This is the second last Sunday of this liturgical year. This weekend, the readings call on us to give some thought to our use of the spiritual goods with which God has blessed us. The first reading asks me, “How have I made God’s Wisdom a practical and integral part of the way I live my life?” The second reading brings to mind the ancient Christian question, “Am I ready for the sudden return of Jesus?” In the Gospel Jesus warns us to consider how we use the spiritual goods that God has given us. They are to be worked with to further the interests of the Master, not statically hidden or buried in the ground of my private life.
First Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31 (In Canada 31:10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31)
10 When one finds a worthy wife,
her value is far beyond pearls.
11 Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.
12 She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
13 She obtains wool and flax
and makes cloth with skillful hands.
[14 Like merchant ships,
she secures her provisions from afar.
15 She rises while it is still night,
and distributes food to her household.
16 She picks out a field to purchase;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She is girt about with strength,
and sturdy are her arms.
18 She enjoys the success of her dealings;
at night her lamp is undimmed.]
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
20 She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.
[21 She fears not the snow for her household;
all her charges are doubly clothed.
22 She makes her own coverlets;
fine linen and purple are her clothing.
23 Her husband is prominent at the city gates
as he sits with the elders of the land.
24 She makes garments and sells them,
and stocks the merchants with belts.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs at the days to come.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
and on her tongue is kindly counsel.
27 She watches the conduct of her household,
and eats not her food in idleness.
28 Her children rise up and praise her;
her husband, too, extols her:
29 “Many are the women of proven worth,
but you have excelled them all.”]
30 Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her a reward of her labors,
and let her works praise her at the city gates.
NOTES on First Reading:
The context of this reading is important in order to appreciate what this particular image of Wisdom has to tell us about being wise today. The Book of Proverbs begins with a depiction of God’s Wisdom personified as a woman. Wisdom is, of course, an attribute of God and therefore has no gender. However, the Jewish wisdom tradition often personified Wisdom as feminine. Now at the very end of the book, this portrait of a woman who has embraced wisdom in all the details of her life stands as a summary of the book. It may be, as some scholars suggest, a portrait of Wisdom herself being settled in her home and serving those who have accepted her invitation.
The reading is taken from an acrostic poem. This is a poem in which each of the 22 verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (There are only 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and they are used in alphabetic order). The entire poem is included here. Brackets  indicate those portions that are left out of the reading in the Lectionary for the United States.
The poem, of course, reflects its own time and culture in the tasks and lifestyle that are described in the text. The woman’s relationship with her husband and way of life are generally much different from that of women today but that should not keep us from appreciating the value of wisdom described as being lived out in this life. It is the same wisdom that is to be lived out in every culture and time.
* 31:10 This may be a rhetorical question to emphasize the incomparable value of this woman. Wisdom is often compared to jewels (3:15; 8:11, 19; 16:16; 20:15).
* 31:11-12 The woman’s value to her husband is reminiscent of Wisdom’s value to her followers (3:13-18; 4:6, 8-9).
* 31:12 Good, and not evil actually means prosperity, not adversity.
* 31:13-27 The poem focuses on the woman’s extraordinary and tireless activity.
* 31:14 The word that is translated as “merchant” literally means “Canaanite” (See Prov 31:24.) probably because the merchant class had been composed chiefly of Canaanites.
* 31:18 Abundance of productive work and its accompanying prosperity is indicated by “her lamp is undimmed.” (See Prov 20:20; Job 18:6.)
* 31: 21-23 This is an allusion to wealth and nobility.
* 31:25 “Laughs at the days to come” indicates anticipating the future with gladness free from anxiety.
* 31:30 Fear of the Lord indicates the woman’s religious spirit which is the true charm of the ideal wife. Fear of the LORD as a reverential fear and respect for God on account of His sovereignty, goodness and justice is the foundation of religion. The book ends with the same theme with which it began, the fear of the Lord.
