If our lives are investments God makes to maximize the profit we return, we have to believe the wisdom reflected in the Book of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, supporting the old maxim, “there’s strength in numbers.”
Two are better than one: They get a good wage for their toil. If the one falls, the other will help the fallen one. But woe to the solitary person! If that one should fall, there is no other to help.
Sunday’s readings help us scale the value of our faith, from the faith shared by a married couple to that shared among an entire population of believers. The first reading values the love within a faithful marriage as priceless, with a wealth that extends well beyond the walls of that home (PRV 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31):
When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. … She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. … 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.
That kind of faith, when multiplied exponentially, is also the fear of despots—whose investment in their own power depends on isolating the power of the faithful—especially if those in that number believe their power comes from God, not man. That describes the masses of faithful Christians in China forced to hide the faith they value deep underground, out of the sight of their country’s jealous leader, Xi Jinping. But Sunday’s second reading from Paul (1 THES 5:1-6) seems addressed to those citizens forced to hide their light in the darkness of the grave their earthly leaders have dug for faith in anything but them.
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. … 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.
Jesus likened that day of accounting to the story of a wealthy master who entrusted his servants with his riches (MT 25:14-30). He knew their varying skill levels, so adjusted his investment in them accordingly—with just enough of a gamble to bring a respectable return.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Two servants doubled their master’s investments, but the one with the least talent for multiplying talents was also poor in courage and buried his master’s investment in fear of losing it entirely. Upon returning, the master rewarded those who were courageous with the faith invested in them. The one who lacked faith in his master’s faith got his just reward. He was stripped of that investment and relegated to the darkness of solitary confinement on the streets leading away from home and community.
Those Christian families forced to plant their faith deep in Beijing’s soil, out of its leader’s sight, are yielding a harvest that’s visible to the entire world—and to the Master who will reward their courageous return on his investment. Let’s pray that we who take our faith and freedoms for granted learn from their example and profit from it.