As we come to the end of this long period of ‘green Sundays’ our hearts begin to anticipate the coming feast of Christ the King and the season of Advent. Already the shops speak to us of the ‘holidays’, of Thanksgiving and of Christmas, and Christians are bound to object (at least a little) to the slow encroachment of Christmas earlier and earlier into the year. We have hardly finished our Easter eggs, it seems, when that dreaded herald of ‘the holiday season’ appears in the form of the most egregious and wily of vegetables, the pumpkin. Now, already, the turkeys have met their grizzly end and await us in the refrigerators of our local stores, whilst vendors dress the most unlikely of items in tinsel and baubles to convince us of their worth as gifts for distant relatives. Today, however, it is the Church that bids us look forward to the coming season—at least of Advent—as she presents to us the parable of the talents from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. As the liturgical year begins to turn we are presented with this passage today, as a way of preparing us for what is just around the corner.
How, we might ask, is this so? The good stewardship of the faithful servant of today’s gospel bears two fruits. The master says to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master’. He is rewarded with much, first, and secondly invited into the joy of his master. In these two characteristics perhaps there is something for us to ponder.
First, the good servant is rewarded with more of the same. Last week we addressed the importance of financial stewardship as we seek to sustain and grow our fledgling parish, and equip ourselves with the tools needed for mission. We were rightly reminded of the importance of the biblical tithe; of giving God that which is his due. This means not simply allowing the crumbs from our table to fall to the Church, but skimming off the first portion of our financial income as an offering to God. George Herbert reminds us of this when he prays aloud: ‘Wherefore with my utmost art I will sing thee, and the cream of all my heart I will bring thee’. Anyone who has worked on a dairy farm will tell you that the cream comes to the top of milk; so our sacrifice to God, what Herbert calls ‘the cream of all my heart’, must always come before anything else.
This tithe, however, is not limited to financial giving. That is vital to the success of our endeavours, but as important is the sacrifice of our selves to God. We are called to give the first portion of our income to him, but we are called to give every portion of our heart to Christ, in order that we may be completely his in this life and so share completely in his victory over sin and death in the next. Our financial stewardship, as Father Lewis reminded us, is an outward and visible sign of an inward disposition. If we truly love God and his holy Church, we give all that we are to him. This is most true in our worship, when no effort should be spared in offering to God the very best of man’s talent: in works of art and of music, in our private time of preparation and thanksgiving, and in our conscious participation in the action of the sacred liturgy itself.
How is this related, though, to the coming season of Advent? As that season turns our minds toward the coming of Christ at Christmas, so also it reminds us of the coming of Christ at the end of time. It has what theologians call an eschatological purpose. The parable of the talents shares that characteristic, because it nudges us toward prioritizing Christ now, in this life, in order that at its end we may hear the words of the Lord, ‘Enter into the joy of your master’ (Mt. 25: 21). Just as the faithful servant is rewarded for the good stewardship of his material wealth, so Almighty God wishes to reward his children for the good stewardship of that which is entrusted to us, both material and spiritual.
We have addressed how we are called to material stewardship, but this spiritual stewardship is indispensable; the first makes little sense without the second. In this regard we have made a good start by our presence here today. In the Eucharistic oblation we are already participating in the greatest token of thanksgiving to God, already giving ourselves in a wonderful sacrifice of prayer and praise to God the Father as members of the mystical body of God the Son, in God the Holy Ghost. Remaining in that participation, however, is where our efforts now must lie. When we are conscious of serious sin in our lives we must seek reconciliation with God and his Church through the gift of confession. As we grow in our love of Christ we must seek the guidance of the Church to ensure that we are truly putting our faith in Him, and not in our own devices and desires. As we seek to live the gospel in our own lives we must acknowledge the mandate for us to reach out to others, helping those who are poor and destitute, whether that be in material or spiritual ways.
This is the essence of our stewardship of the mysteries entrusted to us: to live lives oriented toward Christ and his promise of eternal life in the kingdom of his Father. To prefer nothing to Christ in this life is to give ourselves, completely and entirely, in reckless abandon to God’s providence and will. Christ shows us that complete obedience to the Father in going to the cross; his blessed Mother in her fiat, her ‘yes’ to God’s plan for her life. May we be converted once more to this means of our salvation. May we seek to give God that which is his due. And may we live now in earth as citizens of heaven, that our hearts may be made ready to receive God’s love and grace, that as faithful servants and stewards of his mysteries we may be called to feast at his banquet in his heavenly kingdom, and here the words of our Master: Come, enter into my joy.