Give the Lord more than we receive

  • November 9, 2008
Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time (Year A) Nov. 16 (Proverbs 31; Psalm 128; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 24:36; 25:14-30)

A capable wife, who can find her? The same question could (and should) be asked of husbands.
The Book of Proverbs definitely bears witness to a patriarchal culture. It is clear that in the mind of the author that the place of a woman was in the home and running the household. And yet there are some interesting and noteworthy elements of this passage. First of all, amidst all of her busy duties as the mistress of the household she is also a teacher of wisdom and kindness. She is someone who puts the demands of justice and compassion into practice by her concern for the poor and the needy. The author also realizes that beauty is only skin deep and is fleeting — it is the quality of the person that makes one a good spouse. Finally, there is a demand that this upright and God-fearing woman described in the passage be given recognition — public recognition — in the entire community. She is far from being a silent and invisible presence.

How would we describe the perfect wife or husband today? What is timeless and what is changing and conditioned by time and culture? It is not a good idea to merely lift a proverb that is more than 2,000 years old from its historical context and plunk it down in our own time and culture. We can call to mind the debate a few years ago over the use of physical punishment in the disciplining of children. The proverb that reads “spare the rod and spoil the child” was often cited in support of corporal punishment. Discipline, and this can take many forms, is necessary for raising children but physical punishment is not. What is needed is an intelligent dialogue with our religious traditions rather than slavish and unthinking obedience.

Some form of “peace and security” is the slogan of every security state and empire throughout history. But the price usually involves conquest or the loss of freedom and absorption into the culture and economic system of the dominant power. Paul is aiming his comments at the so-called Roman Peace resulting from the Roman subjection of much of the known world. Roads, aqueducts and administrative structures were certainly a boon to many of the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean but it came with an abundant share of brutality and oppression. Unless power is based on divine principles of equality and justice it is doomed to failure.

Paul and many of his generation believed that God was going to wipe the slate clean and start over, creating a just and holy society. It would come in a flash when people were least expecting it. For those who follow Christ live and walk in the light now. His sudden coming will be no cause for consternation or fear. Paul begs his community to stay spiritually awake and alert and not allow themselves to be lulled to sleep by their culture or by the concerns of everyday life. True peace and security only occur when we are in harmony with God.

Playing the stock market or making online investments appear to have very ancient roots. The first two servants in Jesus’ parable take advantage of the absence of their master and the funds which had been entrusted to them. They take risks and through their investments they are able to give back to the master much more than the original sum. It is the third servant who is the focus of the story. He is ruled by fear of the master’s displeasure so he plays it safe. He buries the money and then returns the original amount to his master — he has not made a cent. Whereas the first two are praised and rewarded, the third is scolded and punished.

He is like so many in their approach to God — he is playing a game of manipulation and self-protection. He doesn’t trust the master — God — and is not willing to take any risks whatsoever. The time that we spend on Earth, regardless of the length, is for living and learning. This even includes failures and mistakes for these are all part of our process of spiritual formation. It should be our fervent wish to give back to God more than we have received and to leave the world a better place.