A Value Far Beyond Pearls – Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
As the church year begins to wind down over the next two weeks,
many of the the Scripture readings are about the end of time,
when Jesus will come again.
So today’s first reading may seem out of place.
In the cycle of readings for Sunday,
the first reading is paired with the gospel.
But today’s reading from Proverbs about the worthy wife
seems a bit disconnected from the gospel.
Why are these two readings paired together today?
Since the gospel seems to fit this time of year more appropriately,
we’ll start with that and work backwards to the first reading.
In the gospel Jesus tells a parable
about a man who goes on a journey.
Before he leaves he entrusts enormous amounts of money to his servants.
The word talent that’s used
is roughly equivalent to a person’s entire earnings over a lifetime.
So to one servant the man gives 5 lifetimes of salary,
to another he gives 2 lifetimes,
and to a third he gives 1 lifetime.
Jesus is using exaggeration here–
these are ridiculous amounts of money.
In fact, these are the man’s entire possessions.
The gospel tells us the man entrusted his possessions to them.
That’s a lot of trust to place in these servants,
and that trust comes with two expectations.
The first expectation is that he is coming back, he will return.
And the second expectation
is that expects his capital to be greater than it was when he left.
While he’s gone, he expects his money to be growing.
By placing this reading towards the end of the liturgical year,
the Church reminds us that Jesus is the man who has gone on the journey.
Jesus has ascended into heaven,
and someday he is coming back.
And if Jesus is the man who has gone on the journey,
then we are the servants
to whom he has entrusted an enormous treasure.
What is this treasure?
We have been entrusted with life, existence, our very being.
We’ve also been entrusted with freedom, intellect, imagination,
compassion, creativity, speech,
all the qualities that make up human life.
These are tremendous gifts,
They enable us to run businesses, to cure diseases, to write novels,
to score touchdowns, to perform concerts, to put a man on the moon.
And as valuable and precious as those gifts are,
we’ve been entrusted with even more.
Through our baptism God has entrusted us with faith, with the Good News,
and with the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude,
knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord.
Each of us, at our baptisms, received these gifts,
gifts which were strengthened at confirmation.
They enable us to know God more intimately,
to spread the Good News, to comfort the sorrowing.
They give us strength to care for the poor,
understanding to hand on the faith.
The gifts we have from God enable us to do all these things and more,
but only if we do the work.
We always have the freedom to not do them.
We can choose to be like the third servant who buries the money,
or we can be like the industrious servants.
We can be like a worthy wife.
This is where today’s first reading from Proverbs
complements and sheds light on the gospel;
and through the gospel we come to better understand the first reading.
In the gospel
the master entrusts his possessions to his servants,
and in the first reading,
the husband entrusts his heart to his wife.
Jesus is the master in the parable,
entrusting invaluable gifts to us his servants.
He is also the Bridegroom, entrusting his heart to us, his Bride.
Jesus has entrusted his Sacred Heart, his most valuable possession, to us.
The Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us.
Today’s readings challenge us not to follow the example
of the lazy servant, entrusted with his master’s money,
but rather to imitate the worthy wife,
entrusted with her husband’s heart.
When we the Church, the Bride of Christ,
imitate the worthy wife our value “is far beyond pearls.”
We bring the Lord “good and not evil all the days of our life.”
We “work with loving hands.”
We “reach out our hands to the poor,
and extend our arms to the needy.”
This is what it means to be a worthy spouse to Christ.
Like the first two servants in the gospel,
the worthy wife gets down to business and works.
She cares for her family, she cares for her neighbors.
If we look around this church
we see a multitude of worthy wives here among us.
Wives, your value is far beyond pearls.
You do deserve a reward for your labors.
I hope that some time this weekend,
your husband or your children or your grandchildren do something good for you
to show you how much you are appreciated.
You are examples to us
of how to use the gifts we have been given by God.
We husbands entrust our hearts to you,
and you don’t bury them, you don’t ignore them.
No, you hold our hearts close to your own,
you do the hard work of partnering with us in raising children,
in bringing in money to support the family,
in supporting us emotionally when things get difficult.
In other words, a worthy wife does the very opposite
of the third servant in the gospel.
The lazy servant is paralyzed by his fear.
He can’t move, or he won’t move.
He doesn’t do the hard work of trying to increase what he’s been given.
He doesn’t do anything.
The problem with the third servant
isn’t that he steals the master’s possessions, or embezzles his money,
it’s that he buries it and leaves it alone.
It’s not that he misuses the money, but that he ignores it.
It makes you wonder,
What was he doing all that time that the master was gone,
instead of working?
Watching TV? Checking social media
or playing games on his smartphone?
These are some of the temptations we face that would keep us
from using and developing what we have been given.
As the church year draws to a close in the next two weeks,
this is a good time to look back over the last year
and celebrate the times
that we increased the gifts our God has given us.
Every time we brought food to the hungry,
the gift of compassion increased in us.
When we listened to someone with a different point of view than ours,
instead of shutting them out,
we grew in the gift of understanding.
When we put our smartphones or tablets down
to play card games with the kids,
or read them a story, or ask them about their day,
we developed the gift of relationships.
When we took adult education classes here at the parish,
or even listened to a spiritual podcast,
we grew in wisdom and knowledge.
Every time we took out the Bible and read from it,
we used our gifts of intelligence, reflection, and imagination
to grow in our relationship with the God who loves us.
It’s time celebrate that.
This time of year is also a good time to reflect
on how we could have done better
at increasing the invaluable treasure entrusted to us by God.
Where were the missed opportunities?
What were the things that took us away from doing the work of God?
Have we buried the Bible under a pile of papers
the way the third servant buried the master’s money?
What else have we buried this past year?
Compassion? Generosity? Prayer?
It may not have even been intentional.
We may have just cruised through the last year on autopilot,
moving unconsciously from day to day.
It can happen so easily.
But we are here today,
and St. Paul reminds us not to sleep like the rest do,
but to stay sober and alert,
not sleepwalk through life
while the gifts of God lay buried.
In a little while we will come forward in communion
and receive God’s greatest possession: His Son.
God entrusts us with his Son, his heart,
the way a husband and wife entrust their hearts to each other.
We the Church,
we the Bride of Christ,
will receive the Body and Blood of Christ
with the expectation that we are not to bury it,
but rather increase it in our lives,
and in the lives those around us;
to use that gift
to bring the Lord good and not evil,
to work with loving hands,
to reach out to the poor,
and extend our arms to the needy,
in the expectation that one day,
Jesus will return,
and that we will receive a reward for our labors
that goes far beyond anything we can imagine.