Right here in Pamplona where I’m based, despite of the appearance of tranquility, things have begun to heat up in terms of our studies. People are beginning to work double time on requirements and papers that they would have to submit, on arranging and finalizing their notes, all this because the first semester is about to end, and when November does its graceful exit, it ushers in the inevitable period of exams, which take place here in December.
Somehow the thought of the ends makes one think more soberly of things and allows one to view things in perspective. Among the first things that one realizes with the end in mind is that one doesn’t have the luxury of time, and that the consideration of time as something borrowed would do him better than live as if he had all the time in the world. In these last weeks of the liturgical year the readings and the liturgy place our gaze on the end, and basically admonish us to be prepared for this eventuality.
The First reading tells us about the vanity of believing that everything will always remain the same, and that of attributing permanence to things that are actually fleeting. The Book of Proverbs presents to us the image of the perfect wife, who is the sensible woman whose chief quality is prudence, that virtue which makes one prepared and occupied with the eventuality of things. Women are known to be vain and preoccupied with their looks—nobody would begrudge them for that—but this woman knows that charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting. Everything passes, and the wisdom of this woman of whom the book of Proverbs speaks of is to be commended, because she feared the Lord enough to see through the vanity of this world and place importance on what really matters. The Responsorial Psalm echoes this beatitude: Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
What does it mean to fear the Lord, within the context of the end? All of us have been students (I still am) at one point in our life, and everybody remembers quite well how the approaching exams make us live positively in dread of the time that we would have to prove how much we have absorbed from our classes (or how little we have learned). This apprehension pushes us to make use of the time to review and study and prepare. Pretty much the same happens when we talk about the fear of the Lord with the end in mind. God is love, that’s true, but He is also just, and it is perfect justice that we render an account of what he has given us in His goodness.
This brings us to consider the Gospel that we have this Sunday, which is about the parable of the talents, one that is very familiar to all of us. It reinforces the message that we have been talking about: when the time comes we would have to render an account of everything that he has given us. St. John Chrysostom, commenting on this parable, observes that the Lord refers already to the future resurrection; he doesn’t talk of a vineyard, but rather of servants who must give an account of what they had done with what they have received from their master. Those who have made profit from the talents received the highest accolade from the Master, and are called to share his very joy. The last servant, however, having done nothing with it, is condemned to the outer darkness. He is called wicked and lazy, and is thrown to the darkness outside, where there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
What was the fault of this servant in particular, who did not touch was what not his? It was that he had not invested in what was given to him to increase. The parable of the talents does not only tell us to make good use of our talents and capabilities; in fact, our meditation on the Gospel should not end in this, otherwise we would be making a very shallow reading of it. The mere cultivation of our talents does not necessarily lead us to God, as experience has showed us. With the parable of the talents we ought to be moved, relying on the grace of God, to bear fruits of holiness in our life, to invest and to render more than what we have received. At our baptism we have received the seeds of Faith, Hope and Love: these are the talents that we have to cultivate so as to make them bear fruit. “In the evening of life, you will be examined by love”, said St. John of the Cross; the cultivation of all of these talents bears fruit in the love that we have for the Lord, as we have lived it also with our neighbor.
Considering this, the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians makes perfect sense: “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober”. We cannot live as though there won’t be a time wherein we would have to give an account of what we’ve done with the gift that God has presented us. The day of the Resurrection has already started for us, though it has yet to be realized fully in a future which we still do not see; we cannot live as though in darkness.
The challenge to be awake is that of living an upright life, characterized by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, that is shown in our works; moved by the hope of Heaven, and most of all, by love for God.
Let me end with this admonition from St. John Chrysostom: Let us hearken then to these words. As we have opportunity, let us help on our salvation, let us get oil for our lamps, let us labor to add to our talent. For if we be backward, and spend our time in sloth here, no one will pity us any more hereafter, though we should wail ten thousand times. He also that had on the filthy garments condemned himself, and profited nothing. He also that had the one talent restored that which was committed to his charge, and yet was condemned. The virgins again entreated, and came unto Him and knocked, and all in vain, and without effect. (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily 78). AMEN.