The Reader's Digest is translated into 15 different languages. It sells over 28 million copies each month. Assuming each copy is read by four people, the Reader's Digest touches the lives of 100 million people monthly. One of the magazine's occasional features is called "Heroes for Today." For example, some years ago an issue featured three people whom it considered to be heroes for our time.
One of these heroes is Bob Wieland. When Bob went to Vietnam in 1969, he was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. When he came back from Vietnam a few years later, he was three and a half feet tall and weighed 87 pounds. Bob had malaria and a temperature of 106 degrees. He was strapped to a board and packed in ice. Later he joked, "Outside of having no legs and being a physical wreck, I wasn't in bad shape." In 1993, nearly 25 years later, at the age of 45, Bob competed in the 26-mile New York Marathon. He covered the entire distance on his hands, propelling himself along in a leapfrog fashion.
The second Reader's Digest "hero for today" is John Penne, a retired businessman. He and his wife both developed cancer at the same time. His wife died, but John lives; and his cancer went into remission. While driving back and forth from the hospital for regular treatment, John noticed the number of sick people waiting at the hospital's bus stop. Sometimes the weather was bitter cold and these people, many of them elderly, were obviously in pain. John went to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society and said, "Give me a car and a little gas money, and I'll volunteer my days driving these unfortunate people home." For over 15 years now, John has donated all of his time doing just that.
The final hero is a bit different. He's Bubba Smith. A former college and pro football star, Bubba won national fame for his beer commercials on television. In October 1985, Michigan State University honored Bubba by making him the grand marshal of its homecoming parade. Bubba was thrilled to be back at his old alma mater. As he rode through the student-lined streets, one side started chanting, "Tastes great!" The other side chanted back, "Less filling!" It was obvious that Bubba's commercials had impressed a lot of young people. That night Bubba was deeply disturbed. At a rally, he saw many of those same students. Only this time - as they say - they were totally wasted - drunk out of their minds. Then and there he made a decision. He would stop doing the beer commercials. Bubba was concerned that his commercials were influencing a lot of young people. "I was selling to children," he said. Bubba's decision cost him a lot of money. But Bubba was convinced that something more than money was at stake.
All three of these stories put flesh and bones on the central story that the Lord sets before us in today's Gospel. Each of these individuals were given an opportunity like the servants in today's parable to make some life changing choices in their lives with the gifts and talents God had given them. It is interesting that the man in the Lord's parable with the least amount of money or talents is the one who made no effort to do anything with his talents. He probably reasoned that he had so little in comparison to the others that he could be excused. How different from the first two "heroes for today": the Vietnam vet and the cancer patient. If anybody had a legitimate excuse for doing the minimum with the rest of their lives, they did. Instead they are doing the maximum with their lives. The final "hero for today" however is a kind of reverse case. He's more like the man in the parable who was given the largest sum of money. Yet, Bubba' decision was motivated not by selfish concerns but rather by a value beyond fame or money. He felt a need to make a dramatic statement - one of far more importance than fame or money.
The point of today's parable and hero stories should be obvious. How are we using the talents God has given us? As our liturgical year draws to a close and the Advent Season nears, it is fitting that we ponder St. Paul's words to us this day, "Brothers and sisters, you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night...Therefore, let us not sleep...but let us stay alert and sober.” In other words, you and I are going to be held accountable for what we do with our talents. And that day of accountability may be closer than we think.
Let's close with this prayer:
Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will" - and using our talents to the best of our ability.