A few weeks ago we had the reading of the parable of talents in Matthew’s gospel. Three servants are given different amounts of treasure to invest for their master while he is away – one is given five talents, the second is given two and the third is given one talent. On the master’s return we learn that the first two servants doubled what was entrusted to them (and were therefore rewarded generously by their master) while the third servant buried the talent in the earth that he had been given. He neither lost nor gained anything for the master and was therefore chastised for his laziness and was punished by being cast into “the darkness outside.”
I refer to this because I think we can learn something from this parable about what our Lord means when he says, “Be watchful!” in today’s gospel. The action of the third servant – in contrast to the first two servants – was the opposite of being watchful. The burying of the talent entrusted to him was, in essence, an act of ignoring the master.
It is safe to assume that the third servant, after tucking away his talent, went about the business of his day and what he wanted to accomplish – not really thinking about the master until the day he showed up again. The first two servants, working to increase the talents given them, were active and they were continually thinking about and focused on the master’s return. They were not going about their own plans but were planning and working for their master even as he was away. Their doubling what had been entrusted to them demonstrates this attitude. The first two servants were watchful where the third was not. The first two disciples were mindful of the master.
The watchfulness that our Lord calls us to is not a watching in order to be entertained or amused or even scandalized by the ever-present corruption of sin and evil that we find in life. All of this is a passive watching. The watching that our Lord calls us to is an active engagement – just like the first two servants. This is where we find ourselves, these are times and situations we find ourselves in – now, what are we going to do about it? How will we live our lives today in a way that increases what the master has entrusted to us? The first two servants worked hard – anticipating the return of the master. They did not just sit passively bemoaning the state of things.
By working hard, the first two servants demonstrate both their obedience to and even their love for the master. The third servant might have spoken quite eloquently about how he had hidden the talent away in order to present it safely back to the master upon his return but, in reality, his heart was not connected to the master. The third servant was more focused on what he wanted to do and what he wanted to accomplish with his time. The first two servants show their love for the master by their willingness to work hard, get messy in the process and even risk what had been entrusted to them in order to bear fruit.
The watchfulness our Lord calls us to is a watchfulness found in a life being lived in faith, in hope and love and in service to one another. The prophet Isaiah (from the first reading) knew this type of watchfulness when he wrote, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” “Be watchful!” says our Lord – live in such a way that your life anticipates and yearns for the return of the Master!