God wants a return on his investment. He has invested a lot in us, and He wants to see us do something with it. We encounter today three men who received three different quantities of money, each according to his ability. God knows each of us perfectly, better than we know ourselves. He knows what we are capable of and entrusts us with a mission in accord with the gifts that He has given us. He is reasonable, but He absolutely does not have low expectations. We are all – if we consider the graces the Lord continually gives us in the Sacraments – the man given five talents. Our Lord has entrusted us with much, because He has transformed our very souls by our Baptism to be capable of making a great return on His investment.
There are countless ways that we could consider how our Lord wants us to make a return on His investment, and I want to focus in particular today on how you can live that out in the sacrament of marriage and in the family. Our holy mother the Church draws our attention to these realities in the Old Testament reading today from the Book of Proverbs. For that reason, I want to talk about two ways the Lord expects a return on His investment in marriage and in the family: marital fidelity and family discipleship.
The Book of Proverbs tells us: “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.” Husbands: your wife’s value is far beyond pearls. It is beyond the value of a new car, or a round of golf, or that cute ex-girlfriend from high school who just “friended” you on Facebook. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.” (By the way, there is only one appropriate response when that friend request arrives: the button labeled “decline.” Just say no to occasions and of sin and temptations.) Other women may appear attractive at times, but none are to be praised like a woman who fears the Lord.
Wives: your husband’s value too is far beyond pearls. He is more important than a new ring, than gossip with your friends, or than that cute ex-boyfriend who just “friended” you on Facebook. Other men may appear more attractive at times, but the one to whom you committed your life on your wedding day is your path to holiness, your companion on the way to Heaven. Other men or women might provide a temporary thrill, but they will not help you to fulfill your most important life goal: happiness with God forever in Heaven.
Many people have incorrect assumptions about the causes of marital infidelity. Infidelity, we might think, happens to “bad marriages,” or to “troubled marriages,” when there is lots of screaming and fighting. That is not necessarily true. Infidelity can also happen to marriages that are happy and content, but in which one of the spouses finds something missing. If there is something in your marriage that makes you unhappy, or even just unsatisfied, or if you feel like something is missing, you need to talk to your spouse and work on those difficulties.
Marriage is tough work. Nothing, after all, that is worthwhile is easy. Fidelity in marriage is not just a matter of saying “no” (to other people, to temptations online, etc.), it also about saying “yes” every day to your husband or wife, about constantly sacrificing yourself for the good of the other. It’s not just about saying “no” to obvious instances of infidelity, but in saying “yes” every day to small acts of fidelity. People sometimes wonder, “How did I get to the point where I’m doing things that I promised I would never do, and never had any intention of doing?” Usually, by not saying “yes” every day to those small sacrifices, those small acts of fidelity.
But constantly being willing to sacrifice does not have to preclude open and honest discussion about the dissatisfactions or disappointments that you might experience from time to time. The hard work of fidelity means working every day to strengthen the relationship God has given you.
These conversations about what is lacking in a marriage are difficult to have. They might seem to cause more problems than they solve, but people who are experts in these matters, both inside and outside the Church, all seem to agree that more conversations about the difficulties in marriage are the central key to a marriage that lasts, a marriage in which the spouses lead each other to Heaven. When it is difficult to live the married vocation, remember that marriage is not just a state in life – it is a sacrament! That means that the Lord is giving you all the grace necessary to meet these challenges by means of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony that you have received. You need to recall constantly that gift that he has given you – your marriage bond, cemented by Christ in his holy Church – through which He provides a constant stream of grace to your soul to aid you in fulfilling your marriage promises.
Secondly, the Lord expects a return on His investment in the way that you make Christian disciples of your children. This too is difficult. It is not enough merely to bring your children to Mass and enroll them in Catholic school and / or religious education in order to make them disciples of Jesus. Each of us have met countless people who “grew up Catholic” who were never really made disciples of Jesus. It is not enough merely to rear your children – you must evangelize them.
I could preach many homilies on this theme alone, and I promise you that I will. But for now, here are three essential steps to making a return on God’s investment in your children: One, you yourself must be a disciple of Christ. Your children are highly unlikely – in the long run – to exceed your level of fervor for the faith. You must set the bar high with your own devotion. Two, you must hold them to a high standard as well. That means holding them to high standards of behavior and high standards of religious practice. You must guide them into virtue – the firm habits that make it easy for them to do the good. Third, you must teach them that God’s will is more important than their own, or even yours.
These things are difficult; they require a lot of work. Did you notice, though, what was the essential problem with the third servant, the one who had even his one measly coin taken away and given to the one with ten? He was lazy. “You wicked, lazy servant!” He knew that he had a master with high expectations, and yet he acted out of fear.
Do you know why he acted out of fear? Because he only had one talent. A “talent” is actually a measure of weight, and would refer to a certain weight or silver. It is hard to know exactly how much money it would be worth, but one text from about 300 years before the time of Christ values a talent at 6,000 days’ wages for an entry-level Greek soldier. Regardless, one talent was a lot of money. But the man with one talent cannot see that, because he is too busy looking at the man with five times as much. That is the problem with constantly comparing ourselves to others.
He was afraid that he would lose that one talent and then have nothing to present to his demanding master upon his return. The man who had five coins, though, invested them and made a great profit. Having all those coins (which, again, were worth a lot of money), gave him the freedom necessary to act, not with fear, but with daring and boldness. It’s like the stock market: investing in the stock particularly benefits those who have money to spare, because they can afford to take risks, and thus they have the potential to make a big return.
Our Lord envisions something similar in the spiritual realm when he tells us, “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.” The problem, though, is that you are likely frequently tempted to believe that you are the man with only one talent, and not with five, and thus are often not willing to take the risks necessary to make a great return for the Lord. You assume you only have one talent when you are not willing to risk stability in your marriage by discussing the ways that you are dissatisfied. You assume you only have one talent when you think that you do not have the time necessary to dedicate time to prayer as a family. You assume that you only have one talent when you selfishly close yourself off to God’s gift of new life in the form of children.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not the man with only one talent! Do not give in to the fear caused by comparing yourself to others. You have been given such rich and abundant gifts from the Lord. He invites you today to commit to the generosity of spirit that is necessary to take the risks without which it is not possible to make that great return on the Lord’s investment in you. Through your Baptism, through the Eucharist, and through the graces of the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony, He is investing so much in you. Commit today to making an investment in your marriage and in your family, so that the Lord might say to you upon His return, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
XXXIII Sunday through the Year