In today’s gospel the master who goes on a journey returns to find one servant who has done nothing. And the first thing the man paints for us is a very rigid and ugly image of his master and accuses him of harvesting where he did not plant. Not exactly flattering, is it? This guy burns his bridges. Some people have an image of God like this that is harsh, rigid, and ugly. But God doesn’t demand human sacrifice. We do that. Our culture is addicted to demanding the pound of flesh and the blood and sweat of the poor.
The man who received one talent lived his life in fear. In his fear he only trusts in himself. The master calls him wicked – evil – for doing nothing. He didn’t do anything. Aye, there’s the problem. He failed to act. He failed to take a risk. He was apathetic and inactive. In matters of justice, if we stand idly by, there are consequences. This man is cast out in the darkness where there is weeping and wailing and grinding of teeth. Not good.
Compare this with today’s first reading. We are given a wonderful example of a woman after the heart of the Lord. She is worth far more than pearls. She is willing to use her talents and gifts in her everyday tasks… she may not obtain wool and flax or ply her hands to the spindle, but she surely does go to the store, cook meals for her family, does the laundry, washes the dishes, and many still have a full time job! Wow! Us men have it easy. Those are two full-time jobs! There are many such women in our midst who give of their time, talent, and treasure in a steady faithfulness. They are indeed pearls of great price.
The woman described reminded me of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. This month on the 17th we celebrate her memory. She was a woman who loved the LORD. Elizabeth lived in the 13th century from 1207-1231. She was the daughter of the King of Hungary when she was married to Ludwig of Thuringia (in Germany). They deeply loved each other; in fact they were madly in love. Ludwig’s advisors did not like Elizabeth and told him not to marry her. But Ludwig said: “I would rather cast away a mountain of gold than give her up!” They were so young at heart and so in love that it embarrassed some.
Sadly in their sixth year of marriage, her husband, Ludwig, died on September 11th 1225 while on his way to join one of the Crusades. Elizabeth was devastated, but she did not despair.
She was a good woman, fervent in prayer and her faith. She was always generous to the needy and poor. Elizabeth set about building hospitals and cared for nearly one thousand poor and hungry each day at the castle gates. Her husband’s family looked down on her for what they considered the squandering of the royal treasures. They ridiculed her and threw her out of the palace. However, when her husband’s allies returned she was reinstated, since her son was legal heir to the throne.
She chose a life of faith and service, and with the spiritual direction of a Franciscan friar, she led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor and sick. Seeking to become one with the poor, she wore simple clothing.
In 1228 Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded in honor of St. Francis. Elizabeth’s health declined, and she died in 1231.
In her short life Elizabeth manifested such great love for the poor and suffering that she has become the patroness of Catholic charities and of the Secular Franciscan Order. And she was canonized four years after her death.
Elizabeth took her worldly goods, spiritual treasures, and talents and placed them at the service of her neighbor and she never went without—for it is in giving that we receive!
So today we have before us the example of a lazy, wicked servant and a faithful woman.
Whose example will we follow?