The unknown individuals who choose our liturgical Scripture passages wisely have given us just nine of Proverb's original 22 verses for the first reading (Prov 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31). Had they included the author's entire portrayal of a "worthy wife," I'm certain our lectors would be distracted by muffled laughter coming from all parts of the community. The perfect wife's job description has changed significantly over the last two millennia.
Some of her attributes are still appreciated. Everyone agrees that "entrusting his heart to her, [her husband] has an unfailing prize." And the author's most famous observation has held true through the years: "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; the woman who fears Yahweh is to be praised."
Yet I've personally known only one woman who actually "put her hands to the distaff" and whose "fingers plied the spindle." And she died almost two years ago!
That passage demonstrates an insight which all followers of God eventually have: Our commitment to others and God remains one of life's constants, but the way we concretely carry out that commitment constantly changes.
Paul's community in Thessalonika presents us with a classic example of this principle. When they first accepted the faith, they thought their imitation of Jesus' death and resurrection would be a short-term experience. Everyone, including Paul, was certain Jesus' Second Coming was just around the corner.
Yet, as we hear in the second reading (I Thes 5: 1-6), Jesus' Parousia not only has been put on hold, the Church is full of rumors about its exact date. People are more concerned with "times and seasons" than living their faith.
After first assuring his readers that it's stupid to worry about the "day of the Lord," Paul encourages them to live as though that event will unfold in the next ten seconds. Expecting an imminent Parousia, Christians must always "stay alert and sober."
Though Paul toys with the idea that Jesus' Second Coming might be a variable, he's convinced that imitating His dying and rising is a constant. He simply wants to make certain his Thessalonian community understands they're going to have to live their lives differently if their commitment develops into a lifetime project.
That's why it's important to insert the Gospel (Mt 25: 14-20) into the mix. Matthew knows from experience that some of Jesus' followers already have given into the temptation to "play it safe." They've zeroed in on one or two "religious" actions which they believe will get them into heaven, and refuse to take the chance of reaching beyond that security by forming deep relationships with God and others. He counters their behavior with Jesus' parable of the talents.
Because many of us were taught that the only thing in life that counts is getting into heaven, we'd probably agree with the servant who received one talent, then quickly, "dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money." Take no chances. If you have grace, then don't do anything except hold onto that grace. Forming relationships is always risky. Showing love to another means we constantly have to change our actions to meet the needs of that other. There's always a danger we might "do the wrong thing."
Jesus reminds us that to the person who has his faith, much more will be given, while from the one who doesn't share his risk-taking faith, what little he or she does have eventually will be taken away.
Two thousand years from now, people might laugh at how we in the 21st century showed our love to others. Yet, as long as we honestly try to give that love, we'll safely observe their laughter from a place where no one is wailing and grinding their teeth.