Fear Factor – John Foley, SJ

Matthew 25:14-30, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


The Gospel story is pretty simple. A wealthy man gives his fortune to each of his three servants to care for while he is gone on a trip. He doesn’t give them instructions, at least that we are told of. When he returns, the owner sees that two of the three servants invested his money and got back twice the amount. He is delighted.

So far, the moral of the story would be: “Make the most of what you have.”

But we miss the most interesting part of all if we look just at the successful servants (as does the shortened version of the Gospel in the lectionary!!!). We miss the fascinating and puzzling story of the third servant. This poor soul did not invest the money at all. He buried it in the ground. Quite simply, he was afraid of investing and losing it.

He was right to be afraid, given the owner’s attitude, which, as we see, would have the man thrown into “the darkness outside” where there would be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” Quite an overreaction, it seems. This poor guy just wanted to keep the owner’s money safe!

Maybe the proprietor was simply a “demanding person,” as the parable says. Dark spirited.

But there is more to it. The monetary unit “talent” in Jesus’ time was not a small amount. Even one talent could be worth more than a laborer would earn in a lifetime. And the owner entrusted a lot more than just money to the servants. He left them all his possessions, everything he had. He took a great risk and he wanted them to do the same, not leave the investment rotting away underground somewhere.

Now assume that the parable is about God. Maybe God entrusts an even greater amount to us. Life, talents, the gift of love, of the living breathing human persons around us—and every so often, real and open acts of unselfish love. God gives all this free of charge, gives to us our own lives with all their rewards and disappointments and catastrophes and he says to us, dive in! Have your life! Make whatever you will of it! You are beloved to me!

This is truly wonderful! But then an awful question arises. Does God curse those who are afraid and who bury what they are given? Jesus at least seems to say yes:

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.

Ouch. That hurts.

How are we to interpret these words? Well, in the realm of spirituality there is only one thing that completely goes away if you only have a small bit of it, but which gets greater if you have it and use it.


If we love those around us, that love peaks and grows. But if fear slams the door against love, guess what. The non-lover will be in the darkness outside, wailing and gnashing his teeth.

We are all frightened. It is not so unusual. God waits for ages to see if we will accept just a tiny bit of the forgiving love he offers. And to see if we will even find just enough courage to invest some of that love in other people. It is a big risk he takes, and I’m sure he says, “oh no, not again” when we fail.

But this is not a harsh reaction. It is just a disappointment of someone who loves us very well.

You see, love casts out fear.

So, let love in.

 *from the St Louis University Sunday website
**image from James Van Graab

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