We must understand what causes injustice and have the courage to change the world

by Thomas Gumbleton

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We've heard that parable many times, and I'm sure many times we've interpreted it for ourselves or heard someone explain it as a parable about receiving gifts from God -- talents, abilities -- and how important it is to use them. Not to waste them, not to let them be dormant, but to be energetic in using what God has given to us, using all our talents for good purposes so that we will hear God say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come enjoy the blessings of God's kingdom."

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30
Full text of the readings

And that's certainly a valid interpretation of the parable, or at least a possible interpretation, but if we listen to it deeply, I think there is something perhaps even more important. Maybe not quite so obvious, but certainly very important. You notice how the servant who received the one talent was afraid. He feared the master.

Now, the master is Jesus telling this parable to his disciples in the very last speech recorded in the Gospels, just before he's sending them out into the world where they've been given the charge of carrying out the whole mission of the church, living and spreading the Gospel, making other communities of disciples. Jesus is telling this parable at that very point. And the one thing that would make it impossible for the disciples to carry out this mission of Jesus -- to spread the good news -- is to be fearful, to be afraid, to want to bury that good news, the message that Jesus has entrusted to the disciples.

That attitude toward God, of fearing God, in that sense a servile fear, is something that shows up in other parables, at least clearly in the parable of the two sons, how the second son, who has not squandered all the goods, his inheritance, says to the father, "I worked every day for you. I deserve a banquet; you never gave me one. This sinful son of yours has come back and you put the best robe on him, killed the fatted calf and throw a huge party."

What was wrong? What was wrong with the servant who received the one talent today? Both of them had an attitude toward God that we earned the gifts of God, and that's wrong. We don't earn anything; they're all gifts. God first loves us. That's the message that comes through. It's the good news of the Gospel. God first loves us, and then out of thanks, gratitude, we respond with love to God, understanding that everything we have is a gift from God, and that's a whole different attitude.

We're not afraid of God; we're in a loving relationship with God. We understand that God is love, and so then we're ready to go out and spread the good news with joy. And as I reflect on this Gospel lesson today, and here in El Salvador, where we're celebrating the 25th anniversary of the murder of the Jesuits at their university on Nov. 16, 1989, together with the two women coworkers, a mother and her young daughter, as I reflect on these events within the context of this parable, I see how different were those Jesuit priests and all of those who struggled with them.

They were not afraid; they knew the good news. They were trying to spread the good news. Father [Ignacio] Ellacuría, the rector of the university, had written about the Jesuits when they were attacked in a newspaper as being too violent, too destructive, too utopian. In a response article, he wrote about them: "We are not too destructive; we're not too violent. Maybe we are utopian, but that's because we are people of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. The good news that we're compelled to spread that will transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible."

That's the good news, and it's our task to spread it. And we will struggle against violence, struggle against injustice, try to transform this world. We're not too violent. We work in every way we can against violence, but we understand where you must start. It's with the violence of the structures -- the political, economic structures that imprison the poor, demean the poor, degrade the poor, make it impossible for them to have a human life.

And fearlessly, these Jesuit priests come teaching that message, together with Oscar Romero, the archbishop, and with so many others in this country. They were spreading the good news without fear because it was, St. Paul says in one his letters, "The love of God urges me on," and that's what urged them on, without fear.

And isn't it possible, then, we're too often held up by fear from working to bring about the changes necessary in our world, to make this world a place where every person can have the opportunity for a full human life, a world where wealth is distributed so that everyone has a chance, a world where every person has what he or she needs for that full human life: education, health care, shelter, clothing, food, water. These are the things that we need. Those Jesuits were living in a society that was overwhelmed with injustice, and they were working to change it, and doing it without fear.

Now if we come 25 years forward and think about the world in which we live, are we as concerned as they were? Do we care enough about the poor and the suffering? One very obvious example from that country of El Salvador today, there are people fleeing the violence that is happening to them -- the structured violence, the political and economic structures that make so many so poor. Are we even welcoming them, let alone doing what we can to our governmental policies to help change the situation in that country?

After all, for 12 years during the civil war, we spent $1 million a day in military aid, something that Archbishop Romero pleaded with President [Jimmy] Carter to stop, because, he said, "It's only giving the opportunity for the poor and the military to kill their own brothers and sisters, and that has to stop." At that point, we were ready to give military aid. As a nation, we are not providing the kind of aid that would help to rebuild this society, to help the people in this country to bring about structures that would enable people to have a full human life.

And when many of them -- even children, as we know, during this past summer especially, fleeing the violence and the injustice -- [try] to come into the United States, we push them back. Build a wall, spend millions and millions of dollars trying to "secure our borders" to prevent these poor people, whose poverty is a result of the war that we supported, at least partly a result of that. And this poverty is partly a result of the trade agreements that we've made that have pushed people off the land and making it impossible for them to have a full human life.

We can't go into all the details as we reflect on this today, but at least I hope we learn from those Jesuits and from Archbishop Romero that we must try to understand the situation that causes injustice and try to have the courage to work to bring about the changes to make our world as close an image of the reign of God as possible.

To do that, listen carefully to today's Gospel. Learn that we must give up fear and rejoice in that love of God that is poured forth upon us. The gifts that we receive from God, that we accept those with gratitude, but also understand that God calls us to fearlessly begin to work to transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible.

[Homily given at Central American University in San Salvador, El Salvador. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

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