“After a long time,” Jesus says in the Parable of the Talents, “the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.” We hear the familiar parable this Sunday at Mass.
The line in the middle of the story may trigger some insights into the parable and our lives. As we near the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of the new year, we are called to vigilance for the Lord’s return.
The readings for last Sunday, especially the Parable of the Ten Virgins, pointed us in this direction; so too today’s Gospel passage. “After a long time” reminds us that the return of the master comes at an unknown time, but more to the point, there is a length of time allotted to the servants to use.
“Talent” has a particular meaning in contemporary English. We normally think in terms of an innate ability in a human being. For example, we might use the expression “naturally gifted” to refer to an athlete who has a natural ability for his or her particular sport. Sometimes the expression “gifted” is used in an academic context when the student has a high level of ability. “Talent” also implies an ability to cultivate, develop and expand the innate ability through discipline, learning and effort, or to lose it through neglect.
In Jesus’ time the term “talent” was used for a monetary unit (like dollar, pound sterling, Euro, yen today). Hence, in the parable Jesus praises the first two servants for “investing” the talents. This does not limit the interpretation of “talent” to the currency image nor does it limit the use to that of an innate ability.
A broad interpretation is best. The “talent” represents all that the Master gives. In the context of our lives, we recognize that all good has its origin in the Good, God. Everything is a gift — things visible and invisible, things material and spiritual. Life itself is a gift. Time is also one of these gifts.
Time provides us a context. While we live in this world we have time. One question for reflection is, “what do I do with the time that has been given me?” The readings for the liturgy may give us some points to think about.
The first reading from Proverbs praises the value of a “worthy wife.” What are the attributes of this woman for which she is extolled? What does she do with the time given her? She “brings good not evil,” she works with “loving hands,” she “reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy,” and she worships the Lord (“fears the Lord”). The psalmist echoes this last attribute as a source of blessings, great blessings.
St. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians greatly values living in the light. The person who uses time wisely is the one who is vigilant and ready for the day of the Lord; in other words, for the day of judgment and the Lord’s return. Vigilance helps the person live in the light.
Returning to the parable in the Gospel passage, the first two servants used the time they had to invest the talents entrusted to them which resulted in a 100 percent return — they doubled the original investment. In all four readings, those who used their time wisely received great rewards.
Time is a gift: time to recognize God’s goodness; time to appreciate his gifts; time to thank him for his generosity; time to praise him for his love; time to share the gifts he has given with others; time to develop the “talents;” time to “invest” the talents.
Our hope for the future is rooted in the present, in the way we use the time given us. Living in this hope-filled manner, we too will be ready to hear the words of the Lord: “Well done, my good and faithful servant … Come, share your master’s joy.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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