Fr. Charles Irvin
How in the world is today’s first reading about the wonderful wife connected with the Gospel reading? For Sunday liturgies, the Church always picks scripture passages for the first reading that connect with the Gospel passage. What is the connection today and what is it telling us?
We begin with the first reading by noting that it was written at a time when households were large. The families were large and many servants were employed to keep the household thriving. It was much like a small business enterprise… and the owner’s wife ran it. Today’s first reading depicts a very talented wife and ends with: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” She used her talents well. Which brings us to the Gospel account dealing with talents.
At the time of Jesus a talent was a very valuable unit of money. Today’s equivalent in value would be somewhere around $100,000. You see now that in today’s Gospel Jesus was talking about considerable investments. The third servant, out of fear, was unwilling to invest what his master put into his charge.
Fear is a significant force in our lives. Many of us make decisions on the basis of fear, most of which turn out to be bad decisions bringing bad results. Which brings us to take a look at fear and realize that there are different kinds of fear. Today’s first reading speaks of “fear of the Lord,” a phrase that appears many times in the bible. At the end of today’s reading we heard: “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” In another instance found in the Old Testament’s Book of Wisdom we find: The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD…[Sirach 1:12]
So what is the difference between the fear found in the third servant and the fear found in the woman of the first reading? The difference is found in respect. The phrase “fear of the Lord” speaks of the awe and respect we should have when we think of ourselves in relationship to God. Awe and respect lead us to make decisions that are courageous, filled with goodness, and that are life enhancing. Awe and respect of God encourage us to be risk takers, to make risk investments in sharing of what we have to others.
God gives us talents, He has invested Himself in us in order that we, along with Him, can build up and enhance the lives of those around us. This is a major theme that runs throughout the Hebrew Testament; over and over again the Jewish Scriptures call on God’s people to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, the oppressed, and the poor among us.
Jesus repeatedly brings that call from God to us, putting His very own life on the line in order to live that out, calling on us to be likewise self-sacrificing, self-giving, and to employ our gifts and talents to benefit others, even to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. God our Father, He reminds us, has given us what we have not just for our own sakes but also for the sake of other.
The phrase: “Fear of the Lord” brings us to the realization that God has expectations of us. Fear of the Lord calls us to acknowledge and respect the expectations God has of us. That is healthy fear.
Doesn’t it strike you that the parables of Jesus center on farming, fishing and business activities, all of which involving risk–taking? Remember the man who found the pearl of great price and then risked all of his net worth to acquire it? Remember the fishing episodes when Jesus asked Peter to throw out his nets yet again even though he had gone through the whole night without catching a single fish?
The problem we face is that our hearts and souls are too often filled with an emotional fear, a negative fear that causes us not to act, that leads us into a selfish gathering of things that we keep only for ourselves. It is a paralyzing fear that leads us to be like turtles hiding inside a thick outer shell that prevents us from loving others, that keeps others at a distance, and that isolates in a self-imposed hell of loneliness.
Do we want to find love in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk-capital investments in others. Do we want to find happiness in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk-capital investments in others. Do we want to find meaning in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk-capital investments in others.
Through Jesus Christ God our Father has given us enormous treasures and talents. We have a powerful currency, the powers that God has given us. We need to understand that Christ is interested in our productivity. He isn’t looking for passive dependent persons to follow Him as His stewards here on earth. He wants, rather, gamblers and risk-takers to be His followers, people of courage and daring who will vivify His Church.
Christianity without courage is Christianity without blood and spirit. God encourages us to jump into life and run the risk of growing by relating to and caring for others. It doesn’t take courage to hide out in fear. It does take courage to risk something new.
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the person who fears the Lord is to be praised. Christian men and women who exercise initiative and risk in caring the poor, the oppressed, the alienated, and the hurting will receive from God a reward for their courage, their positive and constructive life enhancing labors and their hope-filled faith in God’s providence.
Burying the gifts that God has given you is not done in fear of the Lord. It is done, rather, in denial, denial of God’s love and in disrespect for the life He has given us. Burying is for the dead, not for the living.