“Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back'” (Mt 25: 24-25).
I used to struggle with this verse of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, not because I didn’t relate to it, but because I did. The problem was that I sided with the servant who buried his talent in the ground. What the servant did make sense to me, he kept his master’s talent safe and returned what he had been given. Historically, burying was considered a safe and acceptable practice in ancient Palestine when protecting someone else’s money. Even in reading carefully back to the beginning of the parable, I could see no reference to investing the talents. Though in the Gospel of Luke, there is an explicit demand to “trade with these until I come” (Lk 19:13). What is Jesus saying?
Actually, Jesus in this parable offers a microcosm of salvation history, the thread of which has been woven through all of Sacred Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. God, through his sovereign will, has consistently called, calls today, and will continue to call into the future a people to himself. In each age, God has bestowed upon humanity the generous gift of his grace, inviting us to receive and share in his very life, which is what we have been created for. This is a free gift, to be freely accepted or rejected. Once received though – no matter how little we choose to receive, we are directed to share what we have been given. Through a life lived of accepting, receiving, giving back to God and to one another, we are given even “greater responsibilities”.
In receiving the gift of God, himself, and sharing what he has given, ultimately his love, for God himself is Love, we not only mirror on earth, albeit dimly, but share in the divine communion of the love between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To reject this gift outright, or to receive some of the benefits and not to share, we cut ourselves off from the very life force and source of our being.
We can see this pattern emerge in this parable. The master gives his servants talents. To one he gives five, to another two, and to a third he gives one. All accept what they have been given. But differ in what they do with the gift. The first two double what they have been given and the third buried what he had been given. Two have received and multiplied their talents, the one refused to and kept it to himself. The master returns, commends and rewards the two, then berates and even takes the little the one had been given and gives it to the one who had more.
The message of The Parable of the Talents is as clear as it is challenging. John P. Meier summarizes that “Jesus is insistent; along with sovereign grace, serious demand, and superabundant reward comes the possibility of being condemned for refusing the demand contained in the gift. Indeed, one might argue that no aspect of Jesus’ teaching is more pervasive in the many different streams of the Gospel tradition, and no aspect is more passed over in silence today” (Meier 2016, 309).
God has created us and all of creation from the abundant outpouring of his love. Will we reject the gift of his love and invitation of communion? Will we receive, yet not actualize who we are called to be for our self and others because we would rather merely just exist, willing to be lured and entrapped by the temptations of anxiety, fear, apparent goods, and half-truths? Will we give in to the fear, too afraid to risk, to go out from ourselves to serve others? Or, will we appreciate the gift of our life and say thank you for the breath that we breathe? Are we willing to expand the love we have received by being willing to share, to multiply our talents, to embrace who God calls us to be, to love in kind, to will the good of others in the unique way God calls us to serve, whoever they may be?
I have lived the life of the wicked servant who buried his talent out of fear. I have embraced the sin of sloth and resisted opportunities to share what God has given me to invest. This was no path to fulfillment, but an experience of separation from the fullness of the One who wants so much more. To live a day to day existence adrift and dulled, is certainly not the way I hope to spend another day. I am trusting more in the love of God, seeking to discern and follow his will, though, at times, I still do so with indecision and trepidation. I do better when I reach out and seek the hand of Jesus and accept to be led by him. I have risked and fallen, made mistakes and duffed up time and again, but have learned, persevered, and each year of life there is a little less of me and a little more of Jesus shining through.
A big part of why I am where I am today is because of my wife, JoAnn. Who has been there supporting me and encouraging me every step of the way to come out of my shell, to learn to trust, to take risks, and she constantly stretched me to break out of my comfort zone. She modeled for me the act of giving of herself to others, especially our children. But not even just those closest to her. She often would complement something someone was wearing in her everyday encounters, she loved to give little gifts, write simple notes of affirmation, and the embodiment of her selfless giving was this past week when she made sure that the Hospice nurses caring for her had something to eat, to drink, and that they were warm enough because we had to keep the AC cool because of her spikes in temperature, even making sure one nurse wore one of her sweaters. I am sure that in a few days when she begins her journey from this life to the next, God will welcome JoAnn with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
We are not alone. What Jesus invites us, gives us, and yes, demands us to do, he will at the same time provide the support and energy we need to carry out the task given to us and to bring it to fulfillment. God has something for us to do, a talent or two to invest. May we allow the light of Jesus to shine through us as a prism in our own unique way so to dispel the darkness of our current political, social, and Church climate. May we not be afraid to be who God calls us to be. May we not be afraid to love and to be loved. May we, in the words of Jesus and St John Paul II who echoed them as he began his pontificate:
“Be not afraid” (Mt 14:27).
Photo: JoAnn, my heart, and I early in the treatment phase of pancreatic cancer that she has been suffering with.
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables. Vol. 5. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, August 31, 2019