33rd Sunday of the Year Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; Matthew 25:14–30
Give it your best shot We will be judged on how well we used our talents to work for God’s Kingdom.
Suppose you have a brother who was born without a right hand and with only half a right foot.
Suppose that when he is six years old he asks you, Do you think I’ll be able to play sports in school? What would you tell him? Would you build up his hopes? Or would you be realistic with him?
Suppose that a few days later you and your little brother are watching a pro game on TV. He asks you, Do you think I could ever play pro football someday? What would you tell him?
Suppose that a few days after this he sees you paging through the NFL record book. He asks you, Do you think that someday I could play football well enough to get my name in the NFL record book? What would you tell him? In 1953 a six-year-old named Tom Dempsey was asking these same questions. Like your imaginary little brother, he too was born without a right hand and with only half a right foot.
Tom went to school and played football. He even played on a junior college team in California. In time he began to place kick for the team. He got so good that eventually he was signed by the New Orleans Saints.
On November 8, 1970, the Saints were trailing Detroit 17–16 with two seconds to go. They had the ball on the Detroit 45-yard line. New Orleans coach J. D. Roberts tapped Tom on the shoulder and said, Go out there and give it your best shot!
The holder set the ball down eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, instead of seven, to give Dempsey a split second more time to get the ball off. This put the ball 63 yards from the uprights.
The rest of the story is history. Tom’s half a right foot made perfect contact. Tom later said in Newsweek magazine: I couldn’t follow the ball that far. But I saw the official’s arms go up, and I can’t describe how great I felt.
The Saints won the game 19–17, and Dempsey shattered the NFL field goal record by seven yards.
What does this story have to do with today’s Scripture readings especially Jesus’ point in today’s gospel?
Recall the parable Jesus told.
A wealthy man had three people working for him. One workman had great ability. The second had average ability. The third had little ability.
One day the man decided to make a journey. Before he left, he gave each workman a sum of money, according to his ability. The first got 5,000 silver pieces. The second got 2,000 silver pieces. The third, 1,000.
The three workmen were to use the money to make a profit for the owner during his absence.
What is the deeper meaning behind that parable? What point was Jesus making through it? Who does the wealthy man stand for? What is the journey he went on? Who do the three workers stand for? What does the money they were given stand for?
The wealthy man, who went on the journey, stands for Jesus, who ascended to heaven after his resurrection. He will return again at the end of the world.
The workers stand for you and me. In his absence, Jesus expects us to use the talents God has given to us to work for the spread of God’s kingdom on earth. When Jesus returns, he will judge us on how well we used our talents to work for the kingdom.
It is interesting to note in Jesus’ parable that the man with the least ability was the one who made no effort to do anything with the money he had been given. He ended up inventing an excuse for his laziness. The man seems to have reasoned that he had so little money that he could excuse himself from doing any work.
There seems to be a similar tendency in us to reason this way. We reason that God hasn’t called us to any high office in the Church. Therefore we can concentrate on saving ourselves and leave the work of spreading the kingdom to those in high office. In short, we behave like the third man in Jesus’ parable.
And here’s where the story of Tom Dempsey comes in. Tom Dempsey had very few, if any, talents for playing football.
Yet he used the very few talents he had to accomplish a great deal. He not only played pro football, but he set a pro football record.
If Tom Dempsey used the few talents he had to work so hard for an earthly crown that fades with time, how much more ought we to use our talents to work for a heavenly crown that lasts forever?
It is this all-important question that today’s readings place before us. It is an especially fitting question as the current liturgical year comes to an end. Paul explains why in today’s second reading:
Brothers [and sisters]. . . you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. So then, we should not be sleeping . . . ; we should be awake.
Let’s close with this prayer:
Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will. M.L.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II 33rd Sunday of the Year Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; Matthew 25:14–30
Heroes for today We will be held accountable to God for how we use the talents he gave us.
The Reader’s Digest is translated into 15 different languages. It sells over 28 million copies each month. Assuming each copy is read by four people, the Reader’s Digest touches the lives of 100 million people monthly.
One of the magazine’s occasional features is called “Heroes for Today.” For example, the May 1987 issue featured three people whom it considered to be heroes for our time.
