Is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?

by May Tam
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

Matthew 25:14-30

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.