Saturday, November 12, 2005

Will you pass the test? (Sunday homily)

Who here is in school, now?
Any grade?

OK—who here was ever in school,
once upon a time?

Let’s see if you agree with me:
One of the most dread,
stomach-churning experiences
you can have is the mother of all nightmares:
The test, the quiz, you aren’t ready for!

Maybe it’s that dirty trick, “the pop quiz”;
Or it could be the test
you just totally forgot about—
you know that awful feeling—
maybe it hits you as you walk into class.

Or maybe it’s the test
you we’re going to study for,
Friday afternoon…make that Saturday morning…
okay, Saturday night; then, after Mass,
Okay, after the football game…
then you stay up late—
and you fall asleep! Oops!

It’s an awful feeling, isn’t it?

Our Scriptures talk about passing the test:
The first reading
describes wives who “pass the test”;
St. Paul talks about being “sober and alert”
for the test when Jesus returns
at the end of time;
and the Gospel describes the test itself.

So—if all this talk of tests
is making you feel awful…

Relax! I’ve got Good News!
Good News: are you ready?

Everyone here can pass the test!
Isn’t that Good News?

So, don’t be afraid of “the test.”
You can pass it—everyone can!

Yes, the test can come at any moment:
So St. Paul says, the Lord will come
like a thief at night”—like a “pop quiz”!

So what’s the test? How do we pass it?

For that, we look at the Gospel.

Now, I want to pause,
and correct a mistaken assumption
about this Gospel story.

Here it is:
When the Gospel talks about “talents”—
it doesn’t mean what you may think it means.

It’s referring to money!
Not ability! Money!

A “talent” was a unit of money,
perhaps $1,000 in today’s terms.

So we could translate it:
To one, he gave $5,000,
to another, $2,000, to another, $1,000.

Now: the Lord’s “test” was not,
how much money did you earn;
it’s not really about money at all!
The money—the $5,000, $2,000, $1,000—
stands for something else:
something everyone gets some of—
and that’s FAITH.

So the test is not about ability,
or how much you have,
versus you, or you, or you;
All that matters is whether you do anything!

What matters is whether you use—
you “spend”—those “faith-dollars,”
or whether you bury your faith
and never act on it.

And that’s why everyone
can pass the Lord’s test.

That doesn’t mean everyone
will pass;
We could stand before the Lord,
and hear those awful words—
“you wicked, lazy servant!”—
because we buried the faith
Christ put into our hearts.
Sometimes we put off acting on faith;
we let someone else in our family do it for us.
We find excuses—“someone else got more”—
or, “I was afraid.”

You may not believe you have much faith:
maybe you didn’t even get $1,000.
Maybe you got $100; $10; $1—maybe only a penny!

Whatever faith you do have—
and everyone gets some—
Spend it! Put it out there—
and watch it grow!

The “worthy wife” in the first reading
passes the test because she acts on her faith:
she makes a difference in her own home,
and in the lives of the poor and needy.

That passage is a symbol of us, the Church—
we, the Church, are the Bride of Christ—
and Christ, the Bridegroom,
entrusts his Heart to his Church!

Here he is: in this church, always here:
The Eucharist is the Heart
of his Body, the Church!

He doesn’t ask us to be smart
and explain his mystery;
he doesn’t ask us to pay
cash-money for his gifts;
He asks only faith!

Our second-graders are preparing
for their first communion;
and while they will learn things
along the way,
what Jesus asks of them
is not knowledge—head-faith,
but heart-faith: desire—longing!

So—2nd graders—
don’t worry about what you know;
focus on that longing—
that hunger and thirst for Jesus!

“For to everyone who has, more will be given,
and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not, even what he has
will be taken away”—because it was left unused.

So when the Lord comes—
and he can come at any time—
he won’t ask us what we know;
how much money we have;
how smart or talented we are.

He’ll say: I gave you faith;
maybe it was only a single spark.
What did you do with it?

That’s the only test
we ever have to pass with the Lord.


Pontificator said...

Thank you for posting your homily, Father. I have been asked to share my reflections this evening on the Scriptures, and I am grateful to read another man's prior effort.

