Sorry about the late post! I was away earlier this week, and just now got the chance to post. Enjoy!
Close your eyes for a second (try not to fall asleep, please), and call to mind your image of God. Is he the white bearded Italian man surrounded by clouds? Is he the cop who is waiting and ready to catch you in the act? Is he the uniformed referee marking you down on the huge metaphysical scoreboard? Is he the boss you have to impress? Or the fun-loving grandpa who just leaves the consequences for the parents? The buddy-pal who just laughs at everything, even if it’s not funny? What is our image of God? It’s pretty important, and it has a lot to do with the way we approach our own lives.
The servant in the parable that Jesus gives us today was cast out because he failed to fulfill his mission. But why did he do this? First and foremost, it was because he had the wrong idea of his master. He feared him as though he was a slave. He resented him for entrusting him with only one talent – didn’t he deserve more? And this self-centered view of his master left him seeing his mission as unreasonably difficult and demanding, and so it kept him from doing what he needed to do.
Sometimes in our own lives, our view of God can provide us with an easy excuse for laziness and self-pity. We think of God as too harsh to give us all these rules. We can think that the things he asks of us are unreasonable. Or sometimes, the opposite can happen – we think that God doesn’t care what we do, and that he doesn’t demand anything of us.
Well, our Lord isn’t a harsh and unjust taskmaster, but a good, loving, and forgiving God. If you’re looking for proof, look no further than the Cross, the clearest and most unambiguous sign of his love for us. But he also expects something from us, and he shows us this in the Gospel today. God entrusts each of us with gifts and talents, and we are to take our God given gifts and put them to good use. This doesn’t mean that we show our extraordinary talent to shoot a bow with our feet on international TV (although this is pretty extraordinary, check it out on youtube). It means that we use our gifts and talents for good under the guidance of the Church and Christ’s teachings. One of the most important points of the Gospel parable is this: our ultimate destiny – how we will spend our eternity – depends on the way we do things here and now; it depends on making a decent effort to fulfill God’s mission to us on earth.
Sometimes when a homilist or speaker talks about heaven and hell, it seems a little shocking. We might think, “Only hardcore Bible Belt Christians talk about that!” or “I thought we left that back in the dust when Vatican II came along!” But this is a solid and consistent teaching of the Church even since the days that the apostles shared with Christ, and it’s a theme that we hear a lot about in these last few weeks of Ordinary Time. The readings at the end of Ordinary Time are very apocalyptic or eschatological – meaning that we’re talking about the end times. These include readings from the Book of Revelation and talk of heaven and hell. But all these things stem not from a God who is waiting for us to mess up, nor do they stem from a God who doesn’t care what we do as long as we make someone else smile. These teachings, this faith, flows directly from the fact that God wants us to be prepared, and that he wants us to live well with him in the Church in our lives on earth, and to live forever with him in heaven.
Sometimes we forget this. And sometimes we need reminders. Now I have to admit something to you this morning: I may have an addiction to sticky notes. If you ever stop by my office, which hardly anyone here ever does, by the way, you’ll find sticky notes everywhere on my desk! Little reminders to call someone, or to preach on something, or to send an e-mail to whoever. The problem is that some sticky notes cover up other sticky notes, which then cover up other sticky notes, and so ultimately, things get so cluttered that I lose the point of the messages. So if I’ve ever forgotten to call you back, I blame it on my sticky note addiction. Sometimes the same is true with us. God gives us “sticky notes” every day to remind us that he is not an angry taskmaster, but a loving God. But the problem is that many times, we fail to pay attention, or our lives become so cluttered with other messages that we lose track of God’s messages to us. Creation – like the beautiful trees of autumn – is here for us! Relationships with our friends, family, and parishioners are here for us! The beauty of our church, the beauty and the rich history of our faith is here for us! The small blessings of every day, the warmth of the sunshine, the taste of that delicious turkey sandwich that you feasted on at the Craft Bazaar – all those are little sticky notes as reminders that God loves us. The little red candle in church, a candle that never goes out, that never grows dim, that never disappears, that points to the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist – that is another one of those stickies. That desire of God to remain with us day in and day out, every day of the year should show us who He is. He’s not there to frighten us with his power, or to intimidate us with his knowledge, or to dazzle us with his glory. He simply wants to remain with us, and for us to remain with him. Maybe we should think about how much time we spend in prayer, especially in a little visit before Christ in the tabernacle. So the question each of us should ask ourselves today is, “What image of God do I believe in?” “How is Christ asking me to use my gifts and talents today?” May we take the time to simply remain with God so that we will slowly be healed our suspicions and misconceptions of God, and gradually transform into better followers of Christ.