Growing Apologist

Becoming a Defender of Truth

Parables of Talents

Gospel Reflection by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, PH.D. at the Crossroads Initiative

I’ve seen it time and time again. Someone decides to seek a better paying job, or pursue and investment strategy, or launch a new business. Invariably some pious person in the parish objects that maybe this is too worldly, that it will be a distraction from Church and family priorities, that one should be satisfied with what one has.

You’d think from this that faith equals passivity. That the only perfect Christian is the cloistered contemplative. That mildness is the greatest of Christian virtues.

Husband and Wife Bears

There are a number of Scripture texts that shatter this picture. One is the image of the ideal wife in Proverbs 31. The Blessed Virgin Mary read this passage and, as the most perfect of Israelite wives, most probably modeled herself after the woman portrayed here. Does the Proverbs 31 woman sit around passively, praying a lot, and wearing beige? No. The first few verses of the chapter poetically tell how she is more valuable than pearls, a true prize. The rest of the passage tell us why she is such a catch–she knows how to roll up her sleeves and hustle. The passage tells of her side business ventures that increase the family’s wealth, which she shares with the poor. Of course if she hadn’t worked so shrewdly and diligently, there would not be anything to share with the poor.

Parable of the Talents

Another Scripture that shatters the picture of Christianity as passivity is the famous parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Note that it is money (yes money!) that the master entrusts to his various servants, different amounts according to varying abilities. Two servants realize that the master wants a return on his capital, so they invest it and each double it. The master does not expect to get the same sum back from these two because they started with different amounts. But they both received the exact same praise because they both gave him a hundred per cent return.

The servant of least ability, on the other hand, buried the money for fear of losing it.Instead of praising him for being conservative, the master is outraged. If you entrusted your retirement nest egg to a stockbroker, and years later it had not grown at all, would you be happy?

The master was angry because the servant had allowed fear to paralyze him. So afraid was he of losing money that he did not even take the very modest risk of depositing the money in the bank (there was no FDIC insurance in those days).

Money: November 08

The Lord has entrusted lots of things to us: money, natural talents, spiritual gifts, the saving truth of the Gospel. He expects us not just to conserve these things but to grow them. In the last supper discourse (John 15) he speaks of the disciples as bearing much fruit. In the Parable of the Sower and the Seed he speaks of grain that bear 30, 60, and 100 fold. Whatever labor we are involved in–economic, family, apostolic–the goal should be to develop, increase, and grow what God has given us, for his honor and glory.

This inevitably involves taking risks. It means not letting the fear of failure and ridicule stop us from pursuing success.  

One of the greatest Catholic thinkers of the 20th century was a Swiss priest named Hans Urs von Balthasar. He once pointed out that one of the most frequently used words in the book of Acts was the Greek word parrhesia, meaning cheerful boldness in the face of danger or opposition. Without such boldness, Christianity would have stalled in Palestine. It never would have made it to Antioch, Greece, and Rome.

Faithfulness to God means having the courage to take bold initiatives, in pastoral life, family life, and business, to be creative, even entrepreneurial, to express our gratitude to God for all that He has given us by making it grow.

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Greatest Commandment

From the St. Mary’s Newsletter October 21, 2011:  The Magnificat

Here is the Gospel reflection for this upcoming weekend.  This is a continuation of last week’s reflection regarding the Pharisee’s trying to trap Jesus.  The readings that the reflection is based on can be found here.  Enjoy!

Greatest Commandment

From Dr. D’Ambrosio

 They are at it again. In this Sunday’s gospel Jesus’ opponents enlist a lawyer to do what lawyers do best- ask a question that puts a person on the hot seat. “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:34-40). If the law consisted in only the Ten Commandments, this would be tough enough. But the written “Torah” included many more moral, ceremonial, and dietary prescriptions.

 Jesus, of course, is a radical. A “radical” is one who goes to the “radix” or root of the issue. The root problem was that these Pharisees majored in the minors. They loved to strain out gnats and swallow camels. They missed the forest for the trees, going to great lengths to observe the letter of the law while totally missing its spirit.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

  So Jesus fires a broadside. Splicing together two passages from the Torah, he sinks them. “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18).

This sinks them for a couple of reasons. First it brilliantly sums up the entire law because every single precept is an expression of these two commandments. Read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and you’ll see that the first three are about loving God and the other seven are about loving your neighbor. If you read every line of the Bible, you’d be able to put each command in column A (love God) or column B (love your neighbor). So these two commandments are indeed the root of them all.

 But the other reason his answer sinks them is that these two root commandments are precisely the ones the Pharisees keep breaking. Observance of the law for them is not an act of divine worship but rather of self-promotion. Rather than their observance of the law leading to love of neighbor, it leads to scorn of neighbors who fail to live up to their standards (see how they treat the blind man in John 9:24-34). Note what Paul, the converted Pharisee, says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).” Paul knew this from experience–he spent years as a gong. On the positive side,St. Augustinesays “love and do what you will.”

 Yet Jesus did not say just to love. He said we must love the Lord with our WHOLE heart and soul and with ALL our mind and strength. I made a discernment retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani when, at age 21, I felt torn between a desire for religious life and marriage. As I walked into the retreat house, I shuddered to see this phrase inscribed in the stone over the entryway: “God Alone.”

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above the H...

Does wholehearted love of God leave no room in your heart for a spouse or children?

 If that were the case, there would be no second great commandment in this story. In fact Jesus says the second commandment is like the first. That’s because the kind of wholehearted love Jesus is talking about is charity (agape), which means loving God for his own sake and all others for his sake, and doing so not by human strength, but with the divine love that is poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). When we love others with charity, we love God through them. Our every loving act towards them becomes an expression of our love for God.

 So at bottom, the two great commandments are just two sides of the same coin. Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesars and render to God what is God’s. The two-sided coin of charity is the only legal tender we can use to pay the obligation that’s even more important than taxes–the one owed to the Creator.

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