“From those that have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mt 25:29b)
Today’s readings touch on this matter of “win/lose” situations. Joanne and I have begun spending some cold Saturday mornings watching our grandsons play hockey. We often hear the coach say something like: “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. Do your best and have fun!” That’s great advice – unless our grandsons end up playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs!
In today’s gospel, Jesus is quite blunt in his advice, use your talents or else! I think that we all recognize that hindsight is a wonderful gift. If only I knew then what I know now, how different life would be. When Xerox first announced its marvelous new technique for copying documents instead of asking “what’s wrong with carbon paper?” I wish I had bought into the company or IBM or Microsoft! But that’s life for the most of us. We are constantly closing the door after the horse has bolted. And if we ask why this is, it would seem that it is either because we have become disillusioned about our ability to pick winners or we simply hold off, waiting for a favorable time to make a move. Either way we neglect to live in the here and now.
Inside each of us there exist two different characters: the would-be gambler and the fence sitter, and most of us are caught between these two characters. We take very few chances and often miscalculate when we do. But if we are to avoid total stagnation, we must learn to take some risks. The authentically human life is one that maintains a balance between the gambler and the fence-sitter.
That is the challenge that Jesus is laying down in today’s Gospel.
The religious leaders of the time – the scribes and Pharisees – had become obsessively cautious. Any change, any development, any alteration, anything new was impossible. Their approach had induced a religious paralysis, which Christ was determined to challenge.
For Christ, there is no place for the closed mind in religious thinking. His statement is that to each has been given different abilities which will contribute to the growth of the kingdom – to one is given five, another two, and another one. Although people are not equal in talent, it is expected that each will work to the best of one’s ability. The person who does not even make an effort is in serious trouble. Christ makes no bones about it: use it or lose it.
So why is it that people hold back from doing their best to use their God-given talents? For some it’s the ‘if only syndrome’ – “If only I’d known” – “If only I had listened” – “If only I had studied harder”. For others it’s the ‘but’ word, “I hear what you are saying but…”, “I could have done that but…”
Others hold back for fear of being criticized – usually by those who are doing nothing. All such excuses stifle the present moment, and the possibilities that are at hand are lost. An ancient Persian sage commented, “Four things come not back: The spoken word, the sped arrow, time past, and the neglected opportunity.” Fortunately, with Christ there are second chances.
The big question is: in what areas of life is it important to show this constant growth? Essentially, it is in our spiritual development where it is expected that our faith in, and acceptance of Christ will continue to grow. Consequently, as we grow stronger in our faith, our sense of hope in the promises given by Christ becomes more real. As these two basic virtues strengthen and grow, the virtue of love grows, until love motivates us rather than fear. Such an attitude will impact our everyday lives and relationships. It is at that point that we have a better understanding of the opportunities that come our way to use our talents. Faith leads to hope; together they lead to love.
We are all given a lifetime of opportunity; for some it’s longer that others, but short or long, what is given is time enough for God’s purpose. All that is required of us is that we use the opportunities that come our way.
Trust that God has blessed you with the gifts you need and use them!
– Deacon Terry Murphy