Is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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.

1 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.'"

In this world, as often as it appears, the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. At first glance, it seems that such a non-egalitarian principle also prevails in this Sunday’s Gospel reading — the parable of the talents. The parable starts off with the master going away and putting his possessions in the hands of his servants. When the moment of reckoning comes, the master calls his servants for an account. The first two servants who have been given more, are joyfully initiated into the sharing of their master’s prosperity (the first servant is even given additional talents later rf Mt 25:28); but the third servant who has been given the least, is “thrown into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 25:30).

The apparent reason for such a harsh treatment to the third servant is because he has done poorly when compared to the other two servants. And though the master has not lost the one talent given to the servant, it is his total failure to make use of what he has been given — his “laziness” that smothers the due growth of his master’s equity. The servant’s behavior reveals the underlying relationship of him with his master. His fear of losing the talent belies his fear of his master. He sees his master as a greedy and usurious miser (rf Mt 25:24-25). Driven by fear of loss, he has no incentive to serve in his master’s interest or to impress him like the other two servants.

We all have our own image of God, but if that image is distorted, our false perception will paralyze our relationship with Him. True that the fear of God is necessary for it is the beginning of wisdom (cf Prv 9:10); but when we progress spiritually, this servile fear should give way to filial fear which does not focus on punishment anymore but on reverence and love. If we allow this inhibiting fear to govern us, we risk developing anxiety and bitterness like that of the third servant, eventually dwindling our relationship with God as the servant does with his master.

As we can see, the master is in fact a munificent man. He gives his servants a huge lump sum (a talent represents a laborer’s wages for fifteen years) and goes away without any instructions. Whether the amount handed over is five or two or one talent, the master is super generous. Not only is he generous in giving “money”, he is also generous in giving “freedom” to his servants. One word of instruction at his departure would have sufficed but he leaves things in the hands of his servants because he trusts them. His fury is justifiable for the lazy servant has betrayed his trust. Not only does this servant fail to actively increase what he is entrusted, he does not even put the talent into the bank for its due growth which requires no effort from him at all. Yet despite his failure, he still presents his indolent inaction as an act of faithful service to his master – “Here you have what is yours”, no more, no less! (Mt 25:25)

Freedom is a precious gift but only if we use it properly. Like the lazy servant, we, too, can sometimes beguile our inaction as being prudent or discerning. In the dispensation of divine giving, God’s favor will grow more and more to those who work for it. Like the first two servants who “have been trustworthy in a few things, [are] put in charge of many things” (Mt 25:21, 23). The rewards given to them are the same regardless of the amount earned. They both are praised as good and faithful servants. Before God our master, what is important is not quantitative results but our faithfulness in using the varied talents given to us. The stripping of the third servant’s talent is not an act of injustice. It is simply a consequence of the rule in the realm of God’s grace. “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt 25: 29). Like the landlord who doles out equal wages to all the workers in the vineyard, God’s desire is to lavish upon us His riches as much as we can handle and enjoy (rf Mt 20:1-16). In God’s kingdom of eternal joy, there is no shortage of resources nor discrimination of treatment.

Is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Yes, in our world because of social injustice and economic exploitation but in God’s world, it is because of His generosity and liberality.

Posted: November 15, 2020

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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