33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

– by Rev. Corein Turbak –

A number of years ago, I was job hunting and discerning if I should take a position I had just been offered. I was overwhelmed by the decision. Was the organization a good place for me? Would I enjoy the work? Would I be good at it? Would it use my gifts well? And ultimately, was it what God was calling me to at this time? Would God be pleased with my plans? Or would it be a misstep, taking me off track?

As these questions ran through my mind with no answer, no peace, no surety, and the organization needing my response, I sought the advice of a wise Catholic sister from the Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis.

I’m not sure what I expected from her. Maybe some guidance in prayer. Maybe some help framing my questions. Maybe some holiness to help me make my decision.

Instead she said, “I get so sad when I see people like you. So anxious. Instead of just making a decision, you worry yourself endlessly. There are so many better things you could be doing with your time and energy, than asking these questions.”

I took the job without answers to my questions. But with a realization of how I was allowing fear to be my guide, and that I was wasting my precious time, my energy and ultimately my life, with worry.

One reason I have been so attracted to the Visitation Sisters and their Salesian spirituality, is how simple it is. There’s this idea from St. Francis de Sales, that, when faced with discernment questions between multiple good options, and you have brought it to prayer, and use your best wisdom, sought God’s guidance and others, you make your decision. You go and you don’t look back. You don’t waste your time or your energy wondering or questioning. Discernment is done and now it is time to live into your choice.

While St. Francis’ advice is simple, it is much harder to live by. We are people with very busy minds. We often find ourselves wondering if we made the right decision, we see the grass greener on the other side and wonder – what did we do or not do. And the wondering, the fear behind that wondering, starts to guide our lives instead of God and our own wisdom.

As we come close to Advent, our Gospel readings become more and more apocalyptic. The readings are metaphors about the end time and they each feature two groups of people The first group are wise and are praised by their master. The second group are fearful, foolish, and are cast away.

In our story today, these groups of people are entrusted with a certain amount of wealth. Our translation converts wealth to money – $5,000, $2,000, and $1,000. In the original versions, it is 5, 2, and 1 talent. Talents can’t really be translated to money. That term really describes an inheritance or an estate – a lifetime of work. So a better understanding is that this very wealthy master is giving them all his livelihood

The first two, who are given five and two talents, are astute and savvy with their master’s wealth, doubling it.. And the master celebrates them.

The last individual though, holds onto the wealth until the master returns and he is striped of the gift he was given and thrown out.

I want us to sit with this third person for awhile. The punishment seems extremely harsh, doesn’t it? The person didn’t really do anything wrong. He didn’t squander the money like the prodigal son, he didn’t carelessly lose it. He simply held onto, preserved, until his Master came back. Some might even think he was wise for that decision. The other two could have just as easily lost the wealth in volatile markets. They were honestly just lucky that the wealth was doubled. So why is the third individual punished so harshly? What is this story trying to tell us?

To answer this we must remind ourselves that this is not a story about money, wise investments, or banking. It isn’t even about our God-given gifts and talents. This story is a metaphor for something much more basic and core. It is a metaphor for our life – the breath of life, the holy, love incarnate, given to each and every one of us.

God the Creator breathed life into us. And what is so astounding, so completely amazing about our lives, is that when we use our life, when we risk our life, when we spend our lives, more life is created. That’s the core message of our Gospel. And so the core question for us is, do we create more life with the life we are given, or do we simply preserve our life?

Humans are often referred to as co-creators in religious traditions. For much of the Christian tradition, co-creation was equated with having children. Bearing children was the ultimate way life was seen to take shape in the world.

But we know and celebrate today that life can be created in many ways. Yes, life is created through the birth of new children, but life is also created when two people share love and give that love to their neighbors, community, and world. Or when an individual is so fueled by passion, that they devout their lives to a cause, a work, their faith – life is created. Or when a group of people gather together to protect others – life is created.

We are entrusted with life and creating life in many varied and unique ways. And the creation of life necessitates risk – risk in relationship and risk in stepping out on some unknown path.

That’s what the first two people did. They had no guarantees. But just like St. Frances de Sales instructed, they made their choice, they went forward, and they did not look back.

But that last individual safeguarded and preserved life. That last individual was kind of like what I was doing; I was filled with fear over taking a new job. And we’ve all been there in one way or another, overwhelmed by reality, by the tenuous world we live in, where there are no guarantees. We get stuck in our minds, in our questions, in our worries, and so we chose what seems to be the safest, most prudent path – preservation, waiting and saving.

And sadly, when life is not spent up, when life is not risked, when life does not create more life, then life goes away. I don’t believe our Gospel today is saying we’ll be punished. I believe it is simple a metaphor for what happens when life is not used. Life cannot be saved – it will disappear. Life must be spent. The purpose of life is to create more life.

This story is not so much about a harsh Master, or a lesson in economics. It is the story of our lives. What will we do with our breath? What will we do with what the poet Mary Oliver calls, “our one, wild and precious life.”

This week, I want to challenge each of us as individuals, as partners, as friends, as families, and as a community, to discern how we are courageously spending our lives and how are we preserving them?

I wonder especially for us as a community. Tonight is our annual All Parish Meeting, and in a few months we will celebrate our 10 year anniversary. How absolutely astounding is this!? Think of all the ways that the Spirit moved among us this last year and this last decade. Think of all the life we have not only been given, but have created. Over five hundred Saturday liturgies, marriages, baptisms, first communions, thousands of dollars of donations to multiple charities, hundreds of tomato plants, and I imagine some of the best meals and parties out there. We have been given life and we have created life. We have risked; we have risked our time, our gifts, our opinions, our passions, our very selves, and life has come back to us tenfold.

And so, as we step into a new year, as Advent nears, as we look back on our last year and plan for the coming, and as we step into the next decade, we are called to ask – how are we spending life and are there any ways that we have been preserving it? Are there places where we have let fear creep in? Fear, perhaps when change seems afoot, or maybe when new voices come to the table, or possibly when things that once worked stop working, and we are not sure why. It is in those moments, that will surely come again and again in our community, and in our own individual lives, that we must remember that life cannot be preserved or saved – that’s not how life works. Life must be risked, spent, and used up, it is only in doing so that then, through the miraculous power of God’s spirit, and our participation, more life is created.

Let us be creators of life in many varied, unique, and beautiful ways. It is our one calling. It is the only way that we can truly live.

– Rev. Corein

 Photo Credit: Reji, “Dream Buds”.  Some rights reserved. Available at www.flickr.com.