Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Well Done, You Good And Faithful Servant!

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Second Book of Maccabees (7:1, 20-31)

In the days of King Antiochus Epiphanes, a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. By the King’s orders, they were beaten with whips and scourges to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.

The mother was most admirable and worthy of an everlasting place in our memory, for although she saw her seven sons perish in a single day, she endured it with great courage because she trusted in the Lord. She combined womanly emotion with manly courage and spoke words of encouragement to each of her sons in the language of their ancestors.

I do not know how your life began in my womb; I am not the one who gave you life and breath. Nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.

It was God who did it, God who created the universe, the human race, and all that exists. He is merciful and he will give you back life and breath again, because you love his laws more than you love yourself.

Antiochus, suspecting that the mother was making fun of him, did his best to convince her youngest son to abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He promised not only to make the boy rich and famous, but to place him in a position of authority and to give him the title

Friend of the King. But the boy paid no attention to him, so Antiochus tried to persuade the boy's mother to talk him into saving his life, and after much persuasion she agreed to do so. Leaning over her son, she fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her native language:

My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race. Don't be afraid of this butcher. Give up your life willingly and prove yourself worthy of your brothers, so that by God's mercy I may receive you back with them at the resurrection.

She had scarcely finished speaking when the boy said: “What are you waiting for? I refuse to obey the King’s orders. I only obey the commands in the Law which Moses gave to our ancestors. You have thought up all kinds of cruel things to do to our people, but you will not escape the punishment that God has in store for you.”

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 17

R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.

Hear, O LORD, a just suit;
attend to my outcry;
hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit.

My steps have been steadfast in your paths,
my feet have not faltered.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my word.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.
But I in justice shall behold your face;
on waking, I shall be content in your presence.

R. Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.

Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (19:11-28):

While people were listening to Jesus speak, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was now close to Jerusalem, and they thought the reign of God might dawn at any moment.
The parable is based on a true incident. Herod the Great ruled over most of Palestine, and the lands beyond the Jordan, as a client of the Roman Empire. He promised his son Archelaus that he would inherit the kingdom. After Herod’s death, Archelaus went to Rome, and asked the emperor to appoint him King, but the emperor refused. A delegation of fifty Jews went to Rome to oppose him. As a result, the territory ruled by Herod was divided among three of his sons: Archelaus, his son by his fourth wife Malthace, received the lion's share of the kingdom; Judea, and Samaria; Herod Antipas, Archelaus’ full brother, became Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; Philip, Herod’s son by his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem, became Tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis. Jesus applied the story of Herod and his sons to himself.

He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. (A mina was worth about three months’ wages.) 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'

"But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' "He was made king, however, and returned home.

Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'

"The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.' His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'

"Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'

"His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'

"Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'

'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'

"He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me."

After he had said this, Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.

+++ +++ +++ +++

In today’s Scriptures, we read two stories about kings and their subjects. In Maccabees, a pagan king takes over the land given to the children of Abraham, and orders the people to give up their obedience to the Mosaic Law, and the worship of the God who gave the Law to Moses. A mother and her seven sons chose to remain faithful to the eternal King, at great cost to themselves, not only the loss of their lives, but the great pain that they endure before dying. In the gospel, a noble man is appointed king in a distant country. Before he leaves, he gives ten of his servants the equivalent of 2 ½ years wages, and tells them to invest them. When he returns, he rewards the servants who made profit: one 100%, the second 50%. But the third, who buried his money in a hole in the ground, lost his original investment, which was given to the first man. Then, he goes back to the country where he was made king, and has his opponents executed.

In commenting on this gospel, Cyril of Alexandria (375-44) wrote, “The distribution (of the coins) was suitable to the measure of each one’s abilities. As to those who were entrusted with them, let us to the best of our ability determine who they are. They are those whose intellectual senses are exercised in the discernment of good and evil. They are those who are acquainted with the sacred teachings, and skilled in instructing them correctly. They know how to direct both themselves and others. In short the wise disciples were above all the others.”

Are you convinced? Does God give his gifts only to those who deserve them, to those who have been judged “above the others”? That doesn’t seem to be God’s way. If only the deserving received such gifts, they would be wages, not rewards.