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
1 Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. 3 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. 4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. 5 For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. 6 Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 5:1-11 Although only a part of it is included in the reading, this pericope (section) is easily divided into three parts: Announcement of the topic (vv 1-3) Parenesis ( vv 4-10) Final exhortation (v 11). In many ways this pericope is a doublet of 4:13-18 although it approaches the issue from a different perspective. It is probably best seen as an instructive complement to 4:13-18 by Paul rather than as a corrective added to the letter by a later editor as some scholars think. In the first section Paul deals with the fate of the dead, here he speaks of the meaning of the eschaton (end time) for those who are alive.
* 5:2 The Day of the Lord is a Biblical image taken from the prophetic tradition (Amos 5:18; Joel 2:1; Zeph 1:7) and also used in the New Testament (Acts 2:20; 1 Cor 5:5). Later Paul identifies it as the Day of the Lord Jesus (Phil1:6, 10).
The image of the thief in the night is a traditional (Mat 24:43-44; Luke 12:39-40) expression of the suddenness of the event.
* 5:3 Peace and security has a proverbial ring (Jer 6:14; Ezek 13:10, 16) and may be a traditional apocalyptic motif taken over by Paul.
Comparison to the pregnant woman is in contrast to the complacency implied by the saying and adds to the theme of suddenness and inevitability of the Day of the Lord.
* 5:4-5 Paul’s use of light and darkness as spiritual symbols is common in biblical and other religious imagery (Job 22:11). Children of light is a Semitism used to set the Christian condition off from others. This exclusionary language was common in Jewish texts of the time as well as early Christian literature.
* 5:5 Children of the light refers to Christians belonging to the light of God’s personal revelation. The same imagery is developed in John 12:36.
* 5:6-8 These verses use traditional metaphors and images: sleepers, drunkards.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:14-30
14 “It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately 16 the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. 17 Likewise, the one who received two made another two. 18 But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 (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.’ 23 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.’ 24 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; 25 so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ 26 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? 27 Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 28 Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 29 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. 30 And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
NOTES on Gospel:
* 25:14-30 A parallel to this story is found in Luke 19:12-27. There is only a vestige of the story in Mark 13:34 and John does not have it at all. The Lucan version has had some elements added to it that complicate the more primitive and more original version found here.
Literally the story begins, “For just as a man who was going on a journey…” The comparison is never grammatically completed but the sense clearly is : The kingdom of heaven is like the situation Jesus describes. Faithfully using one’s gifts in the master’s interests will lead to participation in the fullness of the kingdom, lazy inactivity will bring exclusion from it. The phrase, “hand over” is a technical Jewish term for tradition. It is used in verses 14, 20 and 22 to indicate that a valuable item is passed from the master to the servant. Use of this term has led some to suggest that the story is an indictment of the Sadducean attitude of refusal to develop the religious tradition. It may be both a comment on what happened to Israel and a warning to Matthew’s church not to fall into the same trap.
* 25:15 The talent was a unit of coinage with a high but varying value depending upon the metal (gold, silver, copper) of which it was made and its place of origin. It is mentioned in the New Testament only here and in Matthew 18:24.
* 25:18 In the rather unstable conditions of most of the ancient world, including Palestine in Jesus’ time, it was not unusual to guard valuables by burying them in the ground.
* 25:20-23 Although the first two servants have received and doubled large sums, their faithful trading is regarded by the master as fidelity in small matters only, compared with the great responsibilities now to be given to them.
Share your master’s joy is probably a reference to the joy of the banquet of the kingdom. See Matthew 8:11.
* 25:26-28 This man’s inactivity is not viewed as negligible by the master but as seriously culpable. As punishment, he loses the gift he had received. It is given to the first servant, whose possessions are already great.
* 25:29 In the New Testament, the use of this axiom of practical “wisdom” is common (see Matthew 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18; 19:26). The reference transcends the original level. God gives further understanding to one who accepts the revealed mystery; from the one who does not, He will take away what he has. The text uses the “theological passive.” God is the active agent in giving and taking.
This saying may also have been meant to be, to some extent, a condemnation of the religious establishment of Israel for refusing to accept the new and greater revelation of God in Jesus in spite of the revelation that God had given them in the Old Testament.
* 25:30 The phrase, “wailing and grinding of teeth” first occurs in this gospel in Mat 8:11-12. It is used frequently to describe final condemnation (Matthew 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Other than in Matthew it is found in the New Testament only in Luke 13:28.</p