As the days shorten and the year draws to an end, the Scriptures invite us to take stock of our lives. We are the stewards of all that we have received. Life itself is a gift. Despite our many failings, the Father has adopted us as his children in his Son Jesus Christ. In thanksgiving for these many gifts, let us cultivate a habit of reflective prayer. Let us acknowledge the many gifts that we so often take for granted. Let us render to ourselves an account of the way in which we have used both time and talents.
The Book of Proverbs introduces the perfect wife as a model of stewardship. We should understand the passage against its own time, rather than dismissing it against a more modern vocabulary of gender equality. What the passage has to say applies to everybody who strives to fulfil the life entrusted to them. It speaks not only to those who would become the perfect wife, but to those who would become the perfect husband, parent, teacher or manager.
The Book of Proverbs lists the talents of the perfect wife. She is always busy with wool and flax. She has eager hands. The passage was not intended to relegate women to domestic slavery, but to rejoice in talents that are embraced and used to benefit others.
“She holds out her hand to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy.” These words question a materialistic society that presumes, as an unqualified right, that the fruits of our labour and talents belong to ourselves alone. It is easy to forget that what we have so freely received should be freely given. A moment’s reflection brings to mind out indebtedness to God and to each other. The love and forgiveness in which we live is not a right, but a gift to be shared.
Finally, the perfect wife is not governed by superficial beauty, but by the inner beauty of wisdom and prudence. Such a philosophy must surely question the presumptions of an acquisitive economy.
The familiar parable of the talents is a further invitation to a prayerful review of our lives. The most obvious point of the parable is that the talents entrusted to the servants did not belong to the servants. They belonged to the master, and had been entrusted to the management of his servants. Our thoughts easily run to the different sums entrusted to each servant. It tells us something about ourselves if, in our imagination, we place ourselves with the servant who received most. The worth of each servant was assessed not in the sum that they had received, but the care with which they fulfilled their trust.
What we are, in the complexity of our many gifts and abilities, is a gift of God. It is fruitless and destructive to envy in others the talents that we do not possess in ourselves. Let us rejoice in the life that has been entrusted to us, giving glory to God in a life lived for each other. Such a life will not go unanswered: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have shown that you can be faithful in small things, I will entrust you with greater. Come and join in your master’s happiness.”
Our fidelity to small things becomes the joy of God’s abiding presence. Let us never neglect the gift of God’s love
in our lives. In so doing we become, in the words of the parable, the one who has nothing, and from whom the little he has is taken away.