Could it be an example of Catholic guilt that we (or at least I) tend to focus on the third servant in the parable of the talents? Jesus must be telling me to shape up, use the talents that I have better. I don’t want to be labeled “wicked and lazy” so get cracking and do a better job of investing what God has given you. Shape up, buddy, is the message. What happens if instead of identifying with the third servant we realize that we might be the first or second servant? Understand that instead of God shaking the boney finger of correction at us God is saying to us, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.’ We have good reasons to identify with the successful servants. First of all we are here, at this church, on a Sunday. Only 45% of Americans say they attend Church once a month or more. That fact that we have chosen to express our faith by gathering in worship together shows that we have placed God at the center of our life, that we value being together in community, that the world can become better with God’s help. Well done, good and faithful servants. In addition, we can identify with the successful servants because we have overcome. We have overcome a legacy of racism, bigotry and hatred to find the infinite worth of very individual we encounter. We have overcome a national obsession with money and status to see what really matters in life – home, family, human dignity. We have overcome judging others because they are different and instead have learned to appreciate the differences. Well done, good and faithful servants. We can identify with the successful servants because we have made our desire and choice to do God’s will. We do not always succeed at it but we strive to be faithful to Jesus’ message of compassion and forgiveness. Well done, good and faithful servants. Come, share your master’s joy.
However, you probably noticed that I wasn’t giving the whole commendation the way that Jesus said it in the parable. The entire line is, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ The successful servants weren’t going to be able to take a bow and then retire to their island home in the Bahamas. They were going to be given “great responsibilities.” They would have more work to do. While they were not being given a “shape up or ship out” message like the third servant, the successful servants were given to understand there was more to be done. If we identify with the first two that will be our story as well. The third servant was afraid of failure. We can be afraid of success because of what demands that makes on us. I think it was Nelson Mandela who said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be wonderful?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. We are all meant to shine. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Using our talents to make our homes, families and neighborhood a better place thrusts “great responsibilities” upon us. We are responsible for letting the peace we create in our homes to ripple out into the world, for creating a sense of justice since we want to be treated justly, for bringing healing to a world filled with the walking wounded. Our gifts and blessings are not just for us but meant to be shared.
All the fans of Spiderman know that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Actually, Jesus said it first. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with more, much more will be asked.” For what we have, much is expected. Besides our personal response on what God might be asking of us, Pope Francis reminds us that this applies on a grander scale as well. The blessings we have give us as a nation the opportunity to extend a hand up to those who are suffering. We see this in a dramatic way in Chicago with the ongoing refugee crisis. We can’t do everything but we can do something to meet the basic human needs of those who are on our doorstep.
Which brings us to our parish, to St. James. At the end of the Renew My Church process we were given the proverbial five talents. Even though we did not meet the criteria for remaining an independent parish – I believe we are currently the smallest parish in the archdiocese – St. James was looked upon as being a place where a gospel investment could flourish. We have been given so much – a welcoming community, a vibrant liturgy, a passion for justice, a mission to the poor – we can almost hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities” We have a responsibility to bring good news into our neighborhood. We have a responsibility to reach out to those who are searching for some meaning in their lives. We have a responsibility to help one another come and share in the joy of walking with Jesus in the providence of our everyday life. And since we are a small parish, everyone of us shares this responsibility, each one of us has a role to play. To everyone who has, more will be given: more faith, more hope, more love, more joy.