In last week’s Gospel, Jesus emphasized that there is no way to predict His final coming to each individual. He reminded us that we must remain vigilant and ready to receive our God and Savior at any time. Now, in the weekend’s Gospel Jesus talks about the same concept this time using economic metaphors. As he describes it, before the master leaves on a journey, he entrusts to his servants with various “allowances.” He discerns the amount of the gift according to each servant’s ability. But, you know the story. Upon his return, he finds that the first and second servants have doubled their money, and, thus, both recipients are rewarded. The third servant, however, afraid that he would lose his allowance, only conserved what he received. He risked nothing; he did not even deposit the money in a bank to earn interest. This servant is chastised, his money taken back and instead given to the servant who brought the greatest return.
We can’t be reminded too often that our gifts, or talents, are given to us for the service of others. If we fail to use these gifts, God’s judgment on us will be severe. On the other hand, if we make use of these gifts in service to others we will be rewarded and entrusted with even more responsibilities. Sadly, some people deliberately fail at a job or chore they don’t like so they won’t get asked to do it again.
What about us and our talents? Do we let dislike of a job, or the threat of failure, or someone else’s critical eye hold us back from exercising a God-given talent? Or a more mundane question: We get an earthly allowance each month – do we bury it or use it for the good of others so it keeps moving forward, good upon good…
Benedict teaches us several lessons about “journeys.” He speaks most directly to, and about, those who go on the journey … He doesn’t pass out money to those left to tend the vineyard, but he certainly leaves them a legacy.
Beginning with the opening words of his Rule one can sense a journey motif. Benedict bids us: “Listen! The labor of obedience will bring you back (“coming back” requires a journey, doesn’t it?) You’ll come to him from whom you have drifted…” “Let us get up then (he says) at long last, (journey from the land of our dreams) for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: “It is high time for us to arise from sleep… run (speed along on your journey) while you have the light… go out (leave the familiar territory you call home) to seek workers in the multitude of the people ….” Listen to Benedict: “moving on in your journey of faith, (and life in the monastery) “You will say, Here I am Lord.” And, then he tells us how to prepare for our journey: “Clothed with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide…. Be just in all your dealings, speak the truth from the heart and do not practice deceit or listen to slander.”
Beyond the Prologue of the Rule, Benedict offers guidance for our conduct on the voyage of life. After giving us an overview of what we will need in our toolkit, Benedict hastens us on our journey when he tells us: RUN on the path of God’s commandments, never swerving.”
By the time Benedict wrote chapter 67 one can tell he’s had some experience with monks who journeyed afar from the home monastery. We know that Benedict, in his youth, has escaped “big city life.” So he wanted to protect his monks from the evils and temptations of the prevailing society. Notice he does not say … those who go on a journey. Rather, those who are sent on a journey. Those at home are to remember the absent ones in prayer … which means the gathered community may have “counted” noses” but not for the sake of taking roll but to pray for their confreres safety and protection from temptation.
I have to smile when I read what Benedict cautions next. He certainly knew human nature: “no one should presume to relate what was seen or heard outside the monastery.” Sounds to me like he’s witnessed some cases where “curiosity killed the cat.” Benedict didn’t want stories of the world to creep in and cause dissension or dissatisfaction with the home experience to rankle or upset his community. Times haven’t changed much over the passing years, we still need to on guard that we balance chartable interest in each other versus the drive to know every intimate detail about what was seen or heard by the other.
Benedict is solicitous of his monks on a journey that they not appear embarrassingly shabby. He makes provision that they be LOANED underwear (that’s right with their long tunics their everyday wear might not have included underwear).
In line with the admonition to pray always, Benedict reminds his monks on a journey to keep an eye on the sun … listen for the bells from neighboring abbeys announcing prayer times. … so, (Benedict reminds them) though at a distance too far to join the community they might “observe the prescribed hours” as best they can. Thus, probably began the custom of the Angelus … the dialogue between Angel Gabriel and Mother Mary, a modified version of Sext (or Noon Prayer) that could be memorized so as not to neglect their “measure of service.”
The Rule closes with this journey-question: “Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then keep this little rule … as you set out for loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we’ve mentioned.” Then Benedict echoes his message first heard in the Prologue with this promise: “under God’s protection” (together) we “will reach” our heavenly home … this is the self-same promise Jesus extends to us in the Gospel: Because “You were faithful in small matters … come, share your Master’s joy.”