One of these heroes is Bob Wieland. When Bob went to Vietnam in 1969, he was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. When he came back from Vietnam a few years later, he was three and a half feet tall and weighed 87 pounds.
Bob had malaria and a temperature of 106 degrees. He was strapped to a board and packed in ice. Later he joked, “Outside of having no legs and being a physical wreck, I wasn’t in bad shape.”
Now, nearly 20 years later, at the age of 40, Bob had just competed in the 26-mile New York Marathon. He covered the entire distance on his hands, propelling himself along in leapfrog fashion.
The second Reader’s Digest “hero for today” is John Penne, a retired businessman. He and his wife both developed cancer at the same time. His wife died, but John lived; and his cancer went into remission.
While driving back and forth from the hospital for regular treatment, John noticed the number of sick people waiting at the hospital’s bus stop. Sometimes the weather was bitter cold and these people, many of them elderly, were obviously in pain.
John went to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society and said, “Give me a car and a little gas money, and I’ll volunteer my days driving these unfortunate people home.”
For ten years now, John has donated all of his time doing just that.
The final hero is a bit different. He’s Bubba Smith.
A former college and pro football star, Bubba won national fame for his beer commercials on television.
In October 1985,Michigan State University honored Bubba by making him the grand marshal of its homecoming parade. Bubba was thrilled to be back at his old alma mater.
As he rode through the student-lined streets, one side started chanting, “Tastes great!” The other side chanted back, “Less filling!” It was obvious that Bubba’s commercials had impressed a lot of young people.
That night Bubba was deeply disturbed. At a rally, he saw many of those same students. Only this time they were intoxicated.
Then and there he made a decision. He would stop doing the beer commercials. Bubba was concerned that his commercials were influencing a lot of young people. “I was selling to children,” he said.
Bubba’s decision cost him a lot of money. But Bubba was convinced that something more than money was at stake.
The stories of Bob Wieland, Joe Penne, and Bubba Smith illustrate what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel. Recall the parable Jesus tells.
A man decided to take a long trip. Before he left, he gave each of three servants a different sum of money to invest during his absence. The first man did well; the second did well. But the third man did poorly. What’s the deeper meaning behind this parable? Who is the man who went on the long trip? Who are the servants? What does the money stand for?
The man who went on the trip is Jesus, who ascended to heaven after his resurrection. He will return at the end of the world. The servants stand for you and me. The money stands for our God-given talents. In his absence, Jesus expects us to use our talents to build up his kingdom.
It’s interesting that the man in the parable with the least amount of money or talents is the one who made no effort to do anything with his talents. He probably reasoned that he had so little in comparison to the others that he could be excused.
How different from the first two “heroes for today”: the Vietnam vet and the cancer patient.
If anybody had a legitimate excuse for doing the minimum with the rest of their lives, they did. Instead they are doing the maximum.
As a result they have touched the lives of no less than 100 million people.
And this brings us to Bubba Smith. Bubba is a kind of reverse case. He’s more like the man in the parable who was given the largest sum of money.
The thing that makes Bubba a hero is his concern about the use of his talents. When he saw he could be misusing them, he took courageous action to correct this.
Bubba could have justified his situation, saying, “Drinking beer is not the problem. The problem is the immature kids.” Or he could have said, “If I don’t make $100,000 doing those commercials, somebody else will. So it might as well be me. Besides, I’ll give some of it to charity.”
But Bubba didn’t do that. He felt a need to make another statement that he considered to be far more important than fame or money.
Bob Wieland, John Penne, and Bubba Smith they are three heroes for today, because they are living witnesses to what Jesus teaches in today’s gospel.
Their use of their talents in a productive, responsible way makes us ask ourselves: How are we using the talents God gave us? This is an especially fitting question as the liturgical year comes to a close. Paul explains why in today’s second reading:
[Y]ou yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief comes at night. . . . So then, we should not be sleeping . . . ; we should be awake. In other words, we’re going to be held accountable for what we do with our talents. And that day of accountability may be closer than we think.
Let’s close with this prayer:
Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will and using our talents to the best of our ability.
Series III 33rd Sunday of the Year Proverbs 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6; Matthew 25:14–30
Everybody’s Talent The ability to witness to the faith we possess.
I went off and hid your money in the ground. Look! Here is what belongs to you.” Matthew 25:25
A student nurse was taking a test in one of her courses. She was a serious student, so she breezed through the questions. That is, until she got to the last one. It asked: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the classrooms?”
She thought, “Surely this is some kind of joke!” She’d seen the woman several times. But how was she to know her name? So, she handed in her paper, leaving the last question blank.
Before class ended, one of the students asked the instructor if the last question would count toward the course grade. “Absolutely,” he said. Then he added:
“In your careers, you will meet many people who are significant and deserve your gentleness and kindness even if it’s only a brief, heartfelt greeting.”
The nurse said she never forgot that lesson. She added, “I also learned that the cleaning lady’s name was Dorothy.”
This story is a good application of today’s Scripture readings especially Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel. How so? Recall the parable that Jesus told. A wealthy man had three employees. Before leaving on a long journey, he gave each of them a sum of money.
The first got 5,000 silver pieces; the second 2,000; the third 1,000. They were to use the money to make a profit for the owner during his absence.
The key to the meaning of the parable is to understand what the following stand for: the owner; the journey on which he goes; the three employees; and the money given them to make a profit while the owner is on his journey.
The owner stands for Jesus. The journey is his ascension to heaven, from which he will return at the end of the world. The money stands for the talents God has given to each of us to further the work of God’s Kingdom, which Jesus began during his lifetime. When Jesus returns, he will judge us on how well we used our God-given talents to advance God’s Kingdom.
This brings us back to the story of the nurse.
One of the most powerful talents there is for advancing God’s Kingdom on earth is a talent that each of us in this Church has been given in abundance. This talent is the ability each one of us has to bear witness in our daily life by the faith we profess especially by actions toward one another.
To illustrate how important this is in advancing God’s Kingdom on earth, consider this passage from a homily that dates back to the early Christian times.
It is taken from the Liturgy of the Hours, the book of prayers and readings that priests pray and read daily.
The passage reads: The Lord says, “My name is constantly blasphemed by unbelievers. . . .
Why is the Lord’s name blasphemed by unbelievers? Because so many of his followers say one thing, but do another.”
When unbelievers hear the word of God on our lips, they are moved by its beauty and power.
But when they see that those words have little or no effect on our lives, their admiration turns to scorn. Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. 4, Thursday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time, p. 521
What millions of people are looking for in the Catholic Church today is not more inspiring great people like a Pope John Paul or a Mother Teresa.
What they’re looking for is more ordinary Catholics, like the nurse and like each one of us in this Church who not only profess our faith in Jesus, but live it out faithfully.
When unbelievers see ordinary Catholics live their faith by their kindness and gentleness, they are filled with admiration and want to know more about the faith we profess.
On the other hand, when they see us attend Mass on Sunday, and hear us speak of the beauty of our faith, but see that all this has little effect on our lives, their admiration turns to scorn.
This was the point of the professor’s last question on the test he gave to the student nurses.
He wanted to impress upon them the responsibility they have to bear witness to their Christian faith in their daily work. Recall his exact words. He said:
In your careers, you will meet many people who are significant and deserve your gentleness and kindness even if it’s only a brief, heartfelt greeting. I n a very real sense, the big problem in the Church today is the shortage of ordinary Catholics, like you and me, who bear living witness to the faith we profess. To put it in another way, if we Catholics lived our faith as Jesus taught us to live it, people would be breaking down the doors of our churches to join us. And young people by the hundreds would be entering the religious life.
What we need today, therefore, is Catholics who put to use the powerful talent they have of bearing living witness to their faith.
In other words, what we need today is Catholics who will do for our world what Jesus and the apostles did for their world. As we prepare to return to the altar let us pray in a special way to use the powerful talent of witness to help lead the Church into a glorious new era of growth in the new Millennium.
Then when Jesus returns, he will say to us:
“Come you blessed of my Father. Come and possess the Kingdom, prepared for you ever since the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34