On this 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, I want to begin by noting that in Jesus’ time among us a talent was a huge amount of money. The coin denominated as a talent was very valuable indeed. For us today we think of talents not as money but as special personal gifts we may have. We may have a musical talent; we may be a talented writer, artist, or entertainer; we may have intellectual talents, and so forth. We speak of such persons as “gifted.” We are not all equally gifted; obviously some of us are more gifted than others. Just as in the parable, some may have five, some two, some just one.
Today’s Gospel parable (Mt 25:14-30) is one of a three part series of Gospel parables dealing with the use of our God-given talents. Two Sundays ago we heard of the wily servant who cooked His master’s accounting books. Last Sunday we heard about the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Today we hear about the servant who, out of fear, did nothing with His God-given talent except to bury it. In other parables we hear about servants who fail to be profitable servants and who suffer the consequences.
Today’s parable opens by noting that our Father in heaven has given us various talents in varying amounts while expecting that we wisely use whatever He has given us in order to develop His kingdom here on earth. In the parable we heard:
While the servants who received the five and the two talents used them wisely and doubled their holdings, the third servant left His talent unused and buried in the ground.
I want to highlight here the beautiful picture painted in today’s first reading (Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31), the reading about the good wife who is not only a good wife but also a successful businesswoman, a productive and generous businesswoman who employs her talents well and who reaches out to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. She knows what to do with her profits – she cares for her family while at the same time she generously cares for the poor and needy.
The challenge that faces you and me in today’s parable is where we hear that on His return, the master, a true businessman, questions each servant as to the use he has made of the money given to him and wants to know what profit they had gained. What return was made on their master’s investments in them? As in all such cases, as well as in what we have done with our lives, there is an eventual accounting.
The parable goes on to instruct us that those who acted wisely, like the good wife, were praised and then promised that even more would be coming to them. Furthermore they would no longer be servants or slaves but would instead have honored places in their master’s household. Then comes the part that ought to concern us the most. The servant who had not used the talent given to him tried to excuse his negligence by saying that he knew how hard and demanding the master was and therefore did not risk investing His money out of fear that he might lose it.
But was it fear? Perhaps. I think, however, it could also be that the master knew that the real reason why this servant did not invest His talent was because of His own sinful neglect and sloth. The servant claimed he knew the master was demanding and exacting but likely thought he was safe during His master’s absence. Maybe he even convinced himself that His master would never return.
Now His troubles really begin. The master instructs that the talent he had failed to us be be taken from him and given to servant who had five talents and who had earned five more. Because of this unproductive servant’s refusal to earn anything for a master he called hard and exacting he is not admitted to the master’s household.
Was the master to be feared? Was he hard of heart and exacting, as the unproductive servant claimed? Or was the unproductive servant using that as an excuse? We shouldn’t overlook the fact that the master generously allowed the productive servants to keep what had been given to them as well as keep what they had earned. On top of that the master brought them into His own household, and made them a part of His own family. He was in fact very generous.
God will not be outdone in generosity. If we are faithful and loyal to Him we will be greatly rewarded, while the disloyal will lose even the original gifts given them because they did not use them as they should. Instead of being received into the household of the master unfaithful servants will be cast into the “outer darkness,” a metaphor to describe the lot of those who exclude themselves from heaven by the choices they made. In hell’s darkness they will weep and gnash their teeth in bitter disgust with themselves, a self-inflicted torture for those who have ignored their real purpose in life.
Is God harsh? Is God unfair? Many atheists or agnostics make that claim. But the evidence of God’s love and mercy demonstrates that the opposite is true. Moreover if we end up in the same place as the unproductive servant we will have no one to blame but ourselves. Why? Because God respects us enough not to control us but rather to honor our choices. That, I think, is the scariest characteristic of God… He utterly respects our decisions and will not cancel them out.
If you think that your decisions don’t matter, then your soul is in peril. If you think that in the end God is going to overlook your choices, then your soul is in peril. If you think God is a harsh task-master, exacting and lacking in generosity, then your soul is in peril. If you think that God has not given you any talents and that you are good for nothing, then your soul is in peril. God is not interested in being a punishing God… the greatest punishment we face is self-punishment, self-punishment expressed in our own weeping and gnashing of teeth over the choices we have made, choices that have rejected the love of God.
God never rejects us. It is we who ignore His love. It is we who have ignored God’s gifts of the friends He has given us, the members of our family He has given us, the beauties of the world He has given us, and especially the gift of His Christ present to us in His sacraments.
God will not be outdone in generosity. But while that is true, it is likewise true that a gift is not a gift until it is received and valued. Your talents are God’s gift to you. What you do with them is your gift to God, a gift that will result in immeasurable happiness for you in God’s very own household.
So live, give, love, and pray. Then when your day of accounting arrives you will be taken by Christ into the home prepared for you by the God who is love. We came into being by Love and it is to Love that we are called and gifted as we make our passage through life back home in the household of God.