Bible Reflection (19 November 2023)

33rd Sunday of Year A

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

How do I live my life? How do I live my blessings?

When most people speak about their life, they are only talking about their life on earth. Often, the afterlife is something conveniently forgotten and cast aside, even for believers. But in truth, our peace, joy and contentment in our earthly life are intricately linked to our perspective on the afterlife. For those of us who either do not believe in the afterlife or do not think about it, our life on earth tends to become meaningless and aimless. Yes, while we may be having fun, pursuing career goals, enjoying the company of others, but in truth the meaning of life eludes us. Afterall, what is the meaning of all our earthly quests, achievements, aspirations, hope and even relationships, if we are just going to end up as a pile of ashes anyway? Last week, we commenced our reflection on the afterlife. This week, we start our reflection on the Second Reading, which continues our reflection on the afterlife. As a natural flow-on from that, the First Reading and the Gospel then turn our attention onto our life on earth.

In the Second Reading, St Paul acknowledged that our life on earth will inevitably come to an end one day. He urged the Thessalonians to be ready at all times: “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (verse 2) In saying this, St Paul was echoing Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, where the Lord said, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Mt 24:43) The implications of these teachings are clear, that while we live our life on earth, we must be ever ready for our life to come to an end at any time. For most of us, our life on earth will end at a time that is neither our expected time nor a time of our choosing. But in spite of this, we live our life on earth as if this life will continue forever. We do not think or talk about death. We over-indulge on things of this life, as if we are going to possess them forever. But death is an inevitability. As St Paul said, “there will be no escape!” (verse 3)

Hence, we reflect: If my life on earth suddenly ends now, am I ready? Would I have any regrets? Perhaps there are unfinished business in my life? For example, are there people I need to say sorry to or forgiveness I have been reluctant to render? Or, have I utilised what God has blessed me with in accordance with His plan? Have I utilised my talents, my wealth, my circumstances, my positions to love and serve others? Perhaps, like an ungrateful child, I have simply received God’s blessings and use them solely for my own purposes, for my own pleasure and enjoyment? My whole life and everything I possess will one day come to an end. Do I acknowledge this by living my life with detachment? In other words, am I ready to let go of my life and all that I amass and possess? Or am I so attached to these that they are more important to me than life itself? Indeed, stripped these away, what am I left with? Stripped these away, who am I? Stripped these away, can I account for myself to the Lord when I meet Him face-to-face?

To live our life gainfully and not in vain is the central message of the First Reading and the Gospel this week. On first glance, the First Reading is simply lauding the virtues of a good wife, and has little to do with living our life gainfully. However, this passage takes a deeper allegorical meaning when we read it in the context of later revelations of God through the New Testament. In the Book of Revelations, St John describes a vision where Jesus is wedded to His bride: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev 21:2) Indeed, the new Jerusalem is none other than the Church; and we the people of God are in fact the bride of Christ. So, my brothers and sister, we ask ourselves: Have we been that good wife of Jesus? In other words, have I been a good partner of Jesus? Have I continued Jesus’ work on earth? Have I served and loved as He did? Can we truly say this of ourselves: “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (verse 11)? But isn’t this precisely what the Lord promised us, that we will lead a fruitful life so long as we attach ourselves to Him? (c.f. Jn 15:2) We also read, “She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.” (verse 19-20) Isn’t this precisely what the Lord commands us, that we should always work in His vineyard and lend a helping hand to the poor? (c.f. Lk 12:33)

Lets us now turn to the Gospel. In the Gospel this week, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Three Servants. In those days, “talent” was the largest unit of currency. In this Gospel passage, “talent” takes on the double meaning to also mean our God-given talents. The truth is, we are all gifted – each in our own way. Our gifts and talents are never meant for us to serve only ourselves, they are not solely for us to attain personal glory and personal wealth. As St Paul enumerated, “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor 12:8-10) To add this list, we may also add our intelligence, our families who nurtured us, the opportunities we were given, the resulting wealth and positions in life we achieved. God grants us gifts so that we may use them for His Kingdom. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12) In the Gospel parable, the first servant was given five talents by the master. He put them to good use and made five more. The second servant was given less, he was given two talents. Some of us make the excuse that we are not contributing or serving because we have less to give. We say, “Let others who have more do the serving – those with more money, more skills, more time, etc.” When we say that, what we are in fact doing is complaining to God that He has not given us enough; that He should have given us more so that we may serve. The truth is, no matter how much more God blesses us with, there are always someone else who has more than us. The excuse is always there if we do not have a generous and giving heart in the first place. So in contrast, the second servant did not complain that he was given less than the first servant. Instead, like the first servant, he put the two talents to good use and made two more.

But the third servant was a different matter. In the parable, the third servant was only given one talent. Instead of using the talent to the best of his ability like the other two servants, he hid it in the ground. My brothers and sisters, let us ask: What talents has God gifted me with? Am I like the third servant? What do I do with my God-given talents? To be clear, this servant did not do anything illegal. He did not steal or cheat the master of the talent. He kept it safe and return it to the master. Like this servant, perhaps I am not a dishonest person. I do not use my talents to commit any illegal deeds. I use my talents in legitimate ways, serving myself and my loved ones. This is not wrong. God’s gifts are for us to enjoy. He wants us to enjoy His gifts and share them with my loved ones. However, is this all that is required of me? Indeed, throughout the Gospel, Jesus does not ask us to simply refrain from committing evil. He calls us to make a positive change to the world. And He showed us by leading the way – by the way He lived, the way He love, the way He reached out to someone in need, the way He forgives. And He invites us to follow His lead and do the same. Simply not doing evil is not enough. In fact, as Jesus quite bluntly put it, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Mt 12:30) So we ask ourselves: Am I with or against Jesus?

My brothers and sisters, as we approach the end of the year and the beginning of the Christmas season, this week’s reflection is one for we to ponder upon. Let us ponder in our hearts the words of St Paul in the Second Reading: “let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (verse 6). May the Holy Spirit prompts and awakes our heart. Amen.