Mea maxima culpa – Saturday, 21st week in ordinary time – Mt 25:14-30
This final parable in the lectionary of the Gospel of Matthew (On Monday begin with the Gospel of Luke) has many things to ponder about. We could ponder on the final judgment, or the generous trusting master, the Christian disciple’s service, the patience of the master, the character of the master etc.
But parables are never written for us to bring our agenda to a narrative but rather let the narrative’s agenda be communicated to us. Matthew has a single agenda as he winds down his fifth and final discourse and before he launches into the passion narrative, he wants to communicate the characteristics of the Parousia, the second coming of Jesus.
Jesus has left the temple and is sitting on the Mount of Olives (24:3). He is now teaching His disciples privately who want to know more about the Parousia. This He does by weaving descriptions, comparisons, examples and parables. Jesus describes the signs of the end of age in tumultuous terms. Persecutions and false messiahs will be the order of the day. There will be a cosmic upheaval which will help one to rightly identify the prophecies of the Parousia.
After describing the events surrounding the Parousia, Jesus describes the state of readiness and alertness that the disciple needs to have. This He communicates via three parables; the ‘faithful and unfaithful servant’, the parable of the ‘ten bridesmaids’ (a feminine version of the first) and finally today’s Gospel of the ‘parable of the talents’.
Of the three parables, this last parable would make most of us extremely uncomfortable. The man in the parable is a clear allusion to Jesus. He is trusting yet harsh, he gives according to each one’s ability and demands accountability, he is generous yet condemnatory. But then again, the parable is not about the man or about Jesus; it is about the accountability of the disciples at the Parousia.
Perhaps, as we have said before, Matthew’s community has lost hope in the Parousia. The eagerness with which they gathered on the first day of the week, anticipating His coming, now seems to have dimmed. The ‘joy of the master’ ( verse 21 and 23) is absent in the disciples and they are filled with mediocrity.
Jesus had not left His disciples with no resources. The three ‘servants’ were left with a total of eight talents. A talent was actually a measurement of weight; it did not have a constant value. A talent of gold, for example, would be worth a whole lot more than a talent of bronze. Some scholars estimate that a talent, at the least, was equivalent to twenty years labour. In short, the master (Jesus) was very trustworthy when he left his servants (disciples) with ‘all his possessions.’
The parable highlights the trust of the master in leaving not simply an unrealistic responsibility but a carefully thought out one, for each is given “according to their ability.” The point being made is that the Parousia will be a moment of accountability; that which has been carefully thought out and handed over to the disciples who should bear fruit.
The third servant was by no means treated unfairly. He had a fifth of the responsibility compared to his brothers who had to account for five times and twice more. He was trusted with a staggering amount of twenty years wages. Hence his condemnations stem from the fact that he was “lazy” by nature and “wicked” in thought, when he defended himself. It is not the master who is “harsh” nor is it the master who unduly “reaps where he does not sow” but the servant’s wicked characterization of the master, in order to get out of a bad situation. The wicked servant tarnishes the good name of his trusting and generous master to get out of a bad situation.
Earlier in Chapter 11, Jesus condemned the cities of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida because they had seen the miracles that Jesus had worked within their walls, they should have chosen to repent; they chose rather, to do nothing. The judgment of Jesus passed on the Galilean cities and now on the third servant is harsh because they chose to do nothing. Think about it, we spend so much of our lives repenting the things we have done, not the things we have failed to do!
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa
Fr Warner D’Souza