This Sunday we are presented with another parable for our reflection. It tells of a man who, before taking on a journey, entrusted his possessions to his servants.
To one he gave five talents; to another two, and to a third one. The first two servants were industrious and invested their talents; in the process, they doubled their amount. The third servant, afraid of losing his one talent, buried it in the ground. When the master returned, he called the servants and settled accounts with them.
He praised the first two “good and faithful servants,” and rewarded them with greater responsibilities. Then he invited them to “share in (their) master’s joy.” Instead, the third servant was condemned for being “wicked and lazy” and ordered that he be “(thrown) into the darkness outside.”
The parable of the talents is taken from Chapter 25 of Matthew, which contains three parables. The first is the parable of the ten virgins (last Sunday’s gospel) and the second is today’s parable of the talents. The third is the parable of the last judgement which will be the gospel reading for next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. All three parables are about the second coming of Christ at the end of time. Their common message is the need to be vigilant and ready to meet the Lord at any time because no one knows the day or hour of his coming.
In the first parable, the wise virgins were found ready because they kept their lamps (faith) burning with light (charity). And so, they were admitted to the wedding banquet (the kingdom). The two industrious servants were also found ready when their master returned because they managed his property responsibly by making it productive. They too were invited to partake of their master’s joy. Those who were not found ready were left out in the dark.
Today’s readings teach us how to prepare for the Lord’s return by being faithful to our responsibilities, no matter how ordinary and simple. The first reading commends the worthy wife for being faithful in her daily duties. Mother Teresa tells us that God does not call us to be successful but to be faithful.
Being faithful means being responsible for the talents entrusted to us by God. What are these talents? They are not just our special skills and abilities. They are all of God’s gifts, including life itself, our faith, his word, the sacraments… He gave them to us to nurture, develop, and make productive. Faith, for instance, is not meant to be buried but to be brought to full life and be shared. Thus, the third servant was reprimanded not only for being lazy but also wicked.
The parable shows how lavish God is with his gifts. One might think that the one talent entrusted to the third servant was small and trivial. According to biblical scholars, one talent is equivalent to 6,000 denarii. And if one denarius was the usual day’s wage, one talent was worth 16 years of daily wages. Truly, God is extravagant when he gives. We cannot but be responsive to his generosity by being faithful and responsible.
The parable ends with a perplexing detail wherein the master ordered that the one talent be taken away from the servant and given to the one who had ten. “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Does this not sound like an overkill?
Actually, it points to a simple fact of life that the more you use your gift and share it with others, the more it grows and multiplies. The less you do, the less the chance for it to survive. Take any talent, say in music or sport. The more you exercise your skill, the more you grow in perfecting the art. The less you do, the more it degenerates until it atrophies and dies.
Certain rodents, living underground or in caves, possess perfect eyes but cannot see. Charles Darwin theorized that these animals once had the ability to see. In time, however, they lost their sight because of disuse.
The parable of the talents is an excellent icon of the spirituality of stewardship. This spirituality is founded on the fact that we do not own anything. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1Cor 4:7) We are not owners but only stewards of all that we have. As grateful stewards, we are called to be responsible and enterprising in multiplying the gifts entrusted to us. Let us strive to increase our gifts to increase our capacity to give. In the end, only one question will be asked of us on judgment day (as we shall hear next Sunday): how much have we given in this life?*