Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Talents, "the Outer Darkness," and Interest-Bearing Bank Accounts

Matthew 25:14-30 isn't one of those 'comforting' parts of the Bible. Not for me, anyway. That's the 'parable of the talents,' where a master gives three servants talents and then goes on a long journey. What happened to the first two is nice enough. It's the third one that gets me worried.

Talents, Bank Accounts, and Darkness

The third servant was the one who took the talent he got, buried it, had nothing more to show when the master returned, and got thrown "into the darkness outside" when the master returned to settle accounts. Like I said, it's not one of those 'comforting' parts:
"12 For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' "
(Matthew 25:29-30)
I suppose someone could take Matthew 25:29 by itself, and claim that the Bible says we should have a sort of 'socialism-in-reverse' system. Or take Matthew 25:27 as 'proof' that the Bible says people who don't put money in interest-bearing bank accounts will get thrown into the outer darkness.

As a practicing Catholic, I have to take the Bible very seriously. But I'm not allowed to get 'inspired,' and come up with my own version of what I'd like it to mean. I wrote about the Bible, the Magisterium, and Tradition last Sunday.

Acceptance, Final Condemnation, and Understanding

Getting back to what Matthew 25:29-30 means, I checked out the footnotes for those verses. Footnotes 12 and 13 refer to other footnotes:
"... There will be wailing and grinding of teeth: the first occurrence of a phrase used frequently in this gospel to describe final condemnation (⇒ Matthew 13:42, ⇒ 50; ⇒ 22:13; ⇒ 24:51; ⇒ 25:30). It is found elsewhere in the New Testament only in ⇒ Luke 13:28."
(Footnote 8, Matthew 8:11)

"In the New Testament use of this axiom of practical 'wisdom' (see ⇒ Matthew 25:29; ⇒ Mark 4:25; ⇒ Luke 8:18; ⇒ 19:26), the reference transcends the original level. God gives further understanding to one who accepts the revealed mystery; from the one who does not, he will take it away (note the 'theological passive,' more will be given, what he has will be taken away)."
(Footnote 5, Matthew 13:12)
I'm a bit reassured by the assertion that "God gives further understanding to one who accepts the revealed mystery." It's also common sense, I think: further understanding about anything is difficult, if not impossible, unless a person first accepts the subject's basic principles.

Imagine trying to understand the care and training of horses, without accepting the idea that horses exist. Which is a really bad example, in this context. Moving on.

The "final condemnation" in footnote 8, Matthew 8:11, brings up one of the two options I have. At the end of all things, I'll either be in Heaven: or Hell.

Hell, Briefly

I've run into odd notions about Hell, including beliefs that:
  • Hell
    • Doesn't exist
    • Shouldn't exist
  • God sends people to Hell for enjoying life
    • Which is 'obviously'
      • A bad thing
      • A good thing
      • 'Proof' that God doesn't exist
Then there's what we see in the movies, and that's another topic.

I've learned that Hell really exists; that it's big drawback is an eternal separation from God; that "God predestines no one to go to hell;" and that a person can decide to turn away from God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033-1037) Which brings up free will (Catechism, 1730), and more topics.

Remember: I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog:" and I strongly recommend that you follow those links and read more about what the Church says.

"God-Given Talents and Mission," and Responsibility

Here's what reminded me of Matthew 24:14-30:
"Pope Benedict: Do not waste your God-given talents and mission"
David Kerr, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (November 13, 2011)

"Pope Benedict XVI used his Sunday Angelus address Nov. 13 to remind people that God has given everybody both talents and a mission in life.

" 'God calls all men to life and bestows him with talents, while entrusting him with a mission to accomplish,' said the Pope from the window of his apostolic palace to the crowds gathered below in St. Peter's Square.

" 'It would be foolish to think that these gifts are due to us, just as our failing to use them would be a dereliction of the goal of our very existence.'..."
'Believing in Jesus,' without paying attention to what He taught, and doing something about it, never made much sense to me. In a way, it's no wonder that I converted to Catholicism. And that's another topic.

Faith and Works

I put together a quick list of points about faith, works, and getting a grip, back in August:
  • Work as in "faith and works"
    • It's important
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1368)
  • "Productive" work that's closer to the 'work ethic'
    • It's important, too
    • So is getting paid
    • Or showing a profit, after paying your employees and suppliers
      (Catechism, 2426-2429)
      • Which can lead to conflict
        (Catechism, 2430-2436)
        • [But 'nobody said this was going to be easy.']
  • Not Working(First posted August 1, 2011)
All that stuff about faith and works sounds like, well, like a lot of work. Aside from knowing that it's 'the right thing to do,' I've got incentives to make good use of what God gave me.

There are short-term incentives, like a paycheck or recognition for a job well-done. In the long term, though, the stakes are much higher.

'Fire and Brimstone,' No: Getting a Grip, Yes

I've yet to meet a Catholic equivalent of the bombastic 'fire and brimstone' preacher: or a parishioner who kept focusing on what 'those sinners' would be facing. On the other hand, with over a billion Catholics living today: I'm pretty sure that you could find someone like that.

Christianity is a religion of hope. But we're also supposed to behave as if what we do matters:
"...Pope Benedict said the passage should remind everybody of the 'transience of earthy existence,' given that 'our final destiny' and 'meaning of life' is 'death followed by Final Judgment.'

"The third servant lost sight of this, he said, and 'behaved as if his master would not to return, as if there was not a day when he would ask him to account for his activities.' To refuse to use our gifts or from embarking on our mission 'would be a dereliction of the purpose of their (our talents') existence.'

"Given that the apostle St. Paul reminds us that the Lord will call us to account 'like a thief in the night,' the Pope advised that we should live 'in an attitude of watchfulness,' waiting for the second coming of Christ 'in the constant memory of his first coming.'..."
Wait a minute! The Pope talking about the "second coming of Christ?!"

I've posted about the Last Judgment, parousia, and all that, before: and those are other topics.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.