God's Word on Sunday: Our time on Earth builds toward eternity

  • November 16, 2023

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Nov.19 (Proverbs 31:10-13, 16-18, 29, 26. 28-31; Psalm 128; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30) 

The selection from Proverbs concerning the qualities of a perfect wife sounds more like a job description than a love letter. The qualities outlined became the benchmark against which wives were measured. She is a hyper-competent and multi-tasking manager of the household and seems to bear the entire burden without the slightest complaint. One wonders what a hypothetical description of the perfect husband would have contained.

In many respects, this represents the understanding of marriage in the ancient world. Its purpose was not primarily romantic but practical — running a household, rearing children, and in the case of wealthier people, forging alliances with other prominent families. Ancient models of familial relationships should always be approached with caution and not imitated blindly in our own time. But there are more subtle aspects in this passage. In the description, the wife is recognized as the centre and the guiding light of the family. She is known for her wisdom, kindness, generosity, constancy and fear of the Lord. More importantly, these qualities are acknowledged, and due praise is given to her. The husband is urged to be as generous and kind with her.

Today wives are more than managers of the household, and many must be employed outside the home. The model of the family has changed in many ways. If we were to update this passage today, we would want to add a few things. The wife in the story would be portrayed more as a partner with the husband rather than someone subservient. Greater emphasis on the spiritual relationship between the two and their spiritual growth together would be highlighted. The fine personal qualities of the wife would not be just for praising but would be a model for the entire family to emulate.  

Many dictatorships and imperial governments have promised “peace and security.” The claim is that they alone can keep it all together and make everything work. The false prophets of ancient Israel also uttered these words into the ears of the kings — no need to worry, everything is fine! But a rapid survey of our world reveals that everything is not fine; in fact, it is a chaotic mess. We continue doing the things that are drawing us to a final reckoning, even though we have been warned. The economy, the environment, our societies and our relationship with God are all factors contributing to our predicament.

But we keep hearing that “everything is fine; evidence to the contrary is fake news.” Paul warns that the end will come suddenly and without warning — like a thief in the night. It will be too late to negotiate or escape. He urged his community to live like children of the light. Stay awake, he urged, and do not let yourselves be caught unawares. Staying spiritually awake is one of the most pressing needs of our time.  

The message continues in the Gospel passage. We are not marking time while on Earth but preparing for our life with God. What we do now has consequences that last for eternity. In the parable, a rich and powerful man went away on a long journey. He entrusted sums of money to three of his slaves, different sums according to each man’s ability. The first two went out and invested the money and were able to return it to the master with a tidy profit. The third fellow was timid and unsure of himself, and he was afraid of his master. He buried the money and returned to the master without any profit at all. The master praised the first two and entrusted them with greater responsibilities. But he raged at the third slave and berated him for his cowardice and lack of initiative. He was stripped of what little he had and tossed out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth — whatever that means.

Some people have earthly lives that are very short but exceedingly rich. The world is a better place for their presence, and they leave it filled with wisdom. Others might have very long lives that are essentially wasted, squandered on worthless things and focused on self. Our time on Earth is to be used wisely and with the knowledge that we are building for eternity.