It seems that God spreads gifts about at random, not according to some scale of merit. But then, everything depends on how we use the gift that we’ve been given. If someone has a gift, it will bear fruit if it is cultivated, and it will lie fallow if it is neglected. (Take, for example, a talented student of music who neglects the need to practice.) The same must be true for intellectual and spiritual gifts: to someone who uses the intelligence he or she possesses, greater knowledge and understanding will be given; to one who prays sincerely, a deeper prayer life becomes possible. One who truly loves God and neighbor will be granted a greater capacity for love, even to martyrdom: “Greater love than this no one has, but to give one life for the beloved.”

In his gospel Luke offers two slightly different versions of the negative form of this axiom: “From those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away (8:18), and the present text, “As for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.” The latter version is the paradox in its full force (as it is in Matthew 13:12, 25:29, and Mark 4:25). It is repeated so often that it can be seen as a basic axiom of Gospel teaching.

What does this mean? How can something be taken away from me if I don’t have it to begin with? I believe the answer is this: Even if I don’t have something, I may have the capacity for it, and the awful truth is I can lose even that. If I lose something, I might recover it. But if I lose the capacity for something, then I will not be able to accept it, even if the whole world were to drop it into my lap.

God is never going to deprive us of our capacity for faith, hope, love and all of the other moral virtues. On the other hand, the axiom, “Use it or lose it” appears to apply.


Sarah in the tent said...

The wicked servant is a coward and only realizes what an opportunity he has lost when the king returns. However, I hope he learned his lesson. After all, he still had his life - unlike the king's sworn enemies. I also take heart from yesterday's Gospel reading: the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Do you know why the Church decided to pair the Maccabees reading with this parable? It is interesting to compare them. The mother reminds her son that God made everything out of nothing and the parable also makes us ask questions about nothingness. The king's right to reap what he has not sown can be compared to God's ownership of the woman's son: even though she sowed the seed of her child, she knows that ultimately he, like everything, was created out of nothing by God.

Today's readings remind me that God's law must have seemed sometimes harsh and unfair to the Jews at the time of Christ. But ... He sent his Son to seek out and save what was lost!

The Call to Fatima said...

Thank you Father for putting all this information into your blog.
“It is by prayer that we secure pardon for our sins, the strength and the grace to resist the temptations of the world, the devil and the flesh. We are very weak; without this strength we could never win through.”

The last visionary Sister Lucia in her book “Calls from the message of Fatima”

Sarah in the tent said...

Another thought ...
The wicked servant did not just put his mina under the matress, he buried it in a cloth. There is a kind of burial and resurrection to judgement with this mina. Maybe Our Lord is speaking prophetically, as he approaches Jerusalem.

The mina, apparently, was a Babylonian coin. It would have been familiar to Jesus' followers from the Book of Daniel, Belshazzar's feast and the writing on the wall: mene mene teqel parsin. So perhaps the very word 'mina' would have prepared them to receive a prophecy.

Belshazzar profaned the sacred vessels. Jesus was to condemn the Temple authorities for giving over the Court of the Gentiles to profane activities.

I can see this parable as possibly a prophecy against the Jerusalem priesthood. Many Jews had brought the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into circulation by establishing synagogues throughout the known world, and they can be viewed as the good servants. These synagogues brought forth churches in gentile towns. The criticism about not even allowing the money to earn interest implies a gentile connection, because Jews could only charge interest from non-Jews. This may relate to the misue of the Court of the Gentiles. The paradox of being deprived of something that you do not have could be explained as referring to the Holy of Holies which, at the time of Christ was empty: the Ark of the Covenant had been lost (possibly buried for safekeeping). So the prophecy might mean that the Jerusalem priesthood would lose their Ark of the Covenant to the new Church.

It is remarkable how priestly sacrifice ended in Jerusalem at the approximate time it started in the new Church. It is also interesting to see how the Sadducee faction, which denied resurrection, lost power as the Church founded on Christ's Resurrection grew. The Jerusalem priesthood lost the Ark but, with everyone, gained the promise of Resurrection.