Homily for 33rd Sunday of Year 2005
In a week of more terrorist activity abroad and suspected threats at home we find our lives more and more dominated by an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Who do we trust now? Or do we just mistrust anyone who is a muslim? Feeding that fear and mistrust might be a way of maintainting support for the war on terror, as its called, but does little to bring a fullness of life to people.
Last Saturday, 4th November, was the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the “Gunpowder Plot”. Guy Fawkes and his conspiritors were discovered planning to blow up the English Parliament of King James I. At the time Anglicanism was being imposed on the English. It was far from being universally welcomed by ordinary people. The plotters in question were pretty inept bombers. It is said that by the time came when to explode the guunpowder it had decayed so much and no explosion would have occoured. After Guy was arrested his co plotters continued planning and in trying to dry the gunpowder in front of a fire, blew themselves up, so it is said. The story of the conspiracy is a complex one and bears little resemblance to the terrorist plots of today. Yet there may be a similarity in the two events in that the bare bones of the stories have become “myths” to comfort us. Centuries of prejudice and hatred have been sustained by the story of Guy Fawkes. And so we remain trapped in our stereotypes of Catholic vs Protestant, Muslim vs Christian.
At first sight we might think that our passage from Proverbs (31:10-31) is a typical male assessment of the place of a woman in marriage! We come to expect it in such male dominated culture as in the Middle East. Yet it is unusually different. The whole chapter 31 from which it is taken is not by a man at all. It is a mother’s prayerful instruction to her son, Lemuel, a little known king of Massa. Earlier in the chapter she warned him about letting his relationships with women divert him from his kingly purpose. She warned him, too, of the dangers of too much wine. She sounds a bit like the present Queen Elizabeth, someone who is conscious of her duty and that of her children. Like the wise bridesmaids of last weeks Gospel (Matthew 21:1-13), the wife described here is certainly a woman of initiative.
Such generosity of spirit and compassion was very much part of the Mosaic tradition of the Jewish faith. It was the Hebrew midwives, for example, who precipitated the whole Exodus from Egypt because they refused to kill the sons of the Hebrews when commanded to do so by the Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15ff).
Our gospel today is a story of a man who trusted his servants with a great deal. The two who welcomed that trust prospered. The man who feared his master lost everything. Trust is one of those gifts that if you smother it then you lose it. If you live a trusting life it grows.
So Jesus is expressing his anger at the hardness of heart of the leaders of the people. They did not trust anyone with God's gifts. The parable seems very hard on the man who hid his talent. The talents here are not to be understood as money or wealth. Otherwise Jesus would just be teaching us how to be good capitalists! The talents are gifts of God meant to give life to all. It is not just my personal gifts either. It is a parable of the Kingdom. The leaders have excluded from the Kingdom the tax collectors and prostitutes. This has made God angry Jesus, is suggesting. The leaders have kept God's gifts from the people and in so doing did not experience it themselves. This is the opposite of 'good news'. Let us pray at least that generosity and trust will not be buried in our community.