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sports aficionados will tell you that when a team – be it basketball, volleyball, football – develops a comfortable lead, they are tempted to play too conservatively, too defensively. Unless a team stays aggressive, they can easily squander a big lead. In fact, games have been lost because coaches and players played them “too safe” – and too sorry.
The third servant in today’s gospel parable played it “too safe” – and, of course, it made him “too sorry.” He buried his talents to keep them secure. That seemed to be risk-free. But what seemed to be risk-free was really the greater risk. That, in short, is the message of this parable.
In the practice of our faith, what seems to be risk-free is the greater risk. Christians can be tempted to play it too safe. Keep things as they are. Do not look into new opportunities. That is what Pope John XXIII called a “museum attitude” toward our faith and our Church. He said, “God did not put us on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” And Pope John Paul’s message for this new millennium is: “Open wide the doors for Christ. Do not be afraid.”
In his homily on today’s gospel reading, Fr. Earl Meyer says, “Our willingness or reluctance to develop our faith is a reflection of our attitude toward God and our attitude toward ourselves.” In the gospel parable the third servant’s attitude toward his master explains his defensive behavior. He said, “I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter.” If one has a similar image of God, one will also defensively bury one’s talents.
Our image of God has a lot to do with how we live our Christian life. If we see God as our taskmaster, we live as his slave. If God is a tyrant, we live in fear – just like the third servant in the parable. But if God is our Savior, we live by trust. If God is our Friend, we live by faith. If God is Someone who believes in us, we live in and with confidence. Most of us have mixed images of God.
According to Fr. Meyer, our attitude toward ourselves also affects how we use our talents. Many people have a ‘religious’ inferiority complex. They are adventurous and inventive and industrious in education, career, business, even recreation. But not in matters of faith. Some will not read the scriptures, receive the sacraments, or even go to church and attend services, because they have convinced themselves that such things are beyond them.
The conventional wisdom today is that many people suffer from an unhealthy self-image, a low self-esteem. That may be especially true of their Christian life. People have confidence that they are good at their profession – a good mechanic, good cook, good teacher – but they seldom have the same confidence that they are or can be a good Christian. Many think of themselves as professional in their career but amateur in their Christian life.
Today’s gospel message to each of us is this: “Do not sell yourself small as a Christian. You can do much more with your faith than you now imagine. Do not fear.”
Nelson Mandela said the same thing in his Inaugural Speech in 1994 when he quoted Marianne Williamson’s book A Return To Love. Allow me to quote it also – and let me end this way: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?” “Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” “There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” “We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. “It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”