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33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind, and this is the reason we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Rewards of Fidelity
Being faithful to a commitment whether it is friendship, marriage, parenting, a job, or our covenant relationship with God requires the dedication of constancy and perseverance, but sometimes also courage, and selflessness.  Today's readings describe the blessings of fidelity. 

The First Reading describes the fidelity of a woman who is the ideal wife.  The inspired writer describes her as a woman whose wisdom is evident in every situation.  The source of her wisdom, for which she should receive praise, is her desire to please God.  Symbolically, the poem illustrates wisdom as a gift with which God endowed His creation.  The poem is also a compliment to the moral strength of all good women. 

The Responsorial Psalm extols the wisdom of the person who fears offending God.  That person will experience God's blessings in life.  Then as now, obedience to the commandments of the Lord God and the willingness to live a righteous life that pleases God is the path to good relationships within our families and the community.  The summit of every week for the faithful Christians must be liturgical worship on the Lord's Day and participating in the life of Jesus Christ in receiving the gift of the Eucharist.  It is in this way that our Lord continues to bless us on our journey through life on our way to the eternal beatitude.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes about the reward for those who persevere in faith until the Lord's return.  Paul presents the argument that the Christian should keep alert because he does not know when the Lord Jesus is coming.  Paul writes that it shouldn't matter when the Lord returns so long as Jesus finds him or her doing good and not evil in the last moments of life.  Therefore, those who are "children of light" must be alert and remain in a state of grace because if we walk in the light, as he is the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus tells a parable about the degrees of fidelity of a Master's servants and their rewards according to their service.  Jesus, the Master, promises that those who are faithful servants and who use their spiritual gifts to serve the Church and to advance the Kingdom will receive even more gifts to enrich their lives in the service of Jesus Christ.  However, the warning is that those who neglect their spiritual gifts will lose what God initially gave them.  Those who refuse to use their spiritual gifts are guilty of quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

These readings should make us reflect on our degree of fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Are we numbered among the "children of light" (Second Reading) who show their love for Jesus by being faithful and obedient to His commands (Jn 14:23-24; 15:10)?  Are we vigilant in avoiding sin and in living in the Sacraments of our faith in obedience to the command in the Gospel Reading to stay "awake" and "alert" and to be ready when the Master returns (Gospel Reading)?  If so, our promised reward is the gift of eternal life and our participation in the Communion of Saints in Heaven!

The First Reading Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 ~ The Ideal Wife
10 When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.  11 Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.  12 She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.  13 She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands. [...] 19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle.  20 She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. [...] 30 Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  31 Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:10-31 is the epilogue to the Book of Proverbs.  It forms an acrostic poem where the first letter of each verse corresponds to a Hebrew letter in alphabetical order.  This passage presents a series of wise sayings from a mother to her son about the qualities of the ideal wife.  The entire poem may be symbolic since the prologue to the Book of Proverbs depicts Wisdom personified as a woman who invites everyone to a banquet at her house.

In our reading, we have a description of an ideal woman whose wisdom is evident in every situation.  The source of her wisdom, for which she should receive praise, is her desire to please God (verse 30).  Symbolically, the poem illustrates wisdom as a gift with which God has endowed His creation.  The poem is also a compliment to the moral strength of all good women.  St. John Paul II commented that this wisdom and strength is evident in the lives of many women in the Old Testament, in the times of Jesus, and in the age of the Church when he wrote: "Thus the 'perfect woman' (cf Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people who perceive the great energies of her spirit.  These 'perfect women' are owed much by their families and sometimes by whole nations" (Mulieris dignitalem, 30).  To that long list of wise and great women, we should include women like Mary of Nazareth, the seven women disciples who followed Jesus, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Avila and Bl. Mother Therese, to name only a few.

Responsorial Psalm 128:1-5 ~ The Blessings of Fidelity
The response is: "Blessed are those who fear the Lord."

1 Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways!  2 For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.
Response:
3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home, your children like olive plants around your table.
Response:
4 Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.  5 The LORD bless you from Zion: may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Response:

The psalm begins with a statement concerning the blessings of good fortune for the person who fears offending Yahweh (verse 1).  The psalm describes how that good fortune manifests itself in a person's life (verses 2-4).  The passage ends with a blessing invoking God on Mount Zion, a reference to worshipping in the Jerusalem Temple (verse 5). 

Fear of Yahweh means demonstrating reverence and obedience to God by keeping His commandments (Dt 6:2, 13, 24-25).  The phrase "fear of the Lord" in verse 1, repeated in verse 4, makes verses 1-4 a unit by repeating the wisdom of a spiritual healthy fear of offending God.  Verses 2-4 are a beatitude promising a happy family life with enough to eat, unity between husband and wife (verse 2), and happy and healthy children (verse 3).  The passage concludes in verse 5 with a divine blessing for both the individual covenant believer and the covenant people as a whole. 

Then as now, obedience to the commandments of the Lord God and the willingness to live a righteous life that pleases God is the path to good relationships within our families and the community.  The summit of every week for the faithful Christians must be liturgical worship on the Lord's Day and participating in the life of Jesus Christ in receiving the gift of the Eucharist.  It is in this way that our Lord continues to bless us on our journey through life on our way to the eternal beatitude.

The Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 ~ Stay Alert for the Day of the Lord
1 Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.  2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.  3 When people are saying, "Peace and security," then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.  4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness for that day to overtake you like a thief.  5 For all of you are children of the light and children 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.

The "day of the Lord" in verse 1 or the "day of Yahweh" in the Old Testament refers to the point at which God will decisively intervene in human history, usually in judgment (Is 6:13; Amos 5:18-20; Mt 24:36, 43).  In St. Paul's letters, the "day of the Lord" refers to the "Second Coming" of Jesus when, in the fullness of His glory, He will judge the people of all nations in the Last Judgment (1 Cor 1:8; 2 Cor 1:14; 2 Thes 4:16; CCC 1038-41).  Like Jesus' warning of the Day of Judgment in the Gospels, Paul warns that the Day of Judgment will come suddenly and unexpectedly.  Like Jesus' discourse, he compares the timing as like a woman in the pains of childbirth (see Mt 24:19 compared to verse 3). 

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness for that day to overtake you like a thief.  5 For all of you are children of the light and children 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.

Night and darkness are symbols for sin and evil in Scripture.  Paul says the Parousia ("coming") of the Lord will take people by surprise like a thief in the night (verse 4).  A thief works at night because he thinks the darkness will give him an advantage and the householder will be unprepared.  But the Christian must not be "in darkness" on that day; he must be in a state of grace to be received by the Lord.  Jesus used the same comparison of a thief surprising his victim in Matthew 24:43.  Paul presents the argument that the Christian should keep alert because he does not know when the Lord Jesus is coming, nor does it matter so long as Jesus finds him or her doing good and not evil in the last moments of life.  Therefore, those who are "children of light" must be alert and remain in a state of grace because if we walk in the light, as he is the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).

The Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30 ~ The Parable of the Servants and the Talents
Jesus told his disciples this parable: 14 "A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability.  Then he went away.  Immediately 16 the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five.  17 Likewise, the one who received two made another two.  18 But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money.  19 After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.  20 The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five.  He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.  See, I have made five more.'  21 His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master's joy.'  22 [Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents.  See, I have made two more.'  23 His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master's joy.'  24 Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; 25 so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.  Here it is back.'  26 His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter?  27 Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?  28 Now then!  Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.  29 For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  30 And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"

The "man" in the parable is referred to as kyrios, "Lord" ten times in verses 18, 19, 20, 21 (twice), 22, 23 (twice), 24 and 26.  The "Lord" is Jesus, and the servants are His disciples.  The symbolic elements in the parable:

A talent was a very large sum.  One commentator estimated a single talent was worth the wage of a common laborer for fifteen years.  A talent was equal in value to 6,000 Greek drachmas (Fr. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, "money," page 583).  You may recall that the double drachma was the amount due for the Temple tax (Mt 18:24-27).  Therefore, the talent amounts in the parable represent an enormous amount of money in the ancient world.  God is generous in giving spiritual gifts to His covenant children, and like the man in the parable, He calibrates those spiritual gifts according to the abilities of the disciple/servant.  However, He expects His servants to use those gifts to advance the Kingdom of Heaven on earth—the Church.

Notice that Jesus congratulated both the servant with many spiritual gifts and the one with less spiritual gifts.  He judges each according to his ability to use the gifts he received.  All the servants are believers and members of the covenant.  Both servants who used their gifts wisely received the promise of entrance into the Master's joy (25:21, 23).  The Master's joy is eternal salvation and entrance into the life of the Most Holy Trinity in the heavenly Kingdom.

The failed servant admitted that he knew what God required for those in covenant with Him, but he neglected his spiritual gifts, making the excuse that if he buried the gift, he believed he couldn't fail.  The Master/Jesus did not accept his excuse.  The failed servant received the opposite of the faithful servants.  Instead of "entering in" he was "cast out" and consigned to a state of eternal separation from God in Gehenna/Hell, the place of "wailing and gnashing of teeth" (CCC 1033-37).

26 His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter?  27 Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?'
God calls men and women to salvation even outside the Church where He did not plant and scatter seed.  The failed servant knew the scope of God's call to salvation but ignored his obligation to help with the harvest.  The least he could have done would have been to invest what he received.  The temporal gift of money could have been used to spread the Gospel by financially supporting the Church which is "the bank" that converts material gifts into taking care of the poor and dispossessed. 

29 For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  30 And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"
"Wailing and gnashing of teeth" is a term that St. Matthew has used seven times in his Gospel (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13, 24:51, 25:30 and for the last time in 25:30).  The expression vividly describes the frustration and anguish felt by those souls who have been, through their unrepented sins, excluded from the Master's joy in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus/the Master promises that those who are faithful servants and who use their spiritual gifts to serve the Church and to advance the Kingdom will receive even more gifts to enrich their lives in the service of Jesus Christ.  However, the warning is that those who neglect their spiritual gifts will lose what God gave them initially.  Those who refuse to use their spiritual gifts are guilty of quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Catechism References:
1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 (CCC 675); 5:2 (CCC 673); 5:5 (CCC 1216)
Matthew 25:14-30, (CCC 546, 1936); 25:21 (CCC 1029, 1720, 2683); 25:23 (CCC 1029, 1720)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017