Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with the first reading from Proverbs in which we see the wise stewardship of God’s resources by a godly woman. Then we move to the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians. Finally, we close with a kingdom parable from Saint Matthew in which we also see God’s call for careful stewardship of the resources He has given to us.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Book of Proverbs. This Scripture was written by King Solomon and is a book of wisdom regarding practical and godly living. The main theme in the reading is how a godly person is a careful steward of their time, talents, and treasures given to them from God. This is the same theme that we will explore later in the Gospel lesson.
Note: All the skipped verses between 31:13-31 were included in order to provide the full context.
10 An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. 13 She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight. 14 She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar. 15 She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong. 18 She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 29 "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all." 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:10-31)
Among other things that emerge from the reading, foremost among them we see that the “Proverbs 31 woman” is one who fears the Lord (v. 30). The big idea from the reading is that a godly person is a careful steward of the gifts they receive from God.
Many points arise from the text, here are a few.
- The godly woman works willingly, not under compulsion (v. 13, “in delight”). She also goes to great lengths in order to get things done (v. 13b-ff).
- The godly woman is a servant to others, even to her own servant (v. 15). She is not a sluggard, but works hard in her service to others.
- She is an entrepreneur (v. 16). In that era her husband would have had to make the actual transaction for the purchase of land, but she was the instigator of it and the one who took care in planting and tending the vineyard.
- She understands that what she gains is from God (v. 18).
- She is optimistic about her future, because she knows that she belongs to God (v. 35, 30b).
The bottom line is that the godly woman is like Jesus, a servant, Someone who came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). She is a faithful steward of the gifts that God has given to her. Faithfulness and careful stewardship are common themes throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. We will see this theme continue later in the Gospel lesson.
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians. The context is Paul’s discussion of the Day of the Lord that we discussed in a previous edition of Mass Notes. This is the period of time at the end of the tribulation period in which Israel finally returns to worship of their Lord. The reading today is a warning to the people living in that era to be watchful for the Lord’s return. Watchfulness for the return of the Lord Jesus is a continuing theme in the New Testament.
1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)
Just like the parable of the virgins that we will discuss in the introduction to the Gospel reading, everyone is called to be watchful for the return of the Lord. They are to be certain that they find faith in Jesus Christ while they still have the opportunity to do so (Romans 13:11) because nobody knows the hour when the Lord will return (Matthew 24:36). As we move onto the Gospel lesson we will see how God places a high value upon not only being watchful for His return, but also in being a good steward of the things that He has given to us.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson is from Saint Matthew. The reading today is part of what is called the Lord’s “Olivet Discourse” which encompasses Matthew 24:1 – 25:46. In this Sermon Jesus describes what is going to happen at the close of the church age. This portion of Matthew contains “kingdom parables” that begin with our Lord using the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like.” Today’s reading begins in chapter 25 verse 14. The chapter starts with Jesus saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to . . .” (Matthew 25:1a). The Lord then goes on to tell the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which has the same theme of watchfulness seen in the second reading.
Being watchful for the Lord is closely related to being prepared for His return, meaning we must already be a citizen of the kingdom before He comes. In the parable of the ten virgins, the Lord described how five of the virgins were prepared for the bridegroom and five were not. In Jewish culture the practice was for the groom to come at an unexpected time. The application of this parable is that half of the virgins were prepared for the Lord Jesus’ return by studying the Scriptures and coming to a saving knowledge of faith in Jesus Christ, while the other five were lost and destined for eternal separation from God in Hell. In the context of chapter 25, the application is that at some point during the end times the Lord Jesus will return to gather His Church. Those who are left behind will enter into the time of God’s judgment known as the Day of the Lord. Only God knows people’s true hearts so no one should wait to receive God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ because it may end up being too late.
The reading today opens with another of Jesus’ “kingdom parable” introductions, “For it is just like” (v. 14a). What Jesus is saying is, “The Kingdom of God is like . . .” As you read, try to determine the main theological idea that emerges from the reading.
