The parable from this morning’s reading should prompt us each to ask, “Have I been a good steward of the blessing that God has entrusted to me?” This question can be used to generate a genuine reflection of our talents and how they may be used by the Church to her benefit. But as the Lord demonstrates in this morning’s parable, those of us who have been given much and invest it wisely, can expect to receive even more. Now, this should sound like a great promise: To get more simply because God favored you in some undeserved way—an excellent return on your investment, so to speak. And by being the recipient of this bounty of riches and graces, we should be secure in the thought that we can look forward to a lifetime of spiritual complacency, where we live out our lives believing that we, by virtue of our blessings, have somehow already made the grade, and that our salvation is assured. But a deeper reflection on today’s reading will tell us that, in fact, just the opposite is true. From those who received much, so much more will be expected. And from those who feel like they may not have been abundantly blessed as others, much more is expected as well.
While the currency mentioned in this parable is money, we should expand our understanding of valueto include those things that go beyond what can be earned and spent here on earth. In his commentary on this parable (Parables of the Gospels, IX. B#48, pp. 59-65), St. Gregory the Great (c. 540—604) sees the valuable commodity, the talents being entrusted to the servants, not as money but as spiritual gifts, those things gained by living in the Spirit, which causes us to perform acts of righteousness. The rich man in the parable is in fact Christ Himself, and His travel to a “far country” represents Christ’s ascension into heaven after His resurrection. According to St. Gregory’s interpretation, every one of ushas been given certain blessings, each in different measure. Our job as good servants is to invest these blessings wisely, with the understanding that it is not our personal wealth that we are managing, but rather the treasure of our master. As St. Gregory tells us, the Master is away but He will return, at which time He will expect an accounting of His investments.
When I read this parable, I think of how I would respond if those three servants were investing my money. How would I react if I handed over my 401K or IRA accounts to one of these three “money managers”? If we estimate that one talent-weight (~33 kg/75 lbs.) of gold is worth about $1.4 million dollars (at ~$41K/kg), then even the least amount entrusted would be a significant sum. We would hope that the trust we put in someone to use this resource wisely would result in a substantial increase. And just like each of us, God expects a fair return on His investment. As Christians, we are expected to use our spiritual gifts in a manner that will increase and strengthen the Body of Christ.
This parable, like most of the parables of Christ, uses the extremes to clearly illustrate the point that Jesus is trying to make to His listeners. The amount of money left to each servant is not the point He is trying make, since each of them was entrusted with a significant amount of the master’s wealth. The message here is that each of the servants was expected to increase the value of the investment. And the same can be said for each of us: We must not judge value of our work for the Kingdom based solely on the significance of gifts that God has entrusted to each of us. Notice in the parable that the wise servant entrusted with two talents received the same praise and reward as the one who was entrusted with five talents. The value did not matter; what mattered is what they did with it. Both servants, through active investment, doubled their master’s money—a 100% rate of return! This would certainly make anyone happy.
By contrast, take look at the third servant in the parable. Granted, he was entrusted with the least amount of money of the three servants, but again, the point is not the amount of money but what he does with it. Rather than providing a decent return for his master, this servant, afraid of failing, took that money and hid it in the ground. While it was safe from thieves or the possible loss through a bad investment, the money did not increase, either. This servant failed in his appointed task to provide value to the master’s investment.
St. Gregory wrote that the third servant represents many in the church who live a paradoxical existence when it comes to their Christian faith: They continue to live a sinful life because they are afraid to change. They understand that they are sinners but are so scared of turning their life around and living for Christ that they just simply continue along the well-worn path of sin and destruction.
So, what is stopping each of us from giving God a 100% return on His investment? Are we going to step out in faith and love like the first two servants, taking what God has given us and multiplying it? Or are we going to be like the third servant, who out of jealously or fear, chose to just bury those gifts in the ground of our foolish pride and refuse to do the work that is expect of us?
As this parable demonstrates, no one in God’s Kingdom is “talentless”—we all have something that we can contribute. God did not choose you simply to keep a seat warm for a couple of hours on Sunday morning: He chose you for greater things. We have each been given special gifts that can be used for the glory of God. And while some may seem to have been blessed more than others in certain ways, we can believe that everyone by virtue of his or her baptism into the family of God, have something to contribute.
Someday, maybe soon, the Master will return, and He will hold each of us accountable for what we did or did not do with the blessings that He entrusted to us. If we work diligently, wisely investing the time and resources at our disposal, we too, may be able to double the Master’s investment. Then we will hear the joyful words of our Master: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your lord.”