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Gospel reflection

November 19, 2023: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel: 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.’”


Ouch! A harsh tone to this parable — harsh words and harsh actions. Jesus intends his parables to challenge his listeners and this one surely does. It’s an annoying parable on at least six counts.

Its tone is harsh and scolding. The master’s motivational technique is fear. Rarely does fear result in increased profit and effective team building. His servants know it’s his way or the highway.

It’s puzzling. If the master deliberately gave each servant talents he deemed “according to each one’s abilities,” why is the master so happy or so angered when each behaved exactly as the master anticipated?

If each performed “according to his ability” why is the praise so lavish for the two skilled and savvy enough to double the investment, applauded for doing what they were good at? These two rose to the level of “good and faithful” servants. On the other hand, the servant who seemingly didn’t have much talent or skill in investments received this scorching tongue lashing — wicked, lazy, and useless. Perhaps lazy but how is he wicked?

What about the reward for the two who built up more treasures for their already rich boss? Did these two “good and faithful servants” get a bump in pay? Upgraded living quarters? Honorable mention at the annual awards banquet? No. Their reward was “greater responsibilities.” Presumably uncompensated responsibilities. Cool, eh?

What’s the punishment for being a cautious, play it safe, take no risks, don’t play fast and loose with the boss’s money kind of servant? The master knew this servant’s abilities, knew risk taking wasn’t on his list of skills: but he really lost it when he met up with the servant. Being called wicked and lazy and worthless was nothing compared to what he decreed. Off to the darkness with you. Welcome to the land of “wailing and grinding of teeth.” 

As if Jesus hadn’t piled on enough hard sayings in this parable, he ends with the totally unsatisfying and bewildering promise that “from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Really?


What does Jesus hope is our take away as we ponder this parable? What are we to learn, put into practice? Is doing what others expect of us a worthy goal? Is the ever present challenge in our lives to be free of others’ expectations, free to figure out, through trial and error, how best to use our unique talents, skills, insights and gifts? Is fairness the ultimate criterion in judging how to treat one another? Does generosity enter in? Forgiveness? Is being awake, ready, tuned into how and when and for what reason God shows up in our lives a goal? Perhaps the questions are a way to enter into the parable. Perhaps not. Perhaps each of us has our own questions.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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  1. Avatar Debbie Griffey on November 16, 2023 at 10:59 am

    This is one of those parables I enjoy simply because if forces one to think, ‘What the heck is this really about?’ And your questions are pointed. What are we to take from this parable. And isn’t that the beauty of it? Thank you so much for this.

  2. Avatar Alice Shelton on November 17, 2023 at 6:08 am

    I appreciate the serious wrestling you share in your reflection Denise. You do a great service not working to tie this one up with a neat bow for us. I call one of YOUR gifts “grappling” and I appreciate it today. Holding tension and working with our complex selves is a big challenge in living as we think God asks us to live. Your reflection honors that challenge.

  3. Avatar Jeannie SMITH on November 18, 2023 at 11:06 am

    Hey Old Friend – I expected you to give me answers, not more questions!!! What Debbie and Alice said are better comments, and I agree with them. I just couldn’t resist a little poke. Grapple away and keep sharing with us!

  4. Avatar Steve Modde on November 19, 2023 at 10:00 am

    You challenge me to think and fish around about this gospel. Pope Francis said it’s about Trust vs Fear. God wishes us to trust and use our talents. And not be overwhelmed with fear.
    “Creating a climate of trust
    The Pope said as a Church community as well, we should examine how we can cultivate a climate of trust and mutual respect that helps us move forward together and allows the creativity of love to flourish in everyone.” And I say: Does God wish us to cling to the Church of the past or be open to the Spirit calling us to create a Church community that is not controlling, but rather encourages and accepts people for who they are? I choose TRUST NOT FEAR!

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