If You Don’t Use It, You Lose It

Reflection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London


A successful businessman was traveling overseas for an important conference and handed his beloved cat to his younger brother to look after.

The next day his brother called him, on the phone, and told him straightaway that his cat had died. The man flew into a rage and yelled at his brother: “How dare you break the news to me like that? I’m just getting into an important meeting; how do you expect me to concentrate?”

His brother asked him: “Well, how should I have broken the news to you?” And the businessman replied: “You should have done it in gentle stages. First, you could have said something like: ‘the cat climbed up the roof’ then, ‘it seemed to have chased after a rat’ then, ‘in the process it fell and got injured’ then ‘we took her to the vet’ then, ‘her condition worsened.’ Finally, you could have said ‘it died peacefully in my arms”. He took a deep breath, trying to control his anger and suddenly remembered that he hasn’t asked after their mother who had been ill. So he asked: “By the way, how’s mom?” And the younger brother began: “Well, mom climbed up the roof; she seemed to have chased after a rat ….” You can guess where the story is headed…

Friends, as the year draws to an end, businesses take stock. Similarly, as the Church’s liturgical year draws to an end, the readings invite us to take stock of our life. In the light of that, today’s Gospel presents us with the parable of the talents.

Like the young man entrusted with his brother’s treasured cat, an employer entrusted his money (talents) to three of his servants while he is away for a long time.

On his return, he called the servants to account. The first two, given five and three talents respectively, had traded with the money, risking them in the open market and receiving rich return on their investment – doubling their capital. The Master praised them and entrusts them with greater responsibility – the reward for good work is more work, not a good holiday.

However, the third servant who was given one talent had hidden it away safely, not wanting to take chances. When he sheepishly returned it, the Master tells him off as lazy, and hands the talent to the most productive servant.

From the distribution of the talent, we see that everybody is not similarly endowed, so expectation will not be the same. Yet, nobody is left empty-handed.

People are therefore not competing against each other, only against themselves. In other words, excelling in life is not about exceeding the achievement of others but about reaching one’s potential.

Your degree of excellence is measured by the difference between what you are capable of becoming and what you eventually become. Thus, all have the potential to become something better but we can only get better by putting our potentials to use.

What you don’t put to use you lose, like the lazy servant. If you tie your arm to your body and leave it there unused, soon you would struggle to use it. The same goes with your brain and indeed all human potentials; ambition, passion, vitality, energy, will, emotions. They all decline in value if they are not put to use.

In many fields of life a conscious practice is required to maintain a certain level of skill for them.

In taking the one talent from the unproductive servant and giving it to the most productive servant (which appears like robbing the poor to pay the rich), Jesus powerfully communicates that those who generously share the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves constantly enriched while those who jealously preserve or hoard what they have been given are likely to shrink in value and ebb away. It is the law of the Gospel; it also a law of life.

Our faith also increases in the measure that it is shared, even at the risk of opening it up to ridicule. Our aggressively secularising (Western) society is succeeding in privatising faith – just keep it to yourself. But faith will not grow unless you give it away, unless you find a concrete means of sharing it.

You need a way of letting people know what you believe in and why. So, get involved in faith sharing exercises, have a symbol of your faith up somewhere in your work place.

As has been the experience of Christianity from the onset, such propagation of the faith has always been risky but it goes with the promise of increased faith.

To excel as a Christian entails some measure of vulnerability; it includes risking being misunderstood, risking being called names and judged rashly.

In striving to risk nothing, we risk losing everything. Following the hype on abuse and inappropriate behaviour, a priest became too self-conscious relating with people. One day, an elderly lady was trapped under a heavy slab in his church and she was screaming for help. When the priest came, he stood at a very safe distance and was asking the lady to give her consent on the specific places she could be touched in the process of freeing her from under the slab. The lady screamed ‘touch me anywhere you idiot!’

Given that the lady was a known trouble maker, the priest was understandably protecting his dear life. Yet, when life loses the spontaneity or instinct to respond to such a situation, it has lost its humanity, proving Jesus’ submission that whoever wants to save his life will lose it.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that your heart could be broken if you give it away in love, but if because of fear of having your heart broken, you lock it up in the safe of your own selfishness, there, airless, it would congeal and become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

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