A reflection on the Readings for Sunday, October 8 — The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

A couple days ago, I took some time to visit the classrooms of our parochial school. As you can imagine, there were jokes, laughter, games, and more with the kids. When visiting one of the classes, I heard a peculiar story that helps us begin to reflect on today’s readings:

The story tells us that somewhere there lived a little turtle named Rafael. When he was in school, Rafael saw that all of his friends were good at something. Each of them had a skill, a talent. Since he also wanted to be good at something, when he got home he asked his parents what his talent was. His parents responded: “You will have to find out.” So, he started searching.

He first played chess and saw that he was not good at that. Then he tried soccer, and also saw that he was not good. Then he tried dancing, and it didn’t work out either. He tried many things without success until he started crying because he thought he didn’t have any talent. Suddenly, his friend Mario saw him and tried to console him, telling him not to give up because one day he was going to find his talent.

The next day they were in class and the teacher asked out loud to everyone, “What is 525 divided by 5?” No one could answer the question because it was very difficult. But Rafael stood up and declared, “The answer is 105.” The teacher replied, “That’s correct!”

Later, Rafael’s friend Mario told him, “See? you already found your talent; you are good at math!” Rafael smiled because he had finally found his talent.

Today’s readings invite us to reflect on our talents. We all have some ability, some gift that God has given us. It can be anything — studying, sports, or music. The lesson, however, is not just about discovering our talent, but also to reflect on how we can use our talent for the glory of God. This is where we see two important points for reflection. First, we have to use our talents to cultivate. Second, our talents must bear good fruit.

Using our talents to cultivate

Both the first reading and the gospel begin in a similar way: A landowner plants a vineyard and takes care of it. In the first reading we hear: “My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines.” The gospel also speaks of a man who cared for and cultivated his vineyard. In this parable, however, there is a problem. The cultivators felt they were the owners — heirs of that vineyard — to such an extent that when a representative of the owner came, they killed him.

In the scriptures, the vineyard often symbolizes the people of God. We all must work in His vineyard. The problem is that sometimes our attitudes — and this can be especially common among Catholics who are very active in church — can become controlling. At the parish level, think about how many times we find that the coordinator of a ministry or group acts like they think they are “lord of heaven and earth.” Between groups, parishioners might fight over which ministry is the most important: “the Bible study is more important because we study the word of God” or “the rosary group is more important because we pray to the Mother of God.”

This same attitude can lead us to exclude people from the life of the church (communion, ministries, sacraments), rather than bringing them closer. These are all ways in which we do not use our talents to bear fruit. We fall into a proprietary, controlling attitude. Ultimately, this means that things stay as they are. Sometimes we like it, because we feel comfortable.

We have to remember that the tent of the Catholic Church is big and wide. It has room to fit many people. Everyone has different ideas, personalities, preferences, nationalities, economic levels, and personal experiences. Everyone fits in this tent.

We must use our talents so that in this great variety we can bear fruit within the vineyard, within the People of God. It is not enough to just want to control, to keep things “the way things have always been done.” We have to cultivate. We all have talents that God has given us, we have a role to play within his vineyard, and he makes us instruments to express his love.

Our talents must bear good fruit

Many spiritual writers use the image of a “horizontal life” versus a “vertical life” to help us adjust the focus of our lives. This same image works for talents. As we’ve already noted, we all have talents. Each person’s talents are different, but they all contribute to God’s plan. Let us ask ourselves: How are we using them? Do we use them in a “horizontal” way? Do we use them just to seek recognition or adulation from others? Do we use them — as described in an earlier point — to control and nurture a possessive attitude? Do we use them to foster gossip and division?

Or we use them vertically, so that they may bear good fruit?

Any talent used vertically — meaning a talent we use to work in God’s vineyard — will always bear good fruit. For example, if you play guitar and you only play it in your bedroom, no one will her you. You can be the best guitar player in the world, but no one will know. However, if you join the church choir for Mass on Sundays, your talent will help others praise and connect with God. It’s not enough to just play guitar well, you have to use it vertically. It is not enough to just want to bear fruit. You have to bear good fruit.

The religious authorities described in the gospels wanted to bear fruit, I’m sure. That is why they felt that they were protecting the faith, but they did so from a purely legal, almost authoritarian perspective; they did it horizontally in such a way that when the Son of God came, they did not recognize him. Likewise, we can use our talents and bear fruit, but bad fruit — fruit that only diminishes other people, fruit that excludes, fruit that creates discord and division. These are not good fruit.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves: Am I using my talents to serve God and my neighbor? Or just to serve myself? Am I using my talents to cultivate? Am I using my talents to bear good fruit?

Image: Adobe Stock. By Amy Buxton.

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Father Bernardo Lara is a priest of the Diocese of San Diego and pastor of three Southern California parishes: Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary in Brawley and St. Joseph in Westmorland.

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