As a child growing up in the 70s, sports played an important part in my life. It didn’t matter what type of sport, but just about any form of physical activity was very much part of my DNA. I didn’t have video games or the internet to surf all day long, so it was natural to be inclined towards sports. It was largely outdoor sports, under the sun together with the other children along my housing street and neighbourhood park. Back in the day, my sports interest was also spurred by TV programmes. Of course, it is nowhere close to the plethora of sports programmes the likes of what we enjoy now. I still remember how eagerly I looked forward to watching the weekly ‘Wide World of Sports’ In fact, till today I recall the words that accompanied the opening theme song, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!” I am pleasantly surprised at myself for remembering such details… the power of the human brain.
This past week has certainly presented us with events that depict both ‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat’. It is no secret which two major events have dominated the global media. Indeed, it’s the 2020 United States presidential elections and the McCarrick Report released by the Vatican. Though these events occurred thousands of miles away from us, we know intrinsically that they somewhat impact us, especially the latter. Victory and defeat, glory and shame, happiness and sadness and many other dichotomies of life are ingrained collectively in the human experience. You cannot choose one without the other, neither can you avoid one or the other. Though the McCarrick Report pains us, we remember that the dichotomy that pain brings is healing – admittedly a process that does not happen overnight.
While the gospel last Sunday presents us the wise and foolish maidens, in today’s gospel we are presented with yet another dichotomous situation (two opposing examples), the good-faithful servant and the good-for-nothing servant. In Matthew’s gospels, these parables are placed just before ‘the Son of Man will be delivered to be crucified’ (Matthew 26:2) and the theme that Jesus presents to his disciples is ‘stewardship’. Jesus clearly warns his disciples against the dangers of sloth that are brought on because of laziness and even fear. In other words, accountability to Christ will involve taking risks and overcoming challenges.
The servants that were praised by the master took a risk by “trading the talents” (coins representing sizeable sums of money) and they benefitted in return. Taking that decision may have resulted in an adverse outcome. However, it bore fruit in the end and they were applauded. Accountability in stewardship is at times the strongest when we are willing to take risks which also leads to being vulnerable at the same time. Being accountable is an experience of intense vulnerability – it is a natural by-product. Vulnerability is often perceived as a weakness but as the English poet David Whyte says: “Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever-present and abiding under-current of our natural state.”
In the ways, the good-faithful servants were not willing to ignore, squander or abuse what was given to them, the McCarrick report disclosure also shows us that while the church is vulnerable to her past, it offers commitment and continued resolve of responsibility and accountability. Can there be true accountability without vulnerability? Vulnerability is in fact the secret ingredient and true measure to authentic accountability.
The real evidence of our belief is in the way we act. Though responsibility and accountability are prerequisite traits in being good stewards, they don’t take away the vulnerability of human sin and weakness, and only God’s grace can heal. In the words of St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
At a personal level, this pandemic has also revealed more than before our physical, emotional and spiritual vulnerabilities, irrespective of who we are. Our human vulnerabilities should not deter us from striving to be the good-faithful servant. As accountable and responsible disciples, let us not be afraid to accept our mistakes and apologise, share in the fears and insecurities of others by lending a hand, ask for help or offer support when needed, put aside our ego and see that we are all in this together.
Not everyone may like the dichotomies of life but sometimes we need them because they provide us with immense perspective, gratitude and ultimately, truth. Let us remember that stars in the sky shall not be seen without the presence of darkness – our star is Jesus Christ! Amen
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)