With the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches that those who faithfully use the “talents” they are given from God will gain entrance into the Kingdom of God while those who are lazy servants who don’t use God’s gifts will find themselves excluded from the kingdom. A proper understanding and application of the parable depends on how we understand “talents”. A “talent” in Jesus’ day referred to a monetary unit based on weight and did not refer to a talent or ability as we understand the word today. The value of that piece of currency depended on the material of which it was made – either gold, silver, or copper. So the “talent” in the parable, depending on the material, was worth somewhere between 1 year’s wages and ten year’s wages. Regardless of the material, the point is that even the servant entrusted with 1 talent was given a remarkable amount. This is the point that we have to notice when seeing the parable as a teaching about our relationship with God. It cannot be interpreted in financial terms. Christ is speaking to his disciples. Christ is the “rich man” who before going on a journey (his death, resurrection, and ascension) entrusts his possessions to them. What Jesus possesses and has shared with us is God’s love. This is a parable, like last week’s, about judgment – what will happen when the Lord comes back to “settle accounts” with us. It is also a warning about how to prepare for that judgement and what God’s expectation is for us. God’s expectation is that we share his love and multiply his love in the world. God doesn’t love some of us more than others. He loves us all the same but we receive love according to our ability to receive it – our receptivity or openness to God’s grace. E.g., we all receive the same Jesus in the Eucharist, but that grace is only operative to the degree to which we do not pose any obstacles to that grace. The emptier I am of myself, the more open I am to receive from God. The first reading from the Book of Proverbs about the industrious and generous wife helps us to interpret the Gospel parable in terms of a relationship of love with God. Jesus often uses a “spousal” analogy, referring to himself as the “bridegroom”, to describe God’s relationship with us – both as individuals and as the Church as a whole. God does not look at us in financial or worldly terms. The spouse’s value is “far beyond pearls”. The bridegroom “entrusts” his heart to her.
This puts us in the economy of love. When someone gives his “heart”, he gives himself. So when the master “entrusted” his possessions to them, we should read this as Christ giving us himself. This awareness of the remarkable gift – that God has entrusted himself to us and loves us in this way – is what moves us to be productive and generous and to go out and to share what we have been given. When we are moved by love, when we are aware that we are loved, we are not afraid of the world – we are not afraid to take risks. This is something fundamental in child psychology as it is in the spiritual life. And love allows the beloved to go out. Love is not overprotective. Love does not try to eliminate all risk like the “helicopter” parent, or what is generated is a “fragile” child or “snowflake” child that is afraid of the world, has an unwarranted sense of entitlement, and cannot handle difficulties or opposing opinions. The first two servants go “immediately” to trade with the talents. We can say that they, like the Blessed Mother “full of grace”, go with haste to serve, because they have experienced a remarkable love. The biblical scholars note how treacherous or risky that journey would have been through the hill country for Mary to go to Elizabeth’s house, yet she goes immediately to bring the Good News of God’s love come in the flesh – how God has entrusted himself to us for our salvation. Back to the spousal analogy, I often think of the young couple in love who is willing to get married, buy a house, and have children – all risky ventures – because they have encountered a remarkable, unexpected love. They don’t know how everything is going to work out but they go forward in hope because of the faith that the Lord is present in the experience of love. The one entrusted to them is a sign of the Lord’s presence. Faith is what distinguishes the good servants from the wicked. Faith recognizes the presence of the gift-giver in the gift. God has entrusted me with this gift. God trusts me! And the Lord said, “I will be with you always until the end of time.” If the Lord sends us on mission, he equips us with what is necessary to fulfill that mission. “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me,” remarks St. Paul (Phil 4:13). He gives us a love that is greater than we can imagine. He gives us himself. It fills us with wonder and awe when we realize that God loves us in this way. It is this experience of being filled with wonder before the presence of the Lord that the scripture calls “fear of the Lord”. It is this reverence before God that opens us up to His blessings and makes our life fruitful: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord” as we hear in today’s psalm. Proverbs says of the productive and generous wife: “the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” This “fear of the Lord” is in direct contrast with the fear expressed by the servant given one talent who was afraid of the Master. He saw the master as harsh and demanding with high expectations for him that he thought beyond his abilities. “So out of fear” he buried the talent in the ground. He is afraid to risk losing what the master has entrusted to him. It is true, if the “success” of the mission depended on our own abilities, we have much to fear. We are afraid to risk. We are afraid of failure. But as St. John, the “beloved disciple” says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (cf. 1 John 4:18). The problem with the third servant is not that he only received one talent but that he didn’t think he was loved. Our goodness and faith and the charity with flows from it is our response to God’s love for us. When I think of the times in my life that I have been most lazy – not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to do anything – it has been at the times when I didn’t experience my life as valuable or that there was a meaning or purpose to what I was doing. When I was in a period of disillusionment and between jobs and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, I thought that if I could just figure out what my talent was – something that I could do that was exceptional, then I would be happy and productive. I was objectively “talented” in many ways, but I didn’t recognize what gifts God had given me perhaps because I was always comparing myself to those who I thought were given more. It was only when I experienced God’s personal love for me – being chosen and wanted not based on my talents and abilities, that my talents began to blossom and that I was willing to make myself vulnerable for the Lord – to take risks in relationships and work and eventually follow that call to the priesthood. The servant who buried the talent is “wicked” even though he objectively did no harm to anyone. He is punished for a sin of omission – not bringing a good where the good could be – not sharing the love that he received. When we are aware of how much we are loved by God, our work is not a burden and we are not afraid of failure. “Love never fails”. May we pray for the grace of faith – the openness to and recognition of God’s love, so we will be moved to share that love and “come to share the master’s joy”.