14 For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. 16 Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' 26 But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' 29 For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:14-30)
The big idea that emerges from the reading is that stewardship is based on knowing and trusting the heart of the Master. Misguided understanding of the Master’s heart leads to living in self-protective, ungodly ways with one’s talents, as was the case with the man who buried his talent. The ones who understood and trusted the Master’s generous heart were able to take risks and multiply what was entrusted to them. Notice the misconception of the “wicked and lazy slave.” He miscalculated the Master’s heart when he revealed his deep distrust of him: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground” (verses 24-25). He was blaming his wickedness and laziness on the Master’s seemingly unpredictable and untrustworthy character. But the Master smartly revealed the inconsistency in his argument. If he was truly afraid, it seems that he would have at least been wise enough to produce some interest, even if out of fear, if nothing else. The man made an eternal miscalculation when he did not trust the Master’s heart.
This kingdom parable is very relevant to our lives today. Here are some ways in which understanding and applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives helps to accomplish the plans He has for us.
- Knowing and trusting the Master’s heart is of utmost importance. We should be spending our time and energy on this endeavor so that we become wise stewards of what is entrusted to us. We look forward to the day when we will enter into our Master’s joy. We can trust that it will all be worth it to hear these words of affirmation.
- Although people in this age are entrusted with different levels of abilities and worldly good, if they are faithful in being good stewards of them they are equally rewarded and entrusted with more responsibilities in heaven. Jesus said to the servant that gained five talents from the original five invested, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (v. 21, emphasis added). Likewise, He told the one that was entrusted with only two and gained two, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (v. 23, emphasis added).
- The world is a profitable place for investing God’s gifts, both for God and for the people who are entrusted with them. The five talents that God invested in the world became ten (v. 20) and the two talents became four (v. 22). This magical doubling is from God even though it came through the agents to whom He entrusted it.
- Faithful servants have “gifts” to present to their masters, while unfaithful servants have only that which was given to them by God who owns it all in the first place. As believers we are called to invest our time, talents, and treasures in the service of God so that we may have something to present to him when we too stand in judgment before him. Our judgment won’t be for salvation, but for rewards.
- Believers come to the understanding that all that they have is from God, as we saw in the first reading about the godly woman in Proverbs 31. In contrast, unbelievers never come to this understanding, because they are carnally minded (Romans 8:6). Saint Paul said, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
- The world’s resources flow through a worldly power structure of ungodly masters (v. 24b). Although there are exceptions to this principle, the richest people in the world are almost universally nonbelievers (with an exception being John Rockefeller). Although they don’t understand their responsibility of stewardship of God’s resources during their lives, they will after they die.
The reading closes with Jesus’ teaching that Hell is real, just as heaven is real. Unbelievers will be far worse off in Hell than they are on earth (v. 29). They will be very worried (v. 25) when they stand before the Lord who will judge them for how they used the resources that he gave to them. Though in the parable the unfaithful servant was nagged with worry about giving his report to his master, in the end his judgment will be far worse.
These are sobering words from our Lord and are far from the only time that He warned anyone who would listen about the reality of Hell. Jesus spoke about it in Matthew 11:23 where he described the place with the name “Hades.” In Matthew 5:23 the word for hell is rendered from the Greek “Gahenna” while in today’s reading the term in “outer darkness” (v. 30a). In the Bible we count some 38 times where this dark destination is designated as the future home of the wicked beginning with Psalm 9:17 and ending with Revelation 21:8. Jesus implores people to take radical steps to prevent themselves from entering this place. In Mark chapter 9 Jesus told the people to even cut off their hand if it causes them to stumble, for “it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
1. How do you view the Master’s heart? Is He generous and gracious, thereby freeing you from self-protective ways, so that you can take risks with what He has entrusted to you? Or do you view Him like the one talent servant, who saw God as a harsh task-master, blaming God for his own laziness and wickedness?
2. The world we live in is unpredictable. We don’t know what each new day will bring, but God has given us some landmarks of the end times. How does the Proverbs 31 woman face the future? How did Paul encourage the Thessalonians to face the future? What truths about the Master’s heart and the future will allow you to face the near and eternal future with confidence?