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Spirituality of the Readings
33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time A
November 16, 2014

The Fear Factor

The Gospel for Sunday tells a pretty simple story. A wealthy man leaves goods for each of three servants to manage while he is gone. We not are told whether he gives them instructions. Finally he returns. Of the three he sees two that invested the money and got back twice the amount. He is delighted.

Thus far the moral of the story would be: “Make the most of what you’ve got.”

But we miss the most interesting part of all if we look just at the successful servants (as does the shortened version of the Gospel mistakenly do in the lectionary!!!!!). We lose the fascinating and puzzling story of the third servant.

This poor soul did not invest the money at all. He buried it. Quite simply, he was afraid of investing it and losing it. Seems he was right to be afraid, given the way the owner actually did throw the poor man into “the darkness outside” where would be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” Quite an overreaction, it seems: the poor servant just wanted to keep the owner’s money safe!

Maybe the owner was simply a “demanding person,” as the parable says. Dark-spirited.

But there is more to it. There was a lot at stake. The monetary unit “talent” in Jesus’ time was not a small amount. Even one talent could be worth more than a laborer would earn in a lifetime. And the servants had a lot more entrusted to them than just money. The owner left them all his possessions, everything he had. He took a great risk and he wanted them to do the same, not to leave the investment rotting away underground somewhere.

Text Box:  We all are frightened. But God has compassion upon us.Assume now that the parable is about God. Maybe God entrusts an even greater amount to you and me. Our intricate lives. Our abilities. The living breathing human beings around us. Love for and from them—and every so often, real and open acts of unselfishness on our part. God gives all this and more free of charge: our own lives with all their rewards and catastrophes. God says to us, dive in. Have your life. Make whatever you will with it because you are my beloved.


But an awful question arises. Does God curse those who are afraid and who bury what they are given?

Jesus does seem to say so. “To everyone who has, more will be given and [he] will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Ouch. OUCH.

What does it mean? In the realm of spirituality there is only one thing I know that goes away if it is buried but which gets greater if you use it.


If fear slams the door against love, guess where you or I will be. In the darkness outside, wailing and gnashing our teeth.

Get this: we all are frightened. But God has compassion upon us. God waits for ages to see if we will not accept just a bit of the love he offers, and if we will even find just enough courage to invest some of that love in other people. It is definitely a risk, and God is often disappointed in the results. Surely he says, “oh no, not again,” when we fail.

But this is a reaction from someone who loves us very well.

Remember, love casts out fear.

Let love in.

John Foley S. J.

Write me an email! I'd like to have a discussion with you about this.

Fr. John Foley, S. J. is a composer and scholar at
Saint Louis University.

Copyright © 2014, John B. Foley, S. J.
All rights reserved.
Permission is hereby granted to reproduce for personal or parish use.

Art by Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training Publications. This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go to: