Scriptural Basis for Self-Improvement

18 November 2009 Wednesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
2 Mc 7, 1-31; Psalm 17; Luke 19, 11-28

The Gospel today is Luke’s version of Matthew’s Parable of the Talents, though Matthew’s “talents” are larger in value than Luke’s gold coins. In the time of Jesus, “talents” are units of mass almost like three times that of a precious metal. Though wiki is not as accurate but to give you an idea: it is around $20,000 in 2004 or the equivalent of 9 years of skilled work (check this). Luke however uses mnas, which is translated into “gold coins”. But the message of the parable remains the same: while waiting for the coming of the Lord, we must not sit around idle or simply keeping the status quo, we have to actively continue God’s work. When the Gospel of Luke was written years after the death of Jesus, the early church were asking the question about Jesus’ return and what to do while waiting. The parable was used in this context.

And it is in this context too that we hear the Gospel today. As we move towards the Solemnity of Christ the King, the question of the final coming of Jesus, the parousia, is placed at the fore. While waiting for the end of days, what do we do? Again the answer is the same.

One clear to-do is to develop our talents or the gifts God has given us. Jesus said, “to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” The statement of Jesus may seem a surprise and even an injustice. But in the context of a talent (including present-day denotation), Jesus expresses a reality. When we improve on our skills, the more we discover our potentials. The only way to sing is to open our mouth and sing; the only way to improve on our writing is to write; the only way to be better dancers is to practice. On this road of achieving mastery of our skills, we eventually find other skills. Some find themselves capable of a wide range of particular genres in a general skill: ballroom and ballet in dance; the classical and the blues in musical performance, etc. Some find another skill altogether. But to those who are lazy, whatever talent they have deteriorates. If we do not practice, even if we’re gifted, eventually we will find ourselves skills-deficient.

The motivation to be better is gratitude. The parable clearly states that the gold coins come from the nobleman. It is not theirs. The mother in the first reading reminds her sons on their way to their deaths that it is God who is the creator and who also gives life. It is God who is the source and the owner of the gifts. Everything that we have is borrowed. Nothing thus is ours. And thus, the development of our talents is a show of utmost gratitude. Consider: we feel honored when the gifts we’ve given is used by the recipient. God is honored if we invest on our gifts. In addition, we become fulfilled as we discover and use the very gifts we have. When we improve, we are given more responsibilities like the servants who were given 10 or 5 cities to manage according to the investments they earned. Therefore, when we use whatever we have, we discover more. Much more will be given to us.

How do we improve on our skills? I think there is more truth that many of us are already trying to dabble into many things; hoping that we’ll find some interesting thing to do on our free time or to perk up our work with new know-how. I find myself surfing for how-to videos on podcasting; or scouring articles on blogging; or trying to learn a new program.

But how do we sustain constant improvement? Let me share what I do. First, coffee or tea; it jump-starts my day. It keeps me up and about; my mind becomes alert. Second, I keep a small idea notebook. I write whatever comes to my mind. Since it is small and portable, I hold on to it wherever I go, ready to grab an inspiration while traveling, walking, or sleeping. In this notebook are blueprints of blog topics, event themes, wild ideas. They’re unedited, irreverent sometimes, grandiose to the point of an impossibility. But no matter how wild or how mild, they’re in that notebook. I refer to it on dry moments. In this notebook are also mind maps. Here is a link on how to do mind-mapping. Fourth, do not stop talking to people. The best ideas are usually from people you casually talk to: even children, even our enemies (they usually have a different take on what we have or how we do things). Keep an open mind to them; empty your cup so it can be filled up by others. Finally, try it before judging if you’re taking it or abandoning it. Sometimes the judgment that we can’t do it before trying kills all the possibilities of a new life with a new skill.

And oh I forgot: get yourself to enjoy. Sometimes the best ideas are the things you and other people love to do or like to experience.

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