Exage – Arnel Aquino, SJ

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

Today’s parable is driven by hyperbole. We will better appreciate the richness of the story if we realize the exaggeration that runs it.

Back in Jesus’ Israel, when people talked about everyday expenses, they’d talk “drachmas,” “shekels,” “denarii”—their usual currency. But when talking about huge amounts, they’d talk “talents.” A talent wasn’t really a unit of currency but of weight; specifically, the weight of gold. So what the boss in the parable gave his servants was an enormous sum of money that couldn’t simply be expressed in everyday currency. Just to give you an idea: a talent was equivalent to around 33kg of gold. Today, a kilogram of gold is US$60,991. So, one talent today would be around US$2M. Now, we’re beginning to see the exaggeration that the parable is running on: the amount of money the boss entrusted to his servants was almost inconceivable even at that time: US$16M by today’s standards.

The guy who received 5 talents ($10M) turned in $20M. The guy who got 2 talents ($4M) turned in $8M. The third servant freaked out. Never in his life had he held more than a few drachmas. He must’ve figured, and rightly so, that if he lost even one drachma from the talent, his master could have him lynched—as many slave-owners at that time were known to punish slaves who stole from them.

In real life, though, there’s no way a master would bestow such egregious amount of money to his servants. There’s no way that slaves would have the resources to invest and double that kind of money. And if I were a lifelong slave with that much capital, there’s no way I’d stay a slave. I would take the money and run!

The usual lesson we draw from the story is: when someone has been entrusted with much—especially when he comes from nothing—he must work even harder to care for it, to grow it, and to double it. And so far, we have experienced this. From the little that we had at the beginning, we took care of it, grew it, and doubled it—whatever it was: the little money we had, the little education we had, the little dream we had.

But like we said, this parable runs on exaggeration so that the lesson comes across loud and clear. See, sisters and brothers, there are two things in the parable we often either miss or take for granted. First, that the master did not give the servants just a little capital to begin with. No, he lavished upon them an exaggerated amount of wealth which was worth more than the three of them at market price put together. Second, that when one has been entrusted with any gift, large or small, but especially with a large one—that he must work hard to care for it, to grow it, and to double it…and then, give it all back to the giver. All of it, with not one drachma to himself. After all, it was not his to begin with. Nothing, in fact, was ever his, to begin with. It was all gift.

Dear sisters and brothers, one thing that God and the master in the parable have in common is their exaggerated generosity and trust in their servants. But the comparison ends there. Because if there’s one thing God does not do with us—it is to confiscate blessings when we cheat on our accounting, or deprive us of blessings when we slacken in taking care of them, or worst, have us lynched by fate for the rest of our lives because we kept it all to ourselves. God is not that kind of a master. Here then is the real divine exaggeration: God’s extravagance of generosity and patience.

In these past seven months, and especially in these past weeks of two typhoons, we have brothers and sisters who had very little to begin with, and now have next to nothing. That kind of poverty, sisters and brothers, is not by God’s design. That kind of poverty festers in our country because people with unbelievable power and wealth—they’ve glossed over the two most important lessons Jesus teaches, not just in today’s parable but in all the Gospels; one: that nothing was ours to begin with, nothing. It is all gift. And two: now that we have so much more than we really deserve, we must give it back to God in some way, shape, or form—through people who have no way to live a better life, are in no shape to help themselves, and yet, like us, are people formed in the image and likeness of God.

Kung sinasabi po natin na ang lahat nang kabutihang tinatamasa natin sa buhay ay biyaya ng Diyos, dapat din po na manalig tayo na ang biyayang ibinabahagi po natin ay hindi nauubos.

*image from the Internet

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