33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Published: November 16, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the confirmation Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton on Nov. 16, 2014

Bishop Taylor

Those of us present who work for a company that provides retirement benefits probably have funds invested in the stock market, and if so you may be concerned about recent volatility in the market. That is why the first thing a good financial advisor does is get us to identify our goals and assess our level of risk tolerance, our comfort level when it comes to taking risks. Some people gravitate toward low-risk investments, even if the return isn't all that great.

Others thrive on risk-taking and gravitate toward more speculative investments, even though the odds of actually getting spectacular returns aren't all that great. But in either case, those who make investments involving at least some degree of risk generally come out way ahead of those who just sit on their money, making no investments at all. Indeed, if you just hide your money in a cookie jar, you actually loose money over time even though you still have the same number of dollar bills.

The reason is inflation. Our current Consumer Price Index is 236, meaning that the dollar put in your cookie jar in 1974 when the CPI was 49 now has only 204 worth of purchasing power today. That same dollar invested in the stock market 1974 when the DOW was 672 is worth $24 today — a 12,000 percent increase in value over than that hidden away 1974 dollar now worth 204 today.

Our willingness or refusal to take risks for God reveals whether we truly believe in God and what kind of God we believe him to be.

Over the long haul, the most irresponsible thing you can do is refuse to take risks: sure, you may loose money in any event but if you don’t take risks you will almost certainly lose money through inflation. Hold on to your money too tightly and you'll loose it for sure. In today's Gospel Jesus says that what is true regarding money applies to the rest of life as well.

A rich man entrusted three servants with 1, 3 and 5 talents (a unit of currency) and then went on a journey. The first two made investments and doubled their money. The third servant hid his money in the ground. He thought that by just sitting on his talent, he had protected his master's money ... after all, he didn't loose anything.

But in fact he did, due to inflation. So while the first two servants took calculated risks that might have back-fired on them, the one who refused to take risks was, ironically, the irresponsible one. The two risk-takers might have lost money (that's why it was a risk) but the one who would not risk was certain to lose money ... in fact, the only thing he was not at risk for was making money. Their choice was between responsible risk-taking and irresponsible risk avoidance.

The meaning of this parable for our lives is so obvious that our word talent no longer refers principally to the unit of ancient currency from which the word derives, but rather has become our principal word for the even more valuable abilities — talents — that God has entrusted to us to be used in his service. And even more so than with financial investments, our faithful investment of self ... using our abilities in the Lord's service ... inevitably involves risk-taking.

And where a good financial advisor starts by getting us to identify our goals and assess our level of risk tolerance, a good spiritual advisor starts by getting us to hear God's call and assess the talents he has given us to be used for his purposes. 

Have you heard God's call? Each of the three men in our Gospel heard their master's call, but only two of them responded. Notice also that the master's call was not explicit, his wishes were not immediately obvious. They had to discern what he wanted, it was not communicated directly with words: he didn't tell them what to do. If they really listen to him with their hearts, they'll know what he wants — they're his servants after all! And so are we.

Our willingness or refusal to take risks for God reveals whether we truly believe in God and what kind of God we believe him to be. The third servant believes in a ruthless, demanding God. He says: Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.

His belief that God would punish him if he lost any of the money made him afraid to take any risks with it; he believed in a God who is only concerned about the bottom line, who demands concrete results. By contrast, the first two servants believed in a merciful God who only asks that we be faithful. Their trust in God's mercy gave them the confidence to go ahead and take the necessary risks because they knew that if they tried their best but lost the money, it wouldn't really matter — it's just paper anyway. As Mother Teresa, who risked everything for the Lord, says: God doesn't demand that I be successful, all he asks is that I be faithful.