Today’s first reading, from The Book of Proverbs, sings the praises of a worthy wife. It concludes by saying, “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” What is special about the city gates? What is the significance of the city gates? Of what benefit will it be to the good wife if her praise gets to the city gates?
In the Bible, city gates protected the city against invaders. Apart from that, city gates were the center of administration for the city. At the city gates, there were crucial business transactions, the court convened there, special announcements were made from there, and the elders met there to make important decisions about the city. You can call the city gates the headquarters of the city. Think of city gates like the White House in the context of the United States. When Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), he meant, the headquarters of hell will not be powerful enough to destroy the Church.
So why is it a big deal for the good wife’s praise to reach the city gates? The biblical culture was a “man’s world.” The men called the shots. No woman got to where important decisions were made. They had no representatives there. No one noticed them. In such a context, it was easy for a woman to sit back and do nothing. It was easy to say, “Nothing I do here matters; no one cares.” But this reading brings out the importance of doing your own part, no matter how little it may seem. You may not be able to do a big thing, but you can do a little thing in a big way. So, the good wife who lives in a culture where no woman gets to the headquarters, can make her way to the headquarters through the news of her good works.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus told the parable of a man who gave talents to his servants before going on a journey. He gave five talents to one, he gave two talents to another, and he have one talent to the last one. He shared the talents to them according to their abilities. The first two traded with theirs and made a hundred percent profit each. But the last one went, dug a hole, and buried his own talent. His excuse was that he was afraid of his master, so he wanted to keep it intact for him. Upon his return, the man rewarded the two who traded with their talents, and he punished the third one who hid his talents. In the first reading, the worthy wife was in a culture that did not favor her, but she still did all the good she could do as a house wife, which took her praises to the city gates, a place women would ordinarily not be mentioned. She did not allow what she could not do get in the way of what she could do. Unlike the worthy wife, in the gospel passage, the third servant did not consider what he could do, he did not want to take risk, he gave up on himself even before he started.
Have you heard about St John Mary Vianney? He was a French Catholic priest and is venerated in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of parish priests. His journey to the Catholic priesthood was not a smooth one. His education was interrupted by war. When he eventually got into the seminary, it was difficult for him to pass his exams. Latin was too difficult for him to understand. His mates looked down on him. Some of his teachers thought he should not continue in the seminary. But he was good at two things: he was very prayerful and he was very humble. When his formators struggled with the decision to present him for ordination, the vicar general asked them, “Is this young man pious? Does he say his rosary well?” When they answered, “Yes,” the Vicar General said, “Very well, I will receive him [for ordination], Divine grace will do the rest.” My dear friends, sometimes, we are like the third servant; we are afraid to take risk, we are afraid of what people will say, we are waiting for the best condition and so we bury our talents. We must not allow the things we cannot do get in the way of the things we can do. The good wife in the first reading was not allowed to be at the city gates, but her good works took her there. John Vianney could not pass his exams, but his humility and his prayer life took him to the priesthood. After his ordination, he became renowned for his preaching, and his holiness of life. People came from all walks of life to see him. Nobody knows everything, and nobody knows nothing. Nobody has everything, and nobody has nothing. Identify your unique talent, use it to serve others, and you will be surprised at what profit it will make for you. May the Lord continue to bless the works of our hands until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.