”Well done, good and faithful servant.” Jesus in Matthew 25:14-30.
Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. John Wooden, basketball coach.
These words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are sometimes used at the funeral service of someone who has worked hard throughout their life and has been regarded as a good example to other churchgoers . The difficulty with these words is that they originally refer to the use of money rather than gifts or time and the master sounds like a harsh man, as the third servant tells him.
Leaving on a journey, the master selects three servants and gives them five, two and one talents, or bags of gold, according to their ability. The first man doubles his five talents to ten and the second increases his two to four. However, the third man just buries his single bag in the ground – a valid way of keeping money safe in those days. When the master returns, he is pleased with the first two servants, telling them they will be put in charge of more things and that they should share his joy at what’s happened. Yet, when the third man tells the master that he was afraid of him and only buried his bag, that angers the master who is cross with him for not even getting interest on the gold by taking it to the bank. That was not allowed according to religious law and so the servant’s assessment of his master is right – he is unjust and gathers from others what he has not sown. Telling him that is not the best way to succeed, however, given the circumstances and so the servant is thrown out and his gold given to the one who already has most. He does not help himself, as do the others, and so is punished for not using the little he has, though even one talent was a significant amount of money.
The same is true of us – nowadays, talents has come to mean gifts as well as money and we are not given gifts in equal amounts but are expected to use what we have. In the same way, the servant wasn’t condemned for not reaching the same returns as the others but because he did nothing with what he was given. His example reminds us to use what we have been given and not to waste gifts, time or money.
In the parable, the servant making a return of two talents is praised equally with the one who made five more and they both give back to the master what they have made. It’s a reminder that we are entrusted with things that are not ours but can be used to work towards what God asks of us in his world and that, when we do this, we can take our place amongst the faithful and trustworthy workers on whom God relies. The return of the master is certain – but when he will come back is not.
This is the third of three parables where Jesus is telling his followers that they are living in difficult times and must persevere with what is asked of them meanwhile. In those challenging circumstances, the first two servants are faithful to that but the third is lazy and afraid to take a risk, even though his master had done so by giving him the gold in the first place. In the straightened and uncertain circumstances being faced today, which might be true of us, too?
With my prayers; pob bendith,