This particular event keeps coming back to my mind every time I come across the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants. I was a young seminarian on apostolic work in a certain rural parish. I was carrying out the godly assignment alongside another seminarian who happens to be my senior in all ramifications including age and height. We had a parish priest who can be described as a book of mathematical formulars and one needs to take time to learn and understand his formulars. For instance he is such a person that often meant another thing when he said something; often times, taking him by the letters of his words could be misleading.
One fateful day after the morning mass, the priest called us into his apartment and announced to us that he would be embarking on a journey to a destination he did not disclose though he mentioned that he will be away for a week and that another priest would come to celebrate mass on the coming Sunday. He ended by dishing out instructions to us on what we should be doing before he comes back. I remember that he asked me to paint some section of the wall of the rectory among other things. He ended by giving us some pocket money and we were indeed very happy not because of the money but because he was leaving.
Soon after, the priest was on his way dressed in one of his best religious garbs and we bade him farewell. Minutes after his exit, my colleague came with a seemingly wonderful idea. He suggested that we also leave to our homes or wherever we can stay for a break and come back two days before the priest would return. Choi! That was good but I thought about the man in question and his rigorous mathematical formular and I quickly dismissed the idea. My colleague was not bothered about my “dullness” as he quickly got things together and left with his travelling bag. I was left alone with the house boy Martin.
In the meantime, I began the paining assignment and hoping to get it done before evening. Time passed and soon it was evening. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a car outside and I went to ascertain who came calling and behold it was the parish priest. But that was not the only person in the car. There in the car also was my colleague now looking like a cornered rat. From what I gathered later, the parish priest could not travel for undisclosed reasons and while he was on his way coming back, he ran into my colleague as he was about to board a connecting taxi to his home. Evidently that event was one of the things that made my colleague to lose his seat and bed in the seminary as he was dropped at the end of the pastoral assignment.
When it comes to waiting, there are two types of people in the world those who are patient and active and those who are impatient and passive. Generally there is an aversion for long waiting on the part of most people or if you like most people suffer from macrophobia. This could have been the problem of my colleague in the opening story. He may have felt that the parish priest was going off for a long time and for him it will be a long period of waiting so he decided to insert a break in between and that break really broke him.
In the Gospel Reading (Matt.25:14-30) our Lord Jesus Christ gave a parable that aptly captured this idea of waiting for a long time. A master was embarking on a journey (to an unknown destination) and calling his servants he ENTRUSTED them his properties. To one ,he gave five talent, to another two and to the third one; each according to his ABILITY. When he returned he called for accounts to be given. The first and the second made five and two more respectively while the third person returned the talent with the excuse that the master is wicked and would reap where he did not sow and that was why he left the talent under the earth without investing it. At the conclusion the first two were called GOOD and FAITHFUL SERVANTS and on account of their faithfulness they were given higher investments to look after. On the contrary, the third servant was called a WICKED and SLOTHFUL servant and what he had was taken and given to the person who had more. Furthermore he lost his place in the master’s employment and was even thrown away into oblivion.
If we look at the parable with a critical eye, we will discover that what really happened was that in the first place, the third servant felt that the master would take a long time before coming and he went off on a self-imposed break but was surprised that the master came back at a time he didn’t expect. Secondly, he was idle within the period; in fact the master called him SLOTHFUL SERVANT. His answer was a very unreasonable one. He called the master a HARD MAN may be because he gave him one talent but he forgot that it was given to him according to his ability. Often times we are jealous of the gifts and talents of others forgetting that they were given to them according to their abilities. We often neglect the talent we have and busy ourselves with envy over those of others. If he did nothing with one talent, there is no guarantee that with five talents he would do great.
The instruction of St. Paul in the Second Reading (I Thess. 5:1-6) appears like a direct reply to the third servants and to all those who partake in the meal of idleness and passive waiting. St. Paul’s admonition has a lot to do with patient and active waiting as the coming of the Lord will be like that of a THIEF IN THE NIGHT. Thieves come in the night when people are restful and inactive. That is why we have security men who are supposed to be awake and active when people are sleeping. To be actively waiting is to be under the light while passive waiting presupposes darkness.
The First Reading (Prov.31:10-13:19-20.30-31) goes further to give us a practical guide on what is expected to be the patient and active waiting; if you like the VIRTUOUS WAITING. It is instructive to know that a virtuous wife was used to exemplify this; why? Here we are presented with a “wife” that means she is under a husband. The same way the servants in the Gospel Reading were under a master. The passage began with a question “who can find a virtuous woman”. This means that such a person of integrity is scarce or if you like precious and rare. It actually takes a lot of integrity to be virtuous; it does not come easy. From the account of the two servants we can identify integrity unlike in the account of the one that was given one talent. There are other qualities in the virtuous woman which can also be seen in the faithful servants:
- Trustworthy: The husband has trust in her as the master entrusted his wealth to the servants.
- Profitable: She lacks no gain just as the two servants made gains from five to ten and from two to four.
- Benevolent: She does good and no harm just as the servants were benevolent to the master and to his properties.
- Industrious: She works with willing hands just as the servants worked hard with what they got from their master
- Charitable & Just: She opens her hand to the poor in charity just as the servants were charitable and just to the master by their accurate accounts.
- Fear of God: The fundamental drive in both the virtuous wife and the faithful servants is their attention to God. We are told that she fears God and deserves to be praised.
- Good works: She produces good and praiseworthy works just like in the case of the faithful servants whom the master praised for their excellent works.
The rest lies on each and every one of us. Waiting can be on God or on some other person or thing. Whom do you wait upon? The word of God says that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). Another thing we often overlook is that the word WAITING also means SERVING which also means working. If we go to restaurants or hotels the person who attends to us is called a WAITERS or WAITRESS. Hence waiting presupposes activity; it entails working, serving like the virtuous woman and the faithful servants.
Finally, Saint Paul instructed us to be prepared for we do not know the hour of the coming of the Lord. This is very important for each and every one of us. To be unprepared is to be in darkness. Anybody who is in darkness has one strong predicament and that is the inability to see. We need light to see. The virtue of light is therefore needful for us as we wait on the Lord. We ought to wait by the light and not in darkness. Hence there is need for us to translocate from the region of darkness into the region of light. (CoL. 1:13).
As we march into this last but one week of the calendar year, let us bear in mind that we are required to activate virtuous waiting disposition in anticipation for the coming of the Lord. For many centuries, most people have busied themselves with various dates that will mark the end of the world and the coming of the Lord. Evidently all the dates have failed and there are still more dates awaiting. This for me amounts to missing the mark. The most expedient thing to do is to go about doing good like our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 10:38) instead of being worried about the date which even the angels in heaven do not know (Matt. 24:36).
Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.