Jesus once again speaks to us in a parable. Last week and this week the two parables deal with an arrival. Last week it was the bridegroom, this week the master who is returning after a long time.
The “bridegroom” and the “master” are images for the Lord Jesus who promises elsewhere in the ministry that He will return. One of His roles is that of judge. He will judge his servants; or in last week’s parable, the virgins.
The basis of judgement in that parable was the readiness of the virgins. Those who had been prepared were ready to welcome the bridegroom and were taken into the feast. This week’s parable continues the thematic of the Lord’s return. The basis of distinction in this parable is the use of the “talents.”
The most common interpretation of the “talents” is the use we commonly think of in the English language – that of a personal gift or ability. While this is a good interpretation and may prove helpful on our pilgrimage of faith, other considerations may also help.
Putting aside the English understanding of “talent,” let’s look at its original meaning.
Scholars debate what the precise meaning is but it is some sort of measurement for a great deal of money. One scholar suggests that one talent would be equal to the annual wages of an ordinary laborer – for 15 years. That’s quite a lot of money. So all three servants were trusted, each with an extraordinary amount. Even the one who received one talent received an incredible responsibility.
So what do the talents represent? One possibility, already mentioned, is innate gifts or abilities. Another might be material goods.
Perhaps this can be all the good things we receive from God that are not generated through our own initiation – family relationships, the world around us, etc.
Perhaps they can be non-material gifts we receive from God such as love, mercy, truth, beauty, peace and joy for example.
I think all of these fit the parable and there may be others.
Being that the Word of God is alive and speaks to us in many ways at different times in life, perhaps we might think about how the Word speaks to us today. How does God want me to read the “talents” today in my life?
Now let’s consider the master. He is represented as a very trusting lord. His relationship with his servants is built on trust. He is giving them a great responsibility. He is generous in that responsibility as well.
Not only is the amount given of great value (we might even say immeasurable) but so is the confidence He places in His servants. The trust is not a blind trust. He knows His servants and knows them well. He knows they have the ability to handle the responsibility or task ahead. He expects them to handle this and to handle it well. He is also a fair, just and generous judge. When he returns, he rewards each based on the honest manner in which they handled their responsibilities.
What about the three servants? Well the first two follow a similar path. They accept the responsibility and handled it with diligence, ingenuity and responsibly. They invested the “talents” so that they would grow and increase, multiply. They did this well.
We might think of the possible interpretations of the “talents” and our own handling of these at this point in our lives. The good news is that not only does the Lord give us the “talents,” but that He will come back to us. And when we’ve increased and multiplied these “talents,” he will reward us.
Unfortunately, the third servant has a different story. Like the first two servants, he accepted an incredible responsibility.
The quantitative difference between the three – five, two, or one – does not have significant meaning – one “talent” is an amazing gift in and of itself save that the responsibility is in conjunction with ability. The master trusts this servant just as he trusts the others. The difference lies in what the servant does.
This third servant is full of fear. He realizes the greatness of the master and how the Master handles His “talents.” But instead of imitating the Master, he does the opposite. He buries the “talent.” He hides it away.
So instead of growth, we have stagnation, inertia, and inactivity. The gift lies dead in the ground. Nothing is happening. So the master is not too pleased with the results. He had expected the servant to handle the responsibility proper care and diligence. The master is fair in his judgement. The “talent” is taken from that servant and given to the other two, for they have proved their worthiness to handle the master’s treasure.
So what’s the point? Why is Jesus telling us this parable? Like all the parables, he wants us to ponder this.
What are we supposed to do? One aspect might be that God has given each of us “talents.” He trusts us as He did those three servants. How are we handling the “talents?” Another aspect might be the “return of the Master” who represents the Lord. What accounting are we going to give Him when he arrives? Another aspect may be the judgement. At times we may get squeamish about this thought.
Unhealthy fear (as opposed to healthy fear like that expressed in the responsorial psalm [Psalm 128]) may take hold. Perhaps this is what afflicted the third servant. Fear paralyzed him. As a result he did not do anything.
The first two servants however joyfully met the Master at his return, were happy to greet him and trusted in his judgment. Jesus seems to be speaking about His return and His role as judge but more importantly he is urging us to use or multiply the “talents” – now, today.
In other words, the parable is used to encourage, motivate and inspire us to recognize the “talents” in whatever form or shape they have been given, in whatever point in life, and to invest them so they increase.
When we do so the reward will be great for we, like the first two servants, will be able to hear those often repeated words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”
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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