After high school and college I never thought I would need or use algebra again. But the readings today remind me of a basic algebraic equation, X + Y = Z. This came to me because today’s Gospel reading isn’t about talents such as singing or making pottery. In Jesus’ time, a talent was a monetary unit equal to the amount of 6000 denarii. This amount of money was equal to 20 years of labor and is therefore something that can be quantified into an understandable number today. So even one talent was valuable.
So the way that I interpreted this equation is that (X) is a non-variable number, meaning it cannot change, (Y) is a variable number, which means it can change, and (Z) is the outcome. In this analogy (X) can be either an individual or a community, such as a youth group, church, or work place. (Y) is the amount of love we have for God and each other. The number for (Y) is achieved through the sum of the subset (a + b). (a) is the percentage of faith (X) has in God, added to (b), the percentage of doubt and/or fear felt by (X) due to the amount of understanding or misunderstanding (X) has about life and God and what is truth based on the information (X) has received so far by the world and the church. (Z) is the amount of joy that (X) produces in the world.
For this reflection I’m going to use a single church community as (X). Therefore, in Proverbs, a worthy bride is valued beyond any earthly treasure by the bridegroom because the bride, the church, reaches out to the poor and the needy. This brings joy to the bridegroom, God.
Like the servants in this Sunday’s Gospel who are entrusted with the master’s talents, each church community is given the gift of God’s love through the blessings in our lives and in the great gift of Jesus. No matter the size of the church or even the denomination, each church is accountable before God with how much joy they bring to the world by the way they love God and love their neighbor.
Paul tells us that in order to be a people of the light, we can’t be like everybody else. We can’t just do business as usual. We can’t just be a church that goes through the motions but buries the gift of Jesus in the ground or keeps it to ourselves or shares it only on Sunday. If our church community is truly a church that is filled with more faith than fear, the love it gives will produce a better world outside of the church community. There will be more joy in the world because of that community or youth group or school or work place.
Our church documents tell us that we must have full, active, and conscious participation in mass in order to receive its full effects. In other words, the affect worship has on us is the amount of (Z) it produces, the amount of joy; the amount of people that are affected by us revealing the gift of Jesus to those who don’t know him; the gift of God to the poor and the suffering around us so that they too may reveal love to others. Therefore (Z) is sacramental because it makes an invisible truth visible in a way that can be understood by humanity.
Algebra isn’t hard to do. It just takes a different part of the brain to see its value. So often in my life I can see where I just buried the gift of God’s love through Jesus in the ground because I was embarrassed or afraid to share my faith with others. I can also see that because I didn’t share it, I didn’t produce any joy in those around me. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see that the most valuable gift I have been given beyond any earthly possession is the gift of faith, for without it I might as well go bury my head in the sand. Here’s a little algebraic prayer to close.
“Lord, I know not the hour you will take me home, so increase my (Y) so that you will be happy with the amount (Z) I have produced for you when I see you face to face.”