Perhaps one approach to this week’s readings is to look at the fundamental attitudes of the servants in the gospel parable. But I would like to flesh out this distinction with a few examples.
I went to a conference once where someone said we should stop all infant baptism. This person made the point that baptism imposes serious obligations. She claimed that it was unfair to baptise children who had not volunteered for these obligations. She obviously assumed that these days baptism was more a burden than a great gift. She also assumed that parents would not be able to convince their children otherwise. Her attitude to baptism was more negative than positive. To her, baptism presupposed freedom from constraint, rather than baptism being the ultimate affirmation that life is good.
The next example is the great adolescent complaint: I did not ask to be born. We hear this when someone is asked to do something fairly basic, a task that just comes with being part of a family or part of a community. The person complains that he or she never opted into this social contract. This complaint raises the great existential problem: I exist and seem to be responsible before I have any say. Again, the complaint assumes, on some level, that existence is more trouble than it is worth.
On a smaller, more local level, we see the same thing when we come across any situation that has nothing to do with us, except for the fact that we have seen what needs to be done. It could be someone who looks lost. It could be someone being confronted by someone else. It could be a community issue that requires community action. It could be a theoretical problem that I notice that needs time and study, or even just a social issue that requires someone to formulate it appropriately before any resolution can even get started. In each of these situations, I find myself responsible before I get to determine whether I want to play the game or not. Each of these situations therefore raises the question of my fundamental attitude.
On a more global level, perhaps we see an echo of this in the great demographic collapse of the Western World. People are opting not to have families. Birthrates have been dropping for a long time now. Perhaps people are seeing life, and especially family life, as not worth the hassle. This of course completely undermines any idea of a welfare state, and probably creates an existential risk for a functioning democracy. But before anything else, it also speaks to a fundamental attitude to life, a lack of hope. Again, this might be a way to approach our readings.
In our gospel, the first two servants accept the task set before them and get on with it. There is a sense of confidence manifested in a certain responsibility, responsibility in perhaps its most basic meaning. I believe that I am personally addressed. I believe that this conversation of life is fundamentally good. I therefore feel empowered to respond. This speaks to a faith in creation, and therefore a faith in my creator.
The third servant responds from fear. There is a sense of opting out of the game of life. There is a sense that life is a trap, something to be afraid of. Any gifts I may have, any opportunities I may have: all these are more trouble than they are worth. I did not ask to have any of this, therefore it is unfair to ask anything of me. This is that adolescent, existential complaint. We might laugh at it, but it goes deep. And it shows up in many ways and at many times. As I said, it speaks to a fundament approach to life and therefore to God.
I would just like to make two points. One from our gospel and one from our first reading.
First, the one from our gospel. It is worth noting that a negative attitude to God and to life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we opt out, we lose life. Our horizons come closer. Our perspective shrinks. Anyone who thinks he or she has not much will lose even the little he or she has. What Christ therefore says is just a statement of reality. This is worth praying about.
Second, the opting in becomes a search for wisdom. The more I believe life is good, the more I seek out the way to more life, the more I seek to know how to grow. This is the search for wisdom, and wisdom has been the theme in the first reading over the last two weeks. But one of the very interesting aspects to the Biblical description of the search for wisdom is that it transforms itself.
Last week we had the seduction of wisdom. This week we have the marriage to wisdom. It offers itself as the bride to be for humanity, and therefore for creation. However, the one who seeks after wisdom, the one who offers himself in marriage to wisdom, wisdom ends up forming one into a true disciple of God, and therefore a true member of the church, the Bride of Christ.
This is the strange path of wisdom. Earthly wisdom, a humility before life, an openness to reality ends up leading one into a religious vocation. The more I seek out wisdom, the more I realise that my seeking is my very nature. That I have been created to seek, and therefore that my creator has placed this quest in my heart. I am seeking Wisdom because Wisdom is first seeking me. My beloved loves me first, and want to make a home with me, wants me to become, like our Lady, a Temple of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom wants to grow my heart, wants to become incarnate in my life.
So, we might pray then for this fundamental faith in the goodness of life and of creation. We might pray first then for our belief in the goodness of God. We might pray that our faith, our confidence, sounding in hope, will becomes contagious for those around us, and for our world that desperately wants to know it is loved by its creator.