SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1COR 1:26-31; MT 25:14-30]

How often have we come across people who are successful, accomplished, rich, powerful, influential and famous, but have also become proud, arrogant, pretentious, snobbish, condescending, demanding and intolerant?  What is worse is that many of them actually came from humble beginnings, financially and socially.  We often wonder how these people, who have gone through a life of poverty and little social standing, could now act without compassion, understanding and respect for those who are marginalized in society, or who do not enjoy the same status in life as them.  Given what they had gone through, one would expect that they would be better placed to feel with and for such people.

What is the reason for their behaviour? They have forgotten their humble background.  Even for those who enjoyed an elite upbringing, they have failed to realize that what they now have came from their forefathers who worked hard to accumulate wealth and built up their family wealth. They, too, were once jobless and lived in poverty, despised by the rich and the powerful.  Indeed, it is when we forget our humble beginnings, whether it be in terms of our family background, education or career, that we become haughty and self-conceited.

Today, St Paul reminded his fellow Christians and all of us as well, the importance of remembering our nothingness and how, through the grace of God, we have become what we are today.  He wrote to the wealthy and intellectually snobbish and morally corrupt Corinthians, “Take yourselves, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame the strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.”  Indeed, if they had come to find the true wisdom and riches in Christ who made everything else pale and insignificant to Him, it is by God’s graciousness and mercy.

St Paul could vouch for this himself, for although he came from a noble and influential family, well-educated as a rabbi and a strict orthodox Jew, he realized that all he possessed was “rubbish” compared to his encounter with the Crucified and Risen Christ.  It was out of this humble experience of encountering Jesus along the road to Damascus that changed his whole outlook in life and what true religion is all about.   Having experienced the unconditional love of Christ and enlightened on the depth of God’s love and His unfathomable divine plan for humanity, he knew that this revelation was given to him not only for himself, but in order that he might reveal the mystery of Christ to all of humanity.

In the gospel, this theme of gratitude and the corollary response of commitment prevail.  The lazy servant in the gospel kept the talent that his master entrusted to him, not so much out of fear as out of sheer ingratitude.  After all, his words belied his line of defense when he said, “Sir, I have heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.”   If he was aware of how much confidence and love the master had for him in entrusting him with the talent, which is worth about one million US dollars in today’s terms, then surely he would have been so grateful and sought to increase that amount through investment, even if it was done conservatively. But he allowed it to stay idle, as if he had not even received it, and almost forgot all about it.

In contrast, the other servants, including the master himself, were aware of the blessings they received from God.  The master himself reiterated this fact when he said, “I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered.”  It is true that he worked hard to grow his wealth, but in the first place, it had been given freely by God.  So in gratitude for God’s blessings, he worked hard to make it grow.  He was cooperative with the grace of God.  He did not take what was given to him for granted, but developed further what he had been bestowed with.  This was true for the rest of the servants who had invested the money as well.

What about us?  Are we grateful for the talents we have received?  Have we made use of them for the service of God and humanity?   Or have we forgotten what we have received freely from God through our parents, relatives, and friends and from the Christian community?  Is it not true that some of us have learnt certain skills, like music or computer, or some trades but fail to use them for the good of humanity and the Christian community?  But even if we have, does rendering our services make us proud, arrogant, demanding, dictatorial and boastful of what we have been given in the first place?  Has our success in business, in education or in our professions made us consider ourselves better than others?

If we do, St Paul reminds us thus, “The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.”  Indeed, let us learn from the psalmist and be grateful to God for all that we are today.   Like the psalmist, let us sing out our praises, “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own. Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down he sees all mankind. But see, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.”

Truly, let us keep ourselves humble before the Lord and His people.  The truly great person is one who is so successful, popular and accomplished in the eyes of the world and yet stays humble, unpretentious, without any airs in his dealings and relationship with others, rich or poor, influential or ordinary, small or great.   He is truly the great man because of his ordinariness and modesty.