13 Jul 2008
“‘For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow richer, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’” (Matt. 25:29)
Fr. Randy Calvo
In the name …
Our parish YMSofR Men’s Grouop has nearly completed the job of shortening the first couple of pews on each side of the main aisle. We did this so that people can more easily approach the altar for Holy Communion during funerals when the casket is placed in the middle of the center aisle. It was a more complicated task that I had originally imagined. I thought we would only have to saw off the end of the pew, cut the pew wherever we wanted, and then simply reattach the end again. The ones who know what they are doing, however, realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. We even experimented on one of the extra pews in the parish hall before we started cutting off pieces of our church pews. And the ones who knew what they were doing came with boxes and boxes of tools, some of which were power tools.
There’s a guy who’s done a lot of work over at the rectory, and through all of those jobs he’s come to discover that I’m not all that adequate with tools. He’s told Sharon that if she sees me grab a hammer or a screwdriver she’s supposed to immediately call him before I do any damage in my ill-conceived attempts to repair something. Well anyway, over at the church during our YMSofR carpentry job, Sharon wasn’t around. Like I said there were boxes of tools, and even power tools like saws and drills, and the other guys actually let me use one of the power tools so that I could help. They call that tool a vacuum cleaner … but it was something. The way I see it, it was plugged in, it was part of a carpentry job, so when I tell the story to people, and without lying, I’m going to tell them that I helped shorten these pews and that I even got to use one of the power tools when I did.
We each have talents. We each have been given some special gift by God. Some people’s gifts are not another’s. That’s not cause for envy or resentment because each of us has special gifts that are not duplicated by anyone else. Jesus teaches us this morning in the Gospel that God is not concerned over who has more and who has less. To make the point He goes as far as to say that the one who has the most will receive more from the one who has the least. This is contrary to all the other teachings of Jesus so the purpose of this statement must be pointing us in another direction. Jesus’ parable isn’t about who has more and who has less; it’s about the one who doesn’t care.
It’s a fact of life that some people are given many gifts, some a few, and others only a very little. The point of the parable, however, isn’t a teaching about this discrepancy. Jesus focuses the story on the person who does nothing with what he has. The man given the one talent simply buries it. He does nothing with it. He wasn’t expected to return ten talents like the first man. He was only expected to do something with what was given to him, and in the parable he was condemned not over the amount returned, but over his effort, or better, his lack of effort. He didn’t care.
Many of our questions as people of faith hover around the notion of fairness. Why do some really good people suffer, and why do some really terrible people prosper? How is this fair? How can God allow this to happen, we ask ourselves. But for people of faith, as well as for those of no faith for that matter, life is not fair. It’s just not part of the definition of life; it’s not part of life’s requirements. This is an unavoidable reality of our world. Scholars and saints have been trying to explain this reality forever, and no matter how they try, no matter how much they write, the answers never seem to completely satisfy a lot of people.
From the perspective of faith the answer is straightforward. Life is unfair because of human freedom. God allows us to make choices. He didn’t have to make us this way, but He did, and one of the consequences of allowing us the freedom to choose is that God also chooses to give up absolute control of our world. For our choices to be real and substantial, God must create and sustain a world where randomness is part of life. God must allow the world to chart its own course because we are in the world and part of the world and God charges us with the responsibility and privilege of choice. This then means that life is not always fair. Fair isn’t part of the rules of the game.
But again, this answer doesn’t seem adequate to a lot of people because a lot of people continue to ask why life isn’t fair. To these people, whether in the days of Jesus, today or anywhere in between, Jesus offers today’s Gospel parable. He tries to redirect our attention away from the fruitless and futile question of life’s fairness, and instead Jesus urges us to think about the question of responsibility. Why we’ve been given much or little isn’t a practical question because it can’t be answered because life isn’t arranged to answer questions of fairness. The real question is what are we going to do with whatever we have been given by life, by God. That’s a question of responsibility and that’s a question that gets to the heart of morality. That’s a question that gets to the very heart of why we’re here in the first place. Instead of blaming life or blaming God for being harsh or unfair, just like the fellow with the one talent tried to do in the Gospel parable, we are to use what we have to make a difference.
Jesus is telling us today that we complain about unfairness, but that’s only a distraction from the real issue which is responsibility. Fairness is not part of life’s contract, but responsibility is. In the stark images of today’s parable Jesus tries to convince us of this fact so that we might take it upon ourselves to do whatever we can when someone is struck down by life’s unavoidable unfairness. May we listen to Jesus’ words and do whatever we can with whatever has been given to us, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)