Reading I: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm: 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Reading II: Thessalonians 5:1-6
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
Homily by Deacon Terry Ellerman
When we die and we are at the pearly gates, one of the questions that will be asked of us is, “How did you use the gifts that I gave you? How did you use the abilities and talents I gave you while you were on earth?”
I want you to pretend for a minute that this person I am going to tell you about is a brother or son, and when he is born — on his right foot he has no toes, and on his right hand he has no fingers. When then young man is six years old he comes to you and asks, “Will I ever play sports in school?” How will you answer that question? Will you say, “Sure. Go for it.” Or will you be reserved and say, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Later on he comes to you as you are watching football and asks, “Will I ever be able to play football?” What will you say? And later as you are looking at an NFL game on television he asks, “Will I ever be in the Hall of Fame for football?” What will you answer?
Our Gospel today is about the Good Lord giving us all kinds of talents and abilities and we have to use those talents and abilities to make Christ present on earth. The question is, “Are we using them or not?”
I am going to change the parable just a little bit and let’s pretend that the Master in the parable is the head of a construction company. He calls in three employees: the first one has great construction ability, the second has OK construction ability, and the third has limited ability.
To the one with the most construction ability — he gives him a great big toolbox with many different tools in it that he can use. To the second employee the Master gives him a toolbox with not as many tools but the worker knows what to do with them. To the third employee with limited ability, the Master gives him a toolbox with some tools, but not as many as the others. And then the Master leaves and goes off.
Then he comes back months and months later and calls in the first worker and asks, “What did you do with your toolbox?” And the first worker answers, “I went out and built 50 houses for the homeless.”
The Master says, “My goodness, you used your talents well. My good and faithful servant, I am going to put you in charge of all the construction there is for my company.”
The Master calls in the second worker. “What did you do with your tools,” he asks. The second worker answers, “There are lots of elderly people who need to have their house remodeled but can’t afford it, and don’t know how to do it. I used my tools and completed 40 different remodeling jobs.”
And the Master says, “Well done my good and faithful servant. I am going to put you in charge of the remodeling division for this company.”
And then he went to the third worker and asked, “What did you do with your tools?” And the worker said, “I know you are a hard man and I was afraid I would lose a tool or break a tool, so I went to the closet and locked the toolbox in it. Here are your tools back.”
The Master asked, “So, you didn’t use the tools I gave you?”
And the worker answered, “No, I was too afraid.”
Was the Master happy? No. “Get out of here, you lazy servant. And I’ll give your tools to someone else who will use them.”
The message of the Gospel is, “We are all created different. We all have different talents and abilities that we need to use. We were all not given the same. But for us to bring the Kingdom on earth to make Christ present — we all need to use the talents and abilities we have so we can help each other and as result will help bring God’s Kingdom here on earth.
The challenge always is — do we know what abilities and talents we have? And that is a tough one.
During the Mass for the school children I said to them, “It is important that you do well in math, English and science. We all need those skills. But as you move on you need to look at what else you are good at.”
I always tell people I am not mechanical. I’m not mechanical because I have never been taught those skills and do not have natural ability in that area. If I have car trouble, I put the hood of my car up so people will stop. I am not even sure what is under the hood of the car. But there are people with mechanical ability who do.
Look at the musical ability we see demonstrated. Look at the abilities of the people in the parish who made things for the Christmas Bazaar that was held yesterday. They sewed, and they baked, and they came together to do all these wonderful things. Look at all the different abilities that were used to make the Bazaar happen. My goodness!
That is what God expects of us. That means that sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone. That means we should try things. We should all try a musical instrument, we should all try a sport, we should all try baking and try all these different things to find out if we are good, bad, or indifferent at that particular skill. That is what God wants us to do. Then when we figure it out, God wants us to use those skills.
Back to the pretend story I told you earlier. It really is a true story. It is a story about Tom Dempsey. Who has ever heard of Tom Dempsey? Tom Dempsey was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1947. Remember, he had no toes on his right foot, and no fingers on his right hand. When he was six years old he went to his parents and asked,
“Will I ever play sports in school?” And later, “Will I ever be able to play football?” And their response was, “Go for it. You can do anything you want with your life.”
And so he did. In high school he played two or three sports including football. He was a lineman. Eventually he went on to a junior college in California and was very successful. What he was really successful at was kicking the football.
Eventually he was drafted and became a professional football player. He played for the New Orleans Saints and was their kicker. In 1970, on November the 8th, the New Orleans Saints were playing the Detroit Lions and there were only two seconds left in the game. The score was 17 to 16 and the New Orleans Saints were losing. Their only chance was a field goal. But my gosh! To win someone would have to kick the football 63 yards!
Could anyone ever kick a football 63 yards and make a field goal? And the answer is — yes. Tom Dempsey kicked the football 63 yards to make the field goal and set a record. In fact, that record was just broken last year for the first time.
Tom Dempsey, who was probably in the third category in the construction parable who some may have thought had limited ability, turned out to be very successful in football. And why? He had a goal. He learned the ability to kick that ball. He was able to accomplish what he wanted to do.
What would have happened if his parents said to him, “Forget it. You can’t do that. Forget sports.”
How often do we as parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters discourage someone from trying something? Or how often do we discourage ourselves from trying something because it sounds scary? Or it sounds like something “I just can’t do.”
The Gospel is really telling us two things today: One, we really need to look at ourselves and identify those skills and abilities we have. And two, are we using our talents in the way we need to use them?
And if we do — we are bringing about the Kingdom of God so that at the end, when we do die and are standing at the pearly gates, we can answer when God asks us, “All those gifts that I gave only to you. Did you use them to bring about the Kingdom of God?”
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.