33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
A majority of Americans invest money in the financial markets in some way, either through owning stocks directly, through mutual funds, 401k and IRA accounts, company retirement plans, etc. This is usually part of an overall investment strategy, and many people use professional financial planners to help them manage their investments. The most important question investors ask themselves is what are their investment goals. What kind of return do they want to receive on their investments over what period of time, and what level of risk are they willing to assume. Those things determine how much a person should invest and where.
Today we hear the famous parable of the talents. Each servant is given by their master an amount of property to steward while their master is away. The master gives to each according to his abilities. But he never tells them what to do with it. The property is not theirs, it is not even a gift. It remains the master’s. But the servants know that their master is a man who expects a lot of his servants. They know that they are expected to do something with his property, and so, like any good investor, they begin by setting their investment goals. What do they think the master expects as a return?
One servant, the one who had been given the largest amount, invested aggressively. He immediately went out and doubled what had been entrusted to him. The second servant did likewise. They kept their eye on the end goal based upon what they thought the master expected of them. But the third servant, the one who the master had judged to have the least ability, let his fear overcome him and did nothing with what had been entrusted to him. He may have had as much investment savvy as the other two, but he was afraid of failure, and so he played it safe.
What kind of an investor are you? This parable today talks about talents, and we tend to think about talents as abilities today. What are our personal talents that we can contribute to the community. But in Jesus’ time a talent had a monetary value. The talent typically weighed about 75 lb. At today’s price of gold, a talent would be worth over $1.5 million! With that in mind, how would you react if someone suddenly gave you almost $8 million dollars and told you to invest it?
Would you be an aggressive investor, seeking the highest return in the shortest period of time? Would you be a growth investor, looking for a steady, safer return over time? Would you be afraid that you will lose your principal if you invest at all, and so do nothing, conserving what you have? Which type of investor does the Lord seek? Which does he consider to be a good and faithful servant?
As servants of the Lord we are all His stewards. Everything about our existence – who our parents are, which country we were born into, our material goods, the food we eat and the clothes we wear, the very air we breathe and our next heartbeat – are not ours. We did not create them and we did not create ourselves. Everything we have and everything we are is not truly ours. They have been given to us by our creator, and we are expected to do something with them. The master does not tell us how to invest them, but the expectation is that we do something with them, to increase them for the benefit of ourselves and the people of God.
God expects a return on his investment in us. What do you invest in?
You are wonderfully made, and God has created you to be totally unlike any other person the world has ever seen or ever will see. He has made you, you. The human person is the summit of all creation. All the amazing elements of creation, from the smallest atomic particle to the stars themselves, are not made in the image and likeness of their creator. But you are. How do you invest first of all in yourself?
What do you do to increase the talents the master has given you? How do you invest your time? You only have so much of it, do you use it wisely? How much do you waste? How much do you use on busy work or meaningless tasks? How much do you spend in prayer or contemplation? On study? On scripture? On other people?
How do you view your body and how do you take care of it? It seems that society today does not view the human body as being a temple or a gift, but something to exploit. It’s my body and I can do with it what I will. That is true to a certain extent, but what does the master want you to do with it? Is the body simply for pleasure? Is it to be neglected or protected? Is it really yours or is it to be used for the benefit of others? We have been given both body and soul, and both are of equal importance. We should not neglect the body and emphasize our souls, and vice versa.
What of your soul? How often do you even think about your soul? Our souls image God, are connected to God, are one with God. Is your investment strategy for eternal life one of hope, or is it based upon fear of the consequences if you fail? Do you feed your soul or bury it in the ground? Do you look forward with joy to the promise of salvation, or do you just fear going to hell? Do you take advantage of all the gifts God has given you to grow your soul, such as the sacraments, prayer, and your church community? It’s not the mind that’s a terrible thing to waste, it’s the soul.
And what of your mind? How aggressively do you invest in your intellect? What do you read and how do you expand your horizons? Is your entire understanding of the world just what you see on television? Do you think for yourself or just parrot the ideas of others? Do you inform your conscience or do you allow society to do it for you? Did you stop growing and thinking in high school or college? What truly original thought have you had lately?
How do you invest in your family, especially your children? This goes hand-in-hand with investing in your soul. It’s not about you, after all. You grow your soul when you grow the souls of others. How are you stewarding your spouse and your children? We heard in the first reading from Proverbs today that the worthy wife brings her husband good, and not evil, all the days of her life. Obviously, that applies to the husband as well, and to both of them as parents of their children. We have been given each other to steward, to cherish and nourish, with the ultimate reward being eternal life in heaven. How is your family set up to get all of you to heaven, together?
The family is the domestic church, and cannot be separated from the church as a whole. How do you invest in your church? We are not saved alone, but in community. How important is your church in your life? I recall one mother, when signing her children up for religious education classes, declared that her children would miss about half of the classes and class Masses that year due to all the other activities on the calendar. When the teacher commented on her priorities, the mother said that church was about fifth on their priority list. What number is it on your list?
The best way we invest in our church is to come to Mass. The best way to invest our time, in our minds, bodies and souls, is to come to Mass. The best way to invest in our families is to come to Mass. The Mass is the source and summit of who we are as Catholics. We are called as servants to worship our master, and Jesus told us how to do that. Do this in memory of me. If we simply concentrate on the Mass, learn and understand what it truly is, participate fully and actively each and every Sunday, and truly give of ourselves as part of the sacrifice, all our other investments will flow and increase from that. It’s a simple strategy for success.
Jesus said that those who have much will grow rich and those who have little will lose what little they have. This may or may not have referred to wealth, but it does apply to faith. It’s all about the return on investment. If we invest the talents we have been given well they will increase, but if we bury them they will not stay the same, they will wither and eventually die. If you are trustworthy in little things God will entrust you with greater things. You will be that good and faithful servant.
And you will share your Master’s joy.