Once Mother Theresa was staying with a community of sisters in Australia. While she was there, she visited an elderly man who lived in total isolation, ignored by everyone; his home was disordered and dirty. She told him, "Please let me clean your house, wash your clothes and make your bed." He answered, "I'm OK like this. Let it be." She said, "You will be still better if you allow me to do it." He finally agreed. So she was able to clean his house and wash his clothes.
While she was cleaning, she discovered a beautiful lamp, covered with dust; it looked like it hadn't been used in years. She said to the man, "Don't you light that lamp? Don't you ever use it?” He answered, "No. No one comes to see me. I have no need to light it. Who would I do it for?"
Mother Teresa asked, "Would you light it every night if the sisters came?" He replied, "Of course." From that day on, the sisters committed themselves to visiting him every evening. Mother Teresa left Australia; two years passed. She had completely forgotten about that encounter. Then she received a message from him: "Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still."
Today the gospel in a sense is telling us to light as many lamps as we can as we continue on this journey. In our own living out the paschal mysteries we can be too safe and secure. We might be hesitant in reaching out of our “comfort zones.” The servant in today’s gospel was prudent, safe but never took a risk. To have real growth is to take risks. We take a risk when we see someone who is poor and in need and we reach out to them. We take a risk when sharing our talents or volunteering for one of the parish ministries. I remember during my first year in the order when I was stationed in Boston, one day I went downtown to St. Anthony’s Shrine with one of my classmates. There was a group of poor men who were out in the street and wanted some food. So my classmate and I went into the CVS and got him a tray of cookies. When he gave the gentleman the cookies my friend was expecting a thank you but instead got criticized and the man threw the cookies to the side. Now this hurt my classmate’s feelings but he took a risk and reached out to this man in need.
The lazy servant of the parable was cast out into the darkness because he failed to fulfill his life-mission. Why did he fail? Because he had the wrong idea of his master. He feared him like a slave. Maybe he even resented his master for giving him only one talent. And from this self-centered perspective, his life-mission seemed unreasonably demanding. His fear and self-centeredness paralyzed him and kept him from doing what he was meant to do.
We can fall into the same deception - the deception that the devil used in the Garden of Eden. Thinking of God as harsh and unreasonable provides an easy excuse for giving in to laziness and self-pity, something our fallen nature loves to do.
But Jesus is not a harsh and unjust master; he is a good, generous, and powerful King! He proved this by his self-sacrifice on the cross. But he also proved it by the clarity of his teaching, like the revelation he gives us in this parable, a crystal-clear, unambiguous explanation of the meaning of life.
He shows us that our life-mission is to take our God-given gifts and put them to good use, shaping the world around us as Christ would have us. Our destiny, he shows us, depends on our making a decent effort to fulfill that mission. At first glance, such straight talk about heaven and hell may seem shocking. Yet, it flows precisely from his goodness and love: he wants us to know life's true purpose and end, because he wants us to live well now and be with him forever in heaven. That's the kind of God we believe in - a God who wants to save us and give us joy, if we will only trust him enough to follow where he leads.
So my brothers and sisters as St Paul reminds us this morning, “stay alert and sober.” Let us always be ready for our Lord especially as we come to the end of our liturgical year and let us spread the light of Christ to all in need as we take a risk each and every day for the one who took a risk for us.