St Andrew Croydon
Sunday 17th November 2002
Year A Week 33
If thereís one thing people resent, itís the feeling that theyíre being taken for granted. By the same token, appreciation seldom comes amiss.
This morningís First Reading was a poem from the Book of Proverbs. It might be called The A-to-Z Wife. We donít know exactly who wrote it, or when, but the bit that we heard was just one-half of a twenty-verse Hebrew poem each verse of which begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So calling it the A to Z Wife isnít too wide of the mark.
Let us look at some of the characteristics of the Perfect Wife.
She is trustworthy. "Her husbandís heart has confidence in her" Christian marriage is founded upon mutual trust. Once that trust has been betrayed by either or both parties itís the very devil to get back;
She is supportive: "Advantage and not hurt she brings him all the days of his life" There are those husbands and wives who seem to delight in humiliating, patronizing or belittling their spouse. There are very few people of either sex who do not need, and respond favourably to, encouragement. Good manners and courtesy should be displayed to members of oneís own family and household no less than to others.
She is creative: "She does her work with eager hands". Giving birth to another human being is, of course, the prime way in which mankind co-operates with his Maker; but every husband and wife should be continually on the lookout to discover and develop in their spouse some virtue or talent of which perhaps neither of them was previously even aware.
She is compassionate: "She holds out her hand to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy". Itís worth mentioning that intuitively men and women show their love for others in opposite but complementary ways: a women will instinctively look to see how they can take trouble for someone else; men will be more concerned to avoid giving trouble to others. Neither way is to be preferred above the other, but each partner to a marriage can learn a lot from they way in which the other expresses his or her concern.
She is wise: "The woman who is wise is the one to praise". "The beginning of Wisdom", says the Book of Psalms, "is the fear of the Lord". How many misfortunes could be avoided in the first place if people only feared the Lord! "Be not wise in thine own eyes" says the Book of Proverbs in another place, "fear the Lord and depart from evil". The fact that women today rather than men see the point of fearing the Lord has, no doubt, bears some relation to the fact that in the prison population, men outnumber women many times over.
All this suggests is that taking people for granted is the surest way of alienating their affections. To be continually discovering, or uncovering the true worth of those with whom one lives or works is the surest way to avoid taking them for granted.
Now let's turn to the third reading and match some of its ideas in with those of the first reading.
It is a story, you will remember, of three men who were given different amounts of money to look after, and what each of them they decided to do with it.
Before we go any further, please notice that the money was not their own. It wasnít even, strictly speaking a loan but was entrusted to them. As with anything valuable there is a critical difference between the person who is the owns it, the person who borrows it from someone else, and the person who is entrusted with it to look after. The difference is as follows:
The owner of the valuable is more or less free to do whatever he likes with his own property. The only thing that can finally separate him from it is death.
The borrower is going to have to pay it back sooner or later. It may be a short- or long-term loan, but the truth is that the loan itself never becomes the property of the borrower. Of course he has the use of it for as long as it remains on loan and he may indeed use it to enable him to make money for himself, by buying a set of tools, for instance, which he can then use his skill as a carpenter or plumber to employ profitably for himself. In that case any profit he makes from the loan will be his own, but the original lender, so long as he gets his money back in the end, is quite indifferent as to the use to which the borrower puts it.
The trustee on the other hand is under a most serious obligation to put the ownerís money to the best possible use. When the day of reckoning comes he will be judged in the eyes of the lender by the amount of trouble he has taken to put his money to good use. Note that I didnít say "the degree of success" he has enjoyed. A wise lender will be no less pleased with the Trustee who has doubled the value of a small sum of money as with another whom he has entrusted with a large amount. The man who is bound to get his come-uppance on the Day of Judgement is the one who has done nothing at all with it.
Now let us put these two readings together, for they apply just as much to personal relationships as they do to more material things.
Our relationships are every bit as much the gifts of God to us as our health, our abilities, our fortune or indeed our very life itself. Children, parents, brothers and sisters, all alike owe that relationship to a gift of God either by being born by or giving birth to another human being; or in the case of husband and wife by entering into the lifelong relationship when they are joined together by God "in the holy estate of Matrimony."
None of these relationships amounts to possession. When one human being becomes too possessive of another it is the surest way of making that relationship unprofitable.
Next, letís be clear that none of these relationships is guaranteed to last for ever upon earth. They are as much at risk as our health, our job, and our very lives. At any moment God who enabled both us and our relationships may call in his loan. Our response to that should not be "How unfair!" or "Why should this have happened to me?" but that of Job, the man in the bible who said, when confronted by tragedy "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the Name of the Lord!"
Then, like the men in the parable, we must expect to be judged by what we make of those relationships. Like the King in the Parable or the Talents, Godís will not so concerned with the absolute value of the outcome, whether we have made five talents or two, but in the fact that weíve prove ourselves worthy of his trust when he made us his trustees. He will praise and reward those servants who have proved faithful and worked hard at their relationships by giving them riches of their own. But the third Trustee, the man who took his talent for granted and was too lazy or unenterprising to do anything with it, will be left with nothing at all.
The Parable of the Talents teaches us three lessons: first effort is more important than success in the sight of God; second, none of us actually owns more than a very small fraction of what each of us presumes to call "mine"; thirdly, every one of us will be called to account not just for what use he has made of his material goods and his abilities, but also of those relationships with which God has seen fit to entrust us. Godís Judgement is a theme for Advent when we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of our Saviour at Christmas. On my next visit in three weeksí time we shall turn our attention to that.
In the meanwhile, however, it is worth remembering that if we want a model of someone who really put everything she had into fulfilling the role which God had made her sole trustee we donít have to look any further than the Blessed Virgin Mary.
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