(Prov.31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1Thess.5:1-6; Mt.25:14-30)
Religious symbols are common in Church art and architecture. There’s the Cross, of course, and wheat, grapes, flames, lambs, lions and even pelicans. But have you noticed any bees?
In Rome, bees can be found decorating many buildings, paintings, candlesticks, vestments and even a papal coat of arms. Indeed, real bee hives have long been kept on the roof of Notre-Dame in Paris. Why?
Well, bees provide wax for the Paschal candle and they symbolise purity and hard work. They are also known for being vigilant and fiercely protective of their queen. But bees also symbolise wisdom, for they collect nectar from many flowers and transform it into delicious golden honey, which adds sweetness and light to the lives of so many.
And importantly, as St John Chrysostom once said, the bee is more honoured than other animals, not because she labours, but because she labours for others. This idea of selfless labour is at the heart of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel.
A man plans to go away, but before going he leaves his money in the hands of his three servants. (In ancient times, a talent was a measurement of gold or silver.)
The first servant uses his talents well, as does the second. They both double their investment, but the third man simply buries his talent in a hole. When the owner returns, he praises and rewards the first two. But he’s unhappy with the third man because he has been unproductive, and he confiscates his talent.
The lesson for us here is that you must use whatever gifts God has given you, otherwise you will lose them.
Bishop Robert Barron says that we should think of these talents as everything we have ever received from God – our life, our breath, our strength, our abilities and all our many blessings. And because they come from God, they are meant to become gifts for others. But if you cling to them, as the third servant did, your talents will not grow. They will simply wither away and die.
So, how does God want us to use our gifts? Jesus has already shown us how: by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely, guiding the lost, helping the homeless and comforting the afflicted.
Helping whoever needs help.
The point is that when God gave us our human hearts, he did not expect us to use them selfishly. We know from experience that when we turn inward and hoard all our blessings for ourselves, we end up feeling miserable. Sure, we might feel good for a while, and on the surface we might seem fine, but the reality is that the more we hoard, the emptier we feel inside.
The message from today’s Gospel is that we are not really living unless we use what we have to benefit others.
St John Paul II was fond of saying that ‘Man finds himself only by making himself a sincere gift to others.’ [i] In other words, the more you give yourself away, the more God will give you and the happier and more blessed you will be.
This is how bees live: they use what little they have, and work without rest for the common good. They are also prepared to sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive.
Someone who lived like this was Antonio Stradivarius, who was born in Cremona, Italy in 1644. He loved music and wanted to be a musician, but he had such a high and squeaky voice that he couldn’t join a choir.
Antonio had a talent for wood-carving, however. When he was 22, he was apprenticed to Nicholas Amati, a well-known violin maker. Under his master’s training, Antonio developed his carving skills and his hobby became his craft.
He opened his own violin shop when he was 36, and worked patiently and faithfully. By the time he died in 1737, aged 93, he had built over 1,500 violins. Today, his instruments are the most expensive and sought after violins in the world.
Stradivarius was not a singer, a music player or a teacher of music. However, he used the talent God gave him to make a real difference in the lives of others. It made him feel good inside, and his legacy truly lives on today.
It was St Ambrose of Milan who likened the Church to a beehive. In a beehive, he noticed, all the bees spend their lives working together tirelessly for the common good of the hive. [ii]
This is how Jesus wants us to live.
[i] Gaudium et Spes (n.24).