78. Talents in Trust (Matthew 25:14-30)
“We preach not one coming only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the first. The first revealed the meaning of his patient endurance; the second brings with it the crown of the divine kingdom.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Matthew 25:14-30: ‘It is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third is one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. Sir, he said you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness. Next the man with the two talents came forward. Sir, he said you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness. Last came forward the man who had the one talent. Sir, said he I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back. But his master answered him, You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’
Christ the Lord Christ is the king of the parable, and we are the servants. Do you think of yourself as a servant? God has given each of us a certain number of “talents.” (By a fortuitous linguistic quirk, the word that in the original language refers to a large sum of money refers in our language to a much broader category of skills and abilities.) Christ’s return in the context of this discourse means three things: when destruction comes upon Jerusalem sometime after Jesus’ ascension, when he comes again at the end of history – which could be tomorrow or could be in another thousand years – and when he comes individually to each of us at the end of our lives, another mysterious moment. And so, we have an unknown amount of time in which to invest those talents and to make them increase the wealth of the Kingdom – or not. Our eternal destiny depends directly upon how much our talents have contributed to the growth of the Kingdom. There will be no room for excuses: if we have tried to invest our talents, we will be welcomed into the Kingdom forever: if not, we will be thrown into the darkness.
Perhaps at first glance the most striking aspect of this parable is how definitive it is. Jesus speaks so unambiguously, even graphically, about heaven and hell. Since he is Lord of life, death, and history, nothing about them is hidden from him. Yet, another glance will show something even more striking: he desires all of us to come and be with him in heaven.
Christ the Teacher Note first of all that our talents are to be invested on behalf of the king, since we will have to give them back to the king in the end. They must increase the wealth of Christ’s Kingdom. We are called to use our talents to extend and defend the Kingdom of God, to promote true human values (justice, life, beauty, and peace), to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, to bring as many people as possible into this Kingdom (which here on earth subsists in the Church), to overtake the remaining bastions of sin and greed, and dismantle every work of the devil. To the extent that I use my talents for these purposes, I will achieve the purpose of my life, please the king, and prove myself his worthy subject, one who has responsibly administered the great gifts I have received. And as a result, I will be rewarded accordingly; the reward will be proportionate to my diligence. (Christ was always talking about rewards.)
Note secondly what the Church has always understood by talents: every gift we have received from God, starting with the gift of existence, including all the capabilities of our bodies and minds, extending to education, culture, faith, the sacraments, vocation, and every opportunity and resource within our personal sphere of influence – from money to artistic sensibility, from creative genius to physical prowess, from freedom of speech to the elusive entity of time itself. In other words, we have received everything from God, and we are free either to take all our gifts and squander them, burying them in the hole of self-indulgence, fear, laziness, and greed (as did the prodigal son, for instance, in addition to the hapless fellow of the current parable), or to give them back to God by putting them to work for his Kingdom. Nothing escapes the eternal reckoning, so everything is a chance to build up or tear down our relationship with God. In this parable, Christ implores us: “Live for the things that last! Strive for true human and Christian values! Don’t be afraid to lay everything on the line for me and for the Church! For others, time is money; for you, time is Kingdom.”
Christ the Friend How clearly Christ speaks to us in the Gospels! He does not disguise his saving truth in complicated theological costumes; he does not distort it for fear of offending our over-sensitive egocentrism; he does not greedily hoard it. God wants to save us and teach us the path of a fulfilling life; Christ is the generous agent of that salvation.
The lazy servant of the parable failed precisely because he had a different concept of the master. He feared him like a slave, maybe even resented him (for only giving him one talent and giving more to the other servants). He thought of his lord as a hard taskmaster; the mission with which he was entrusted seemed too demanding, too unreasonable. We can fall into the same deception. We are exceedingly vulnerable to it, because it gives us an easy excuse for wallowing in our laziness and self-pity. Jesus has proved that he is thoroughly trustworthy, but since trusting him means breaking out of our comfort zone, sometimes we prefer to stay suspicious. Few things pain his heart more.
Jesus: I created you to know me and love me, to live in my friendship now and for all eternity. I have limited my omnipotence in giving you this possibility, because friendship requires freedom, and freedom necessitates the possibility that you will reject my friendship. But you have nothing to fear from me, nothing to lose in following me. You gain everything by accepting my invitation. Enjoy the life and talents I have given you, invest them for eternity, and trust that I will never demand from you more than you are capable of giving.
Christ in My Life My life is a mission. You have given me real responsibility; what I do matters, for me and for others. Sometimes this makes me feel pressured – but that’s not what you want. You want me to launch out into the deep with utter confidence in you. Enlarge my heart! Increase my faith! You are worthy of all trust, of all love, of any sacrifice. Thank you for giving me a few talents. Help me to put them to work…
How many people squander their lives, Lord! Just as I was doing before you came to my rescue…. You are so patient with me. You give me plenty of time. And all you ask is that I try my best to serve you, please you, and glorify you by fulfilling my potential and helping as many others as I can fulfill theirs. Through me, may your Kingdom come…
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