The Gospel for November 19th, 2017: “The Parable of the Talents”
Reflection: The Problem of Stewardship
Since this gospel is placed near the end of the liturgical year, it offers the opportunity to think about how each of us has used our God-given talents to bring others the light of Christ’s love in the past year. The meaning of “talent” is not precisely the same in this parable as the broader meaning the Church gives it in terms of stewardship. Typically the Church will use the words time, talent, and treasure to cover all the ways we might contribute to the mission of the Church. According to the Wikipedia article on a talent, Jesus was referring to a valuable mass, probably a precious metal. So while the logical analogy is to money, the nature of the parable invites a broader interpretation of all the assets, especially those that are unique, God gives one that can be used in the service of the mission of loving God and others.
In the parable, a master gives three servants “talents” of varying amounts. Two use those talents to increase the master’s wealth and are rewarded with a share of the master’s “joy” (21). One, “out of fear,” buried the single talent he received and then gave it back to the master. He was rebuked as a “wicked, lazy servant” (24-26). The master ends up giving the talent he horded to the most fruitful servant.
I can relate to the mindset of the servant who buried his talent out of fear. It takes a lot of trust in the Lord to identify and use our unique talents. It seems to me some of my talents, such as a gift for listening, a love of music, a willingness to give away money, and an attraction to quiet contemplation, have the potential to draw criticism from others, in some cases from the people I care most about. Or they will take time away from imaginary gifts I desire such as the ability to lead others in heroic causes that will draw praise and admiration. There are people who have such a gift. They might be analogous to the ones who were given five talents in my view. If I am the servant who was given one talent—abilities that will lead me down a quiet, unremarkable path—I should not expect to make five talents from my starting point of one. Instead, I just need to use my modest talent for a modest return. The sin is burying it. The sin is being afraid it is not enough because other servants have made profits of five talents or two talents and becoming paralyzed by that fear. This parable reminds me they have different starting gifts to use in the service of the master. God has a unique plan for each of his servants that contributes to the salvation of His people. It is our responsibility to live the plan that is our own and not someone else’s. My priest sometimes says, “Do what is right there.” I find that very helpful advice. I have a tendency to dream of doing the exciting work of others instead of finding joy in doing that work God has specifically for me. So I pray for the wisdom of knowing what I can do and letting go of those things that I cannot. I pray that all those dreamers like me may share the gifts we have—no matter how small—so that we may experience the joy of harmony with our Lord.