33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reflection: Giving thanks for trust in God


In the early 1600s, an Inca nobleman named Guamán Poma wrote a long letter to King Philip III of Spain, informing him about how Spanish conquistadors had fulfilled their charge to bring Christianity to the people of his territory, including what is now known as Peru.

With the text of the letter and hundreds of illustrations, he explained that while the Spaniards did bring Christianity to the New World, their behavior generally belied the faith they preached. They rapaciously dispossessed a great civilization, showing that they were largely unconvinced of the message of love of neighbor at the core of the Gospel they supposedly believed in.

Recognizing that the popes had given Spain permission to colonize for the purpose of evangelization, Guamán Poma informed the king that the Spaniards’ proselytizing task had been carried out; there were then enough Christians in the empire to continue to build the church. Thus, the time had come for the Spaniards to return home to Europe.

As everyone knows, that didn’t happen. In reality, few of the conquistadors or colonizers of South and North America showed any significant evidence of being genuine Christians, much less of approaching the people of the New World as brothers and sisters in the faith.

One of Guamán Poma’s most barbed cartoons shows a conquistador kneeling before a seated Inca, admitting that gold was his sustenance, the true object of his worship. 

Remembering this story as we approach Thanksgiving suggests an interesting approach to Jesus’ parable of a man who entrusted his possessions to his servants so that they would carry on his business.

Matthew goes all out in his rendition of this story. (Luke 19:12-27 offers a more spartan version.) Each talent Matthew mentions equaled about 20 years’ wages — no mean sum! We shouldn’t feel too sorry for the servant who only got one. The owner was not only wealthy, but extravagant in his trust!

While the numbers are astounding, Jesus’ emphasis is on the way each servant understood his relationship to the owner. 

For two of them, the master’s trust impelled them to imitate his risky behavior, giving them the courage to “trade” or work with the owner’s fortune, assuming risk of loss for the hope of gain. They gave the owner the highest compliment possible by imitating him. 

The third placed his faith in the value of what he had at hand; fearing the consequences of a loss, he played it safe, effectively repudiating the owner’s lavish approach to life.

Today’s Psalm centers on the idea of fear of the Lord. Some hear that phrase as a grim reminder of the final judgment: Fear the Lord who has been watching for your missteps and will bring you to justice! Others understand fear of the Lord as the awe they feel when glimpsing the mysterium tremendum, the overwhelming grace and bounty of the loving Creator of the universe manifest in all creatures, great and small. 

The grim will respond with prudent timidity — striving to avoid any mistake. Others will be moved to imitate the unrestrained generosity of the God who has put so much in their hands. They trust that the owner understands the risks and will stay with them through it all.

Obviously, by now, we are speaking not of the parable, but its subject: God. 

People who risk imitating divine openhandedness collaborate with their creator. In the symbolism of the Hebrew Scriptures, they are the people of God who respond like the worthy wife, laboring and continuing the creative work of the God who espoused her. Like their spouse, their works will inspire admiration and imitation — another way of saying that their way of life evangelizes.

We celebrate our Thanksgiving feast as a time of thanks for life and the remembrance of how Native Americans’ generosity saved the lives of North American colonists who had invaded their land. The feast invites us to contemplate the prodigal trust God shows by allowing us to participate in the ongoing work of creation. We are invited to reverence every bit of creation as a manifestation of God. 

To the extent that we do that, our behavior and love will mirror the worthy wife rather than the conquistador.

Genuine thanksgiving will motivate us to accept the trust put in us and imitate God’s limitless liberality. As we do so, we may just find the courage to risk investing everything we have been given and all that we are into living and sharing the Gospel.

First Reading

(Proverbs 31: 10-13,19-20, 30-31)

When one finds a worthy wife,
her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax
and works with loving hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a reward for her labors,
and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Responsorial Psalm

(Ps 128: 1-2, 3,4-5)

Second Reading

(I Thessalonians 5: 1-6)

Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters,
you have no need for anything to be written to you. 
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come
like a thief at night.
When people are saying, “Peace and security,”
then sudden disaster comes upon them,
like labor pains upon a pregnant woman,
and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness,
for that day to overtake you like a thief. 
For all of you are children of the light
and children of the day.
We are not of the night or of darkness. 
Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do,
but let us stay alert and sober.


(Matthew 25: 14-30)

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability. 
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two. 
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master’s money.
After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five. 
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. 
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. 
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities. 
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
‘Master, you gave me two talents. 
See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. 
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. 
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter? 
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 
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.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'”