33rd Sunday in Ordinary Times
Prov. 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30
Changing our Perceptions about God?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 19th November 2017

Last year, our PM invited religious heads, grassroots leaders to celebrate the Lunar New Year; in one of the hotels nearby the Cathedral.  This was followed by a close door session.  His Grace, Archbishop William Goh and I attended.  In his great eloquence, PM spoke for some 1 ½ hours.  Immediately after the session, we left.  Making our way back, Archbishop William was walking very fast; he weaved through the crowd, dashed through the traffic lights that turned green, and then clicked the automatic gate as he approached his residence.  When I finally caught up with him; I was some 20 feet behind, I remarked, “Your Grace, you are so fit . . . I could not catch up with you.”  His Grace replied, “I want to go to the toilet . . !” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I had interpreted the archbishop’s walking so speedily as him being very fit physically, while this may be true, in fact he was dashing because he wanted to go to the toilet, as his bladder was full.  The point of this illustration is to remind us that, as in the Parable of the Talents” in today’s Gospel, our perceptions are always limited and we do not see the full picture and reality of what is truly happening.  Even as we are all good people, trying to become better persons, our perceptions are always limited to our human experiences.  Thus, our perceptions are inevitably narrow, prejudiced and biased when we interpret the words, actions, lifestyles of people, and indeed who God is to us.  

In the “Parable of the Talents” that we just heard proclaimed, there were basically two perceptions: the positive perceptions of the master, by the men who were given five and two talents, and the negative perception of the master, by the man who was given one talent.  Like the men who were given the talents, by their master, you and I too are given abundant blessings from God.  In fact, all that we have in our life today, comes from the blessings of God, who loves us so totally, generously and unconditionally.

As such, like the men in the Parable, the Gospel today, challenges us to ask ourselves, “What are our perceptions of God?” “Do we know God?”  “Do we know Jesus personally?”  The answers we have to these questions, have to be personal, as our answers would in many ways manifest and mirror the quality or otherwise, of our relationship with God.  In other words, if our perceptions about God is healthy and wholesome, then our use of the abundant blessings that God has given us and continue to give us, would be well used in accordance to His Will and Ways. 

However, if our perceptions about God is like the man who received one talent, and as such is one that is not only narrow and prejudiced, but filled with fear, then in all probability like him, our relationship with God would also be superficial and distorted. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, regardless of our perceptions about God, it would be good for us to face the truth and reality that all our perceptions about the reality of our lives and about God are limited because we are finite human beings.  This also means that there is still much room for us to grow in our relationship with God our Father as our Creator, Jesus as our Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier, Strength and Light to lead and guide us in our daily living.  In other words, there is always still much room and many opportunities ahead of us to grow in the “holiness” of God in our lives.  For this, I would next like to illustrate with a story:

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle,
When 24 Hours in a day is not enough,
Remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class  
And had some items in front of him.
When the class began, wordlessly,
He picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar
and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students, if the jar was full.
The students all agreed that it was full.

The professor then took out a box of pebbles and poured
them into the jar.  He shook the jar lightly.
The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was full.

The professor next took out a box of sand and poured it into the jar.
Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.  The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor, as the laughter subsided,
'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things – most important of all is God, then our family, children, health, friends and the like . . .
Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full and fulfilling.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car.

The sand is everything else --The small stuff of life that are good to have.

'If you put the sand into the jar first,' He continued, then
'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.
The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff of your life, then
You will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Always, have time for God, and put Him at the centre of your life;
Play with your children.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your loved ones out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

'Take care of the golf balls first --
The things that really matter.
Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired, “Sir, what about the coffee?”

The professor smiled and remarked, “I'm glad you asked”.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem,
there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.'

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this story first, challenges us not only to see that there is always still room in our lives to grow in the holiness of our relationship with God and with others.  This story also challenges us to see that not everything is of equal importance in our lives: God and family and our loves ones are of greater importance than the many other non-essentials, but “good to have” in our lives.  As such, we are first to attend to the essentials, the “golf balls” of our lives before the “pebbles” and the “sand” and the less essentials of our lives. 

Reflecting on how the master gives to each of his servants different talents: one with five, another with two and yet another with one, and how the master gives the talents according to the “abilities” of his servants, likewise, God who has given us and do continue to give us abundant blessings in our lives, you and I are then challenged to grow in the holiness of our relationship with God by consciously and creatively challenging ourselves to use all the “talents”, which are the abundant blessings that God has given to each of us more fully in His Love and Ways, and for His Greater Glory.  

In other words, the Gospel is today challenging you and I: to develop the talents and blessings that God has given us, to nurture the goodness, compassion and forgiving love that God has blessed us with,  to build stronger relationships in our families, to foster greater unity in community, to show greater respect for the people who are marginalised, rejected and uncared for by families and our societies: in the orphans, poor and needy, sick and aged, the refugees and the many other rejects and dependents of society, for all of them are children of God and precious in the eyes of Jesus who willingly Suffered and Died for their Salvation.  Indeed, God who loves us so infinitely and unconditionally, also loves each and every of these faceless people, who are rejected by society and the secular world. 

As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that Jesus, in today’s Gospel also explains clearly that for the “talents” and abundant blessings that God has given us, God too has expectations of us, for He says to the servants who were given the five and two talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

However, as for the servant who hid the “talent” given to him, out of his fear of the master, instead of putting them to good use and bearing good fruits from them, the master says, “You wicked and lazy servant!  Take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents.  For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but form the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” 

Do we want this to happen to us?  If not, then what challenges are you and I called to face daily, so that we can each grow in holiness and have the right, healthy and wholesome perceptions about our relationship with God our Father, Jesus our Lord and Saviour and the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier and Guide in our daily living?

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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