33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (1 Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30) “Storing Up Treasure in Heaven” PDF Version
Homily for the 33rd Sunday in OT, Year A (2017): 1 Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30
The 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time is unofficial known among some priests and seminarians as “The End of the World Sunday.” The reason being that within the three year cycle of Sunday Mass Readings, most often the scriptural selections for this Sunday have apocalyptic themes. We can see this in today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians when he speaks of Our Lord’s return in glory to be akin to the activities of a thief in the night, catching people unprepared and in the dark. For this reason, he implored the Christians of his time and of every generation to always have their heart and soul ready to meet the Lord when the unknown Day of Judgment shall be upon us.
However, the Gospel for this Sunday does not seem have a particularly apocalyptic feel to it. There is no mention of catastrophic war between the forces of light and darkness, a seven headed dragon, the antichrist, natural disasters and the Second Coming of Christ that are features of the Apocalyptic portions of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. What does a parable about a Master and his debtors teach us about the End of this world?
The parable of the Master and his debtors does apocalyptic undertones to it, in so far as it speaks to us of what is necessary for someone to obtain salvation in Jesus Christ and be given a place in the new heaven and new earth that will be the ultimate manifestation of God’s final restoration of all creation. The Catholic faith has proclaimed since her inception that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and the practice of Good Works. St. Paul wrote extensively throughout his epistles about the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ to obtain the free gift of salvation. Mere observation of the Law of Moses and the other precepts of the Old Covenant were insufficient to bring about salvation.
One must also proclaim faith in Jesus Christ and acknowledge that it is through Him and His Church alone that salvation is bestowed upon an individual. This is why our Church proclaims that while there is substantial truth and goodness in the other religions of humanity, salvation comes only thorough Jesus Christ and His Church.
In addition, our Church professes that salvation comes thorough the practice of good works. Many Christians will object to this statement, claiming that it compromises the free gift of salvation that came through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. They protest further that by saying salvation comes through the practice of good works seems to imply someone can more or less buy their salvation by doing enough good deeds in this life, downgrading the incredible gift of faith that brings salvation to one who professes that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We certainly cannot buy our salvation through good works and our Church has never taught this to be so. But we are reminded in the Letter of St James that faith without good works is dead, meaning a faith lived without doing actual deeds of charity and mercy unto others would make our belief in Christ a lofty ideology that is detached from concrete actions that manifest our love of God and Neighbour.
We read today in the parable of the Master and his debtors that the Master, who is Jesus Christ, expects that we use the gift of faith in Him to bear much fruit in the world. He expects us to perform good works and promises that we will be rewarded for doing so.
Since the construction of the Jerusalem Temple, it was understood that whenever someone offered sacrifice or prayer to God, or performed deeds of charity, most especially for the poor, widow and orphan, that the practice of these good works not only showed one’s love of God and neighbour and the observance of The Lord’s commandments, but it also revealed that the People of God understood that these deeds acquired a divine reward.
The Jewish people believed that by doing charitable deeds, they were providing a loan to God; for they had given of their monetary treasure to support the works of God, notably the care of the poor, and had begun to build up divine credits that God would count as a ways to pay down our debt owed to Him on account of our sins. Often it was understood that God would repay someone through blessings in this life. But by the time Jesus Christ had come into the world, it was understood that the divine merit that people were building up for themselves would be paid back to them most beneficially in the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is why Jesus told His disciples “store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, that neither moth nor rust can consume.” Every disciple of Jesus Christ is asked like the servants in today’s gospel to take the gift of salvation that Christ has given us through faith in Him and use that faith to motivate ourselves to perform good works, with the assurance that they will acquire for us ongoing deposits of merit into that heavenly treasury that we will enjoy in the eternity which is to come. It is also from this divine treasury that we believe we can assist those most in need of God’s mercy, in particular the Holy Souls in Purgatory, who benefit from our merits in their purification from all attachment to sin.
We may never have considered this truth of our faith that the good works I do from the talents that God has given me are building up for myself and others spiritual treasure in heaven. It should be for us a greater motivation to see the Christian life not simply in terms of the prayers we offer God and the faith that we privately have in Him.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is also to go forth and do good in the world, taking the talents God has given us and returning them back to him with the consoling promise that much more than what we have given will be returned onto us! Even if we feel our faith to be weak and our ability to do good to be minimal, then Jesus tells us in the very least we can return that one talent back to him to be invested in the treasury of heaven; showing that even the smallest act of love, the mere giving of a cup of water in the name of Christ, will not go unrewarded by our Father in Heaven.
None of us desires to be cast into that outer darkness where there awaits the weeping and gnashing of teeth. But such punishment awaits those who are unwilling to profess faith in Christ Jesus and His Church and be committed to practicing good works that in turn helps us to build up treasure in heaven to enjoy in the House of the Father.
Let us pray for one another today and look to assist one another to not be caught off guard by Our Lord’s Second Coming like a thief in the night, but rather to be ready and alert as we treed the path of salvation of faith and good works that Christ freely gave us through the Blood of His Cross.i
i For those interested in a more in-depth exploration on the topic of charity, good works and the heavenly treasury as understood in the Scriptures and Church History, I would recommend the following work: Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition by Gary A. Anderson, Yale University Press, 2013.