33rd Sunday in Ordinary time

‘I’ve done nothing wrong’. I don’t have any official statistics to hand, but anecdotally this phrase is among the most commonly used explanations or excuses. Sometimes this phrase is worded rather differently, such as ‘I didn’t break the law’ or ‘I haven’t done anything illegal’. But the meaning remains the same: ‘doing nothing wrong’ is a good-enough attitude. Funnily enough, we find it totally justifiable when we apply it to our own personal situations, but we also find it rather irritating when it’s used against us. So, while ‘doing nothing wrong’ is arguably a good starting point, certainly it isn’t the pinnacle of personal advancement; it’s a base for growth, but without active development it remains just that: base.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells us a parable about a wealthy man who entrusted his wealth to three servants to manage while he was away. Their differing responsibilities are symbolised by the number of talents left to each one of them: five, two and one respectively. The talent was an ancient measure of value, related to the weight of precious metals. When their master returned, two of those servants deserved his commendation for making a healthy profit on the money with which they had been entrusted. However, the third servant, assigned a single talent, returned the money but without making a profit. His story is an interesting example of the attitude ‘I’ve done nothing wrong’.

The third servant seems to be proud that there were no losses made, which is always a possibility with investments: ‘I hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.’ Being risk-averse isn’t necessarily wrong or bad. So far, so good. However, the servant’s explanations of his seemingly risk-averse attitude essentially lay the blame on his master: ‘I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered; so I was afraid.’ Yet the blame-game doesn’t work. The assessment made by the master acutely pinpoints the real reason for doing nothing: ‘You wicked and lazy servant!’ Then the master turns the servant’s explanation back onto him; you can almost hear the irony and sarcasm in the master’s voice when he repeats the servant’s words: ‘So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered?’ Eventually the servant is dismissed and, unlike the other two, he loses what he received.

There are people who look enviously upon others’ seemingly successful and happy lives. They daydream about achieving similar goals if only they were similarly gifted, but they completely miss what potential to accomplish they themselves have. Your life is a thing of great value – a gift you have received. What you do with it is solely your responsibility. And you are called to do something positive with your life, to make it matter. Doing ‘nothing wrong’ just isn’t good enough. Try to have a positive impact on the world, on your local and parish communities, on your family, and on your own life. It doesn’t matter how many or how few talents you have been given. The only thing that matters is what you do with them.

Photo by geralt