“Captain gets 36 years for deserting ship.”
That headline in this week’s news stream defined the life of one man in a single snapshot. Snapshots are how human beings judge each other. This captain of a South Korean ferry was given a heavy sentence for not only deserting his ship, but its passengers as well—leaving many to die in a capsizing accident that happened last April. He was not officially charged with murder, however. That’s a label many of the families of those dead wanted applied to him: murderer. Their mental cameras took a different snapshot of him than the one his judge used.
This Sunday’s readings are not as much about humanity’s snap judgments as they are about God’s documentary motion pictures. He has one in the making on each of us—even that ferry boat captain. There may be a few scenes of heroism in that one that didn’t find a wide audience. The one snapshot our media took of him at a weak moment will forever define his character to his human brethren. But a little snapshot doesn’t matter in God’s big picture. He knows his subjects intimately.
Take the woman in our first reading from the book of proverbs. (PRV 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31). This is actually the shooting script from God’s movie about a worthy wife whose husband trusts her because she has brought him a lifetime of good. She works for her family and gives to the poor. Very few have seen the entire story of her beautiful life—or that of millions like her throughout history—and even God thinks that’s a shame.
“Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,” this passage states. “The woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”
Charm and beauty are images of youth that only last in snapshots. People pay attention to pretty people but tend to lose interest when they start looking like everybody else. But if one of those everybodies turns exceptionally ugly or does something unbecoming, that also becomes a permanent snapshot in the collective mind of the masses and will define him or her forever.
In Sunday’s gospel reading (MT 25:14-30) Jesus’ story about the master who distributes talents to his servants to invest and grow shows that sometimes snapshots tell the truth. Two of his servants make profits for their master, but Jesus casts the third as a coward who fears what would happen if he lost his master’s investment—which is why he buries it.
“Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
This servant’s mistake was hoping his master would be satisfied because his investment wasn’t lost. But this master, like ours, wants us to take courageous and faith-filled action with our lives. He wants us to learn from the risks we take. Freezing with fear in the spotlight and running to hide in the shadows is not acceptable. God wants us to participate in his motion picture of us and step into the light so he can capture our true selves. God’s is a candid camera and we don’t know where or when he’ll catch us doing something we don’t want to be captured. As Paul tells the Thessalonians in our second reading (1 THES 5:1-6), we must always be ready for our close-up.
“For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night,” Paul writes. “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”
We may be able to hide our worst moments from human cameras, but we are always in God’s spotlight. Let’s smile and act as he taught us.