Wednesday of the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Very often, when people devote themselves to a career or a big project, they focus the product but often fail to think about the result of that product, whether their bosses will reward their labor or not. In a few cases, success will land them a promotion, or a raise, or extra vacation time, but more often their success will simply lead to a pat on the back and even more work. Younger employees always fall into this trap, going above and beyond to impress their bosses only to have additional workloads, but the seasoned employees often know better and keep a low profile in order to keep their workload to a minimum.
In an unjust, but very common, ironic twist, many bad employees are sooner promoted over good ones because the latter are more valuable to the company at the lower level than they are at a higher one. Schools will often work this way, keeping their talented teachers in the classroom while promoting the mediocre teachers to positions of administration. After all, if a school has talented teachers, the administrators do not need to do all that much except attend meetings and fill out paperwork, something any average person could do. Unfortunately, these average paper-pushers earn much more money and receive much more respect than the pedagogical geniuses of the classroom. This dynamic has created a huge problem in American education. Great teachers will do one of three things: they stop teaching and find a career that rewards their ability; they purposely stifle their excellence and pursue a promotion that will take them away from the classroom and compensate them better; or, most often, they will do amazing things for a few years, burn out, and quit the profession altogether. Bad teachers will usually stay because they figured out a way to as little as possible and still keep their job.
Far from giving more to those who have, schools (and probably many other organizations) take from those who have and give to those who have not. Besides internalizing spiritual implications, people might do well to understand Jesus’ words in a practical sense. School districts could pay their teachers, the people who actually work with the students, more, and they could pay their principles, the people who work the paperwork, less. Moreover, good teachers could earn even more for doing especially well with their classes. And since secretaries and paraprofessionals handle most of the paperwork, and administering discipline is simply a matter of following predetermined protocol, the school could easily let go many of its principals, superintendents, and all the unseen education bureaucrats in the administration buildings, and replace them with more efficient grading software, new copy machines, and maybe some ping pong tables for the teachers’ lounge. In such a case, Jesus’ wisdom could finally shine: “I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Teachers who have ability will have more, and those who cannot, or do not, teach will either quit or be demoted to administration.
Jesus’ parable of the three servants draws a parallel between management and discipleship. The nobleman rewards his first two servants, but punishes the the third. The first two servants follow their master’s command to “engage in trade” with the money he gives them; this means that they must enter the world, create, sell, and manage so that they can make a profit. In their effort to gain a profit, they invest themselves in the gift of their master. Not only do they grow richer since their master rewards them, they also grow as people because they have learned to successfully manage and acquire wealth—in a way, they have become masters themselves.
The third servant, and the people who despise the nobleman from the beginning, do not have anything to offer except excuses. Instead of growing like the first two enterprising servants, they shrink in their own pettiness and envy. The third servant, in accounting for his utter laziness, mutters the excuse of every mediocre imbecile: “you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant.” Compounding his failure with defiance, the third servant actually criticizes the master for even expecting something from him—one could translate his reply as, “I’m not paid enough to do any kind of work.” Not even repentant for his failure, the servant still feels entitled to his master’s mercy. Unlike the slave who follows a perverted justice that compensates dullards like himself, the master executes true justice to suit the third servant’s response: “Take the gold coin from him and give it to the servant who has ten.” Like a good manager, he rewards excellence and punishes failure.
On the surface, this parable seems to suggest that Jesus lacks sympathy for the poor and only wants to make the rich richer, but the details and context lead to a different interpretation. The servants were not rich, and they received their capital with the same request made to them. The first two became rich through hard work and obedience; the third one became poor through indolence and disobedience. In terms of discipleship, the first two servants resemble the saints who worked hard through prayer, fasting, and alms-giving and obeyed Christ’s teachings to convert nonbelievers, while the third servant resembles the growing mass of lackadaisical believers who feel entitled to the sacraments and salvation without lifting a finger. Obviously, the first group will bring souls to God as they themselves grow closer to God while the second group does precisely the opposite.
Therefore, Christ, the good manager as well as the good shepherd, must elevate the first group and humiliate the second one. In keeping with this judgment, leaders of the Church and leaders of the family (and the leaders of schools) have a responsibility to do the same with their own members. To do otherwise would inevitably lead to corruption of the whole institution.
In the end, as Christians, we are all Christ’s servants and we have a choice to work and obey, or not. Fortunately, Christ is a loving master and makes it clear what we should choose.