Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the readings bring our focus to the end that lies ahead: the end of our earthly lives, the end of the world and the final judgment of God.  At first glance, today’s first reading is about how to be a good wife, but mixed in are various comparisons that seem archaic and need further explanation.  First, it is crucial for us to remember that whenever the Scriptures – whenever God talks to us about husband and wife, He is talking to us about His relationship with with His people, with humanity.  One of the most serious consequences of allowing our understanding of marriage to be destroyed by the decadence of the modern world, is that it destroys God’s message to us about His love and commitment towards us.  In this first reading, God is telling us, through the image of a good wife, about who the Church is for Him.  The Church is the bride of Christ, the good wife that He has been seeking since the dawn of creation when He tells us that, “a man leaves his mother and father and cleaves to his wife.”

A good wife brings forth wool and flax.  A good wife brings forth both a woolen garments and a linen garment.  She brings forth works that are good both on the outside, the wool, and interior, hidden works of virtue and conversion: the linen.  A good wife puts her hand to the distaff and her fingers work the spindle.  The distaff is the fibrous mass that has yet to be spun into thread – it is the mass of our life and resources that is yet to be transformed by our choices, decisions, and actions.  The distaff is what we have left of our life, the spindle is what has already been done.  What we have left of our lives, we can still dedicate to good works – what has already been done cannot be changed and will be presented to God on the day of judgement.

In this way we can understand the connection with today’s Gospel and the warning of the second reading.  The gift we have received of our life and faith is on the distaff, it is the talent we’ve been entrusted with, and it is being spun as we speak into either works of good or works of evil.  Those who use their talents for good and the benefit of others produce more talents because it brings about fruits of grace in the hearts of those who are served.  We aren’t to worry that we haven’t received enough – nor are those who have received more to be critical of those who have received less.  We are, however, to avoid the temptation to invest the life God has given us into exclusively worldly pursuits: that is what is meant by burying the talent in the earth.

Gregory the Great said, “He said that he was afraid to invest the talent for interest, when he should have been afraid only of bringing it back to his master without interest. For many people in the church resemble that servant. They are afraid to attempt a better way of life but not of resting in idleness. When they advert to the fact that they are sinners, the prospect of grasping the ways of holiness alarms them, but they feel no fear at remaining in their wickedness.
Peter is a good example. When he was still weak, he saw the miracle of the fishes and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, because I am a sinful man.” If you regard yourself as a sinner, it is only right that you not drive God away from you! But those who see that they are weak and are for this reason unwilling to improve their habits or way of life are like people admitting that they are sinners and at the same time banishing God. They flee him whom they ought to hallow in themselves; even in the agony of death they do not know where to turn and cling to life.”

CAESARIUS OF ARLES:

The catholic church was not only preached after the coming of our Lord and Savior, beloved brethren, but from the beginning of the world, it was designated by many figures and rather hidden mysteries. Indeed, in holy Abel the catholic church existed, in Noah, in Abraham, in Isaac, in Jacob, and in the other saintly people before the advent of our Lord and Savior. Truly, Solomon says of her, “Who shall find a worthy wife?” What does he mean: “Who shall find”? Here, we should understand the difficulty, not impossibility, of finding her. That valiant woman is the church.1

AUGUSTINE:

“The heart of her husband is confident about her.” He certainly is confident, and he has taught us to be confident too. He commissioned the church, you see, to the ends of the earth, among all nations, from sea to sea. If she was not going to persevere to the end, her husband’s heart would not be confident about her.… So she despoils the world, spread throughout it everywhere; on all sides she plunders trophies from the devil.…
“For she works for her husband’s good and not his harm, all the time.” That is why this lady despoils the nations, working for her husband’s good and not his harm. All the time she does good and not harm: not for herself either, but for her husband, “that whoever lives may live no longer for himself, but for the one who died and rose again for all.”2

AUGUSTINE:

The sacred text describes this housewife as a weaver of woolens and linen. But what we want to find out is what wool represents and what linen does. I think wool means something of the flesh, linen something of the spirit. I hazard this conjecture from the order we wear our clothes in; our underclothes or inner garments are linen, our outer garments woolen. Now everything we do in flesh is public, whatever we do in the spirit is private. Now to act in the flesh and not to act in spirit may seem good but is in fact worthless, whereas to act in spirit and not act in the flesh is downright laziness.3

AUGUSTINE:

Look at these two instruments for spinning wool, the distaff and the spindle. The wool is wrapped round the distaff and has to be drawn and spun in a thread and so pass onto the spindle. What’s wrapped on the distaff is the future; what’s collected by the spindle is already past. So your good work is on the spindle, not on the distaff. On the distaff is what you are going to do; on the spindle is what you have done. So see if you have anything on the spindle, that’s where your arms should be braced.4

CAESARIUS OF ARLES:

Brethren, let us not be ashamed to practice holy works of wool. If anyone has a full storeroom or granary, all those things are on the distaff; let them pass over to the spindle. They are on the left side as long as you do not give to the poor, but as soon as you begin to practice almsgiving, they are transferred to the right side and become a work from which a garment may result.5

AUGUSTINE:

You see, just as that day is realized in those who live godly, holy and righteous lives, marked by moderation, justice, sobriety. So too on the contrary, for those who live in an ungodly, loose-living, proud and irreligious manner—for that sort of night, the night will undoubtedly be a thief. “The day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”6

AUGUSTINE:

There is still another day by which the word of God shines on the hearts of the faithful and dispels the darkness, not of the eyes, but of evil habits. Let us, therefore, recognize this light; let us rejoice in it; let us pay attention to the apostle when he says, “For we are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of night nor of darkness.”7

GREGORY THE GREAT:

The person who received five talents gained another five. There are some who, even without knowing how to probe into inward and mystical matters, use the natural gifts they have received to teach correctly those they can reach to strive for their heavenly home. While guarding themselves from physical wantonness, from striving after earthly things and from taking pleasure in things they can see, they restrain others too from these things by their counsel.8

GREGORY THE GREAT:

But the person who received one talent went away, dug in the earth and hid his master’s money. Hiding a talent in the earth means employing one’s abilities in earthly affairs, failing to seek spiritual profit, never raising one’s heart from earthly thoughts. There are some who have received the gift of understanding but have a taste only for things that pertain to the body. The prophet says of them, “They are wise in doing evil, but they do not know how to do good.”9

GREGORY THE GREAT:

He said that he was afraid to invest the talent for interest, when he should have been afraid only of bringing it back to his master without interest. For many people in the church resemble that servant. They are afraid to attempt a better way of life but not of resting in idleness. When they advert to the fact that they are sinners, the prospect of grasping the ways of holiness alarms them, but they feel no fear at remaining in their wickedness.
Peter is a good example. When he was still weak, he saw the miracle of the fishes and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, because I am a sinful man.” If you regard yourself as a sinner, it is only right that you not drive God away from you! But those who see that they are weak and are for this reason unwilling to improve their habits or way of life are like people admitting that they are sinners and at the same time banishing God. They flee him whom they ought to hallow in themselves; even in the agony of death they do not know where to turn and cling to life.10

Footnotes

  1. SERMON 139.1. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 186). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. SERMON 37.4–5. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (pp. 186–187). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. SERMON 37.6. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 187). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. SERMON 37.13. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 188). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. SERMON 139.4. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 188). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. SERMONS 229B.1. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 92). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. Sermons 230. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 93). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 9.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 223). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 9.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 223–224). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. FORTY GOSPEL HOMILIES 9.3. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 226). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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