33rd Wednesday in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Cecilia
2 Mac 7:1, 20-31; Lk 19:11-28
The parables of Jesus are often in veiled language. You have to puzzle over them. Some of them might even be compared to Buddhist koans. I think Jesus wanted us to ruminate them and consider them from different angles.
Three days ago, on Sunday, Fr. Gerard gave a very beautiful homily on the parable of the talents. He was preaching on Matthew’s version of that parable. Our gospel today presents us with Luke’s version. In Fr. Gerard’s interpretation, the servant who did nothing was the bad guy, and the master was the good guy. I would like to turn it around and explore this parable from the opposite angle.
I’m encouraged in this approach because both the Memorial we celebrate today, St. Cecilia, and the first reading were randomly paired with today’s gospel. And in both those stories it is the little guy who is the hero, and the one in charge who is the villain. I say randomly paired because today’s gospel is designated for Wednesday of the 33rd week of Ordinary Time, and the Memorial of St. Cecilia doesn’t always fall on the 33rd Wednesday of the year. Also, the first reading wasn’t chosen to match the gospel, as we see on Sundays. For our weekday gospel readings we have been doing continuous reading in the Gospel of Luke, and for our first readings we have been doing semi-continuous reading in the Books of Maccabees.
In our first reading, evil King Antiochus tries to coerce the youngest of the seven Jewish sons to eat pork and abandon his ancestral customs. He uses alternately the threat of torture and death, and the promise of riches and position. The youngest son, along with his brothers and mother, sticks to his principles and does not let himself be bullied by forces that are superior to him in strength.
In the popular legend of St. Cecilia, which is late and probably not reliable, Cecilia is pitted against the evil Roman authorities in the 3rd century. She refuses to deny her Christian faith, and is therefore martyred.
In our parable today, the man who became king does not sound like a very admirable person. He himself admits to being a demanding man, taking up what he did not lay down and harvesting what he did not plant. Perhaps it is not without reason that his fellow citizens despise him and send a delegation after him to announce, “We do not want this man to be our king.” And the ending of the parable is rather jarring: “Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.” If the master is sometimes seen to represent God the Father, it doesn’t exactly contribute to the image of a merciful God.
Let’s say the servant who wrapped the coin in a handkerchief was actually very upright and conscientious. He knew that his master was not a good man, and he didn’t want to do anything to further his master’s evil deeds and enable him. The money he earned for him might have been used to kill or oppress innocent people or fund an unjust war. Finding himself in an awkward situation, he didn’t do anything illegal, like absconding with the funds. He merely kept the money safe and returned the full amount. The new king loses his temper with him because he did not play his game. Like Cecilia and the youngest brother of seven, the servant did not allowed himself to be coerced and manipulated and bullied. His status as a servant was not much better than that of a slave. He was not free to just switch to another master. He had to just make the best of the situation.
How can this interpretation of the parable apply to us? Perhaps the manager of the department we work in is not all that easy to deal with. Perhaps we’re a teacher in a school system that is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. Maybe it is our religious superior or our parish priest or bishop who we feel is not being faithful to official Church teaching or is incompetent in other ways. If, like the three examples used this morning, we’re the little guy without power, the important thing is to be faithful to our convictions and true to our conscience. Most of the time we don’t have the luxury of just moving to a more pleasant setting. We just have to hunker down and do the best we can, believing that God is omnipotent enough to extract good out of any situation.