Fr Louis Reflection - 33rd Sunday of the Year, Year A

‘Talent’. In modern usage it refers to someone of above average ability in something, such as a gifted musician or physician or sportsman or sportswoman, but in Roman occupied Palestine at the time of Jesus, a talent was a unit or a weight of money, so in today’s ‘parable of the talents’ in Matthews’ gospel (25: 14-30) Jesus is using that ‘tainted thing’ - a necessity of life both then and now - to illustrate how the desire, the energy used to accrue by fair means or foul, money; .... a desire that can lead to the breaking of both civil and moral law. Jesus suggests than an equivalent amount of energy should be used in seeking the Kingdom of God, without having to break any laws whatsoever, either civil or moral.

Jesus recounts how a businessman had need to go abroad, but while he was away he didn’t intend that his servants or slaves should loaf around wasting time while he was touting for business in new territory. His employees needed to earn their keep, so he set each of them an assignment to keep the business ticking over ensuring that the business remained healthy. This businessman was a crook, and we know that because the slave who received the smallest sum of money tells us. “I heard you were a hard man,” he says, “reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and went off and hid the money.” Why did he hide the money? Because if he had lost it on a dumb business transaction his boss would have knocked six bells out of him! The Boss was a ‘spiv’, a wheeler-dealer; honesty was not one of his virtues! For all we know he could have been running a protection racket in down-town Jerusalem! Why didn’t the frightened slave run-off? Because he was probably a bonded slave, or an illegal immigrant (if there was such a status at the time) and without his P45, he would have been destined to live in penury.

As it so happened, tragically, the slave lost out anyway, because he was sacked, - dumped - and thrown out on the streets. With crooks, all that matters is the next job, and if you want to join the gravy-train of crime and take a cut in its financial benefits, then it is a prerequisite to dispose of any moral traits lurking in ones conscience which might hinder or reduce your effectiveness or your prospects of criminal employment. The desire to get rich through crime leaves no room for timidity; winner takes all, moral hang-ups are definitely detrimental to acceptance into the criminal fraternity as our timid rogue discovered to his cost. What point is Jesus making? Put the same powerful energy into gaining a place in Gods’ heavenly kingdom! Such energy will produce eternal rewards rather than short-term temporal satisfaction.

Knowing how the deceitful operate can sometimes be a positive benefit in everyday life. Over 30 years ago, I spent a couple of years in Market Research. In the main it was all about peoples’ preferences of different products including household products, food, vehicles, political parties, you name it ...... and I’ve asked questions about it. The questionnaires the interviewees had to answer varied in length, and street interviews rarely took more than 10 minutes. Some interviews of a specialist nature were arranged with professionals of one sort or another and conducted over the phone, and others required one to make house calls, which, for varying reasons, were probably the most challenging. However, there was one particular job which I found most satisfying which entailed interviewing residents in an estate somewhere north of the M4 corridor.

The background: an extremely attractively designed housing estate situated in an equally attractive rural area. This delightful housing estate cannot have been more that 10/15 years old, and as far as I recall, the houses were built by the owner of a large country estate for the benefit of estate workers, and on occasions, could be rented by a local family. The tenants were delighted with their good fortune and the quality of the dwellings. Some of the houses were owner occupied, but my job was to interview the tenants who were renting the properties, and therein lies the story. As far as I recall, all the tenants I interviewed were retired, had lived in the area all their life, were receiving an old age pension or on a fixed income, and these dwellings were built to house these local families to give them security during their retirement without having to worry about repairs and other expenses which, under many circumstances, may well have been a severe strain on their retirement income.

For whatever reason, the rented houses on the estate were being offered for sale, not to individual purchasers, but to a management company or some similar financial organisation. This financial group was not running a charity, and the questionnaire had two purposes, namely, to advise the tenants that under the new owners change was on the way and that the questionnaire was an indication of what those changes might entail.

At my first house call it became fairly obvious that the tenant didn’t fully understand the questions, which meant that every question needed an explanation. That, as you may realise, is not the purpose of ‘Market Research’; spontaneity, instinct or gut- reaction are essential and it is critical that the responses should be free from external influence or interference. However, in this particular situation it was unavoidable not to explain the meaning behind the questions, and to conjecture on possible future outcomes. That process was replicated in all subsequent house calls, and I recommended that all the tenants needed to get together and act as a body to clarify the situation.

Was I wrong in the course of action I chose? Was my interference morally justifiable? Did the tenants benefit from having a greater understanding of the purpose of the questionnaire? There are so many questions which spring to my mind even after all the intervening years.

The deceitful are still with us, only today their operations are camouflaged by the semi-romantic pseudonym called a scam. That word seems to lessen the gravity of the crime, because in simple terms it is better known as theft. If a similar situation occurred today, I would react in exactly the same way.

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