Two thoughts:

First, is the Good News that God presents us with a test that is so easy anyone can pass? That sounds more like cheap grace than free grace.

Second, the inclusion of the Old Testament lesson into your homily distracted me from your principal thesis.

Thanks for sharing your homily with us.

Father Martin Fox said...


Thanks for visiting and your good comments!

I think you make fair points.

Perhaps I am "Pelagi-phobic" -- I try very hard to stress God's action, and our response.

I suppose, in years to come, if I start hearing from people, "Ok, father, we get it!" then I'll feel freer to stress law a little more!

I wasn't entirely happy with this homily, to be honest (and I have another shot at 11:30 this morning!) -- I felt the readings pulling me in three different directions. And it was a week in which I wondered if I'd get time to prepare it.

Not excusing, nor complaining; but since I choose to post my homilies, I might as well reveal some of the behind-the-scenes realities as well.

I.e., to others reading -- if you think your pastor's homily is kinda "off" this week, it might have been a tough week for him. You never know.

Anonymous said...

Father, I came upon your blog though a web of web sites. It's like a 6 degrees of separation type thing. I'm somewhat new to the church after having been a non-demominational Protestant for 12 years, but was raised and have been confirmed Catholic. I noticed you were Pentecostal and returned to the church, which I find intriguing. I'm anxious to keep up with your blog.
Take care.

jenny said...

I really appreciate you posting your homilies. I get more out of reading and reflection than by listening. I always thought that it was very interesting that talent has this double meaning. I always took this gospel to be pressing us to think about what we are doing with the gifts God gave us, our own talents. Do we keep our gifts hidden inside or do we share them with the world. In sharing, we gain practice and our talents grow. In the fullness of time, we will all have to give an account of how we used our gifts. I always find it very challenging to think that one servant gave the master 4 talents and was called "good and faithful;" however, from the one who was given more, more was expected in return. As thanksgiving approaches, it's good to remember how much we've been blessed, but also weigh whether we are using those blessings in the service of God.

Nate said...

Again, thanks for sharing the homily, even if you're not terribly proud of it.

Pontificator said...

Fr Fox, I know well the difficulties of preaching Sunday after Sunday with all the overwhelming demands of ministry. You need not apologize for this homily. Quite the contrary.

I believe it was Richard Neibuhr who said that it is very difficult to be profound every Sunday at precisely 10:35. :-)

I wasn't, btw, suggesting that you should have preached more law and less gospel. Mine was a finer point, but to explain further I'd have to preach the text myself, and I doubt I could do as well as you did. :-)

God bless.

Father Martin Fox said...


You're very kind, and I really do enjoy this conversation.

It has happened enough times, that I've had a homily I thought was not so good, that others thought was wonderful, that I just go with it.

The second time I preached this, I left in the section on the worthy wife, because it gave me an opportunity -- whether smooth or not -- to transition to the Church and the Eucharist.

I lacked time to check, but I'd enjoy finding out whether any allegorical interpretation of that passage ever saw the worthy wife as a type of the Church.

Father Martin Fox said...

Mrs. Darwin:

Several places I consulted for commentary on this passage said that our use of the word "talent" arises because of this passage.

The Greek word here is (from memory, forgive me) "talenton" -- i.e., the original meaning was as a unit of money (which the text makes clear); the talenta ($) were distributed "based on ability"; but the approval of the Master was the same for the one with $5,000, and the one with $2,000 -- and potentially would have been true for the $1,000 (the dollar figures are anachronistic--just for clarity).

The homilies I recall on this passage always seem to end up stressing the "use your talents" idea -- i.e., sing, or write, or do whatever, for the Lord. Of course this is a good exhortation, but -- as you can see -- I wanted to make a different one.

melanie said...

I just recently discovered your blog and have dropped by a few times. I have really appreciated several of the homilies you've posted on your blog. Wish I could drop by your parish some Sunday. Thanks for sharing your homily. I think that's one of the great blessings of the internet: even if I get a less than inspiring homily (or even nod off a bit) I can still find good reflections on God's word to nourish me through the week.