I’ve been noticing for quite some time now that many churchgoers end up getting “bothered” after listening to the gospel lesson popularly referred to as “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). This is specially so when it’s read on the Sunday designated as Commitment Sunday or Stewardship Sunday.
And why is this? You see, Commitment Sunday or Stewardship Sunday is when preachers often give hard and harsh sermons about stewardship. And when they do, they never miss talking about “giving”, giving that hopefully comes from the heart and is reflective of the decision someone has made, after going through a time of discernment about the whole issue of stewardship.
It’s also the time when parishioners hear of their pastor’s appeal about their pledge of giving their gifts of the elusive Triple T’s, namely, Time, Talent and Treasure. In most cases, preachers during this particular Sunday usually choose an appropriate passage from the Bible as their basis for making such an appeal.
And I tell you, there’s probably no better text a preacher can use than this “Parable of the Talents”, which incidentally is the gospel lesson for today which also happens to be our Commitment Sunday.
This particular parable tells us about a man, a landowner of some sort, who was about to go on a journey but first, had to leave his property in the hands of his servants, including some huge financial resources. The story continues with how the said servants “managed” the resources, the “talents”, that were entrusted to them.
A “talent” by the way is a huge, huge sum of money. It should not be confused with the word “talent” as we know and use it nowadays, as in one’s “talent” to play musical instruments or write poetry or something along this line. The word “talent” as used in the gospel story is about big financial resources. Lots of “moolah”.
The story continues to say that the servant who got five talents doubled his. He must have been an excellent investor choosing the right “stocks” of his day. The same is true with the second one, who also doubled his two talents. The third one, however, did very poorly. He hid the talent given him and when the landowner came back and asked what he did with it, he simply dug it up from where he hid it and gave it back to the landowner.
It then describes how the landowner was so displeased with his servant’s inability to do what was expected of him. Towards the end of the story, you read the following: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:29-30)
So let me ask you what kind of reaction some people have upon hearing the part about being “thrown into the outer darkness.” They feel “bothered” because they begin to feel the weight of this thing called “guilt”. Parishioners feel “guilty” simply because this parable seems to be telling them that they better emulate the two servants who did very well with what was entrusted them and not be like the third one who did poorly. They’re afraid to be like the third one, especially since the Bible says: “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:30) So with this sense of guilt, they go back and re-write their pledge form and add more to their pledged amount. And that’s what I’m beginning to wonder just about now; whether there’ll be those who, upon hearing this gospel lesson, will re-write their pledge forms and give even more. Well, if there are some who will really do that, I assure you, your Stewardship Committee won’t stop you from doing it.
Quite seriously, though, I know that you won’t be “bothered” with that ‘guilt’ reaction that others may have with this particular parable. In fact, there are other things that might be of interest to us.
On top of my list is that it tells us that God gives each person different gifts. The varying number of “talents” that the landowner entrusted to his servants demonstrated this. One, got five; the other received two and the third servant had only one. There was no issue as to why the one got five, the other got two and the last got only one.
Despite our tendencies to always compare ourselves with others, or how our gifts and talents fair with those we know, the actual number and quality matters not. We are only asked to make full use of what we have been uniquely given and to use them not just for our personal benefit for the good of the community as a whole.
The next thing we can glean from this parable is that our work as responsible stewards of the diverse gifts given to us is never completed. The first two servants showed their Master how much they had earned; and while they were commended for a job well done, nonetheless, they were not told they could sit back, put their feet up and relax. Instead and mainly because of their trustworthiness, both were given even greater responsibilities. This is reflected in what the Master told them. “I will put you in charge of many things.”
The third lesson we can infer from the story is that the inability of the individual to do something with what is given him gets a corresponding consequence. The servant with one talent did not lose what was given him and he was not penalized for that. However, we read of the consequence he received precisely because he did not do anything at all with it. This is in the area of what we call “sin of omission”. If he had tried and failed, he would have met some compassion or even forgiveness. It is important to remember that “We Got Talent”, however miserable it might look and we better do something about it.
It is a sober reminder for us all that it is not just those who do evil deeds who will lose out but also those who have no positively good works to show. In other passages in the Bible, we are told that the basis of one’s status at Judgment Day will be on whether “we fed the hungry and the poor and whether we visited the sick and those in prison”. Again, it’s what we do or not do with what we’ve been given that, in the end, matters.
And finally, something needs to be said about the part that says “to the one who has more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”. At the outset, it seems unfair, like robbing the poor to pay the rich. What I think is meant here is that those who share generously the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves constantly enriched. And equally so, those who jealously preserve what they have been given, or hoard them or retire to their shell in fear of the outside world, are likely to shrivel up and die. As has been pointed out elsewhere, “those who save their lives will lose it.” Those who share generously what they have with others, will find themselves immeasurably enriched.
Brothers and sisters in the Lord, the Parable of the Talents teaches us to boldly prefer taking active risk in our lives than mere passive complacency. It tells the way Jesus will act with us when we do not utilize properly the talents he has so generously given us and for our failure to make them to benefit others.
In this parable the man who was about to go on a journey and who summoned his slaves is an allusion to our Lord and Savior Jesus. As the man entrusted his slaves with some talents, Jesus also entrusted us with a variety of gifts that have been bestowed upon us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Through his gratuitous invitation, we are afforded the opportunity to become children of God. He has given us the opportunity to come closer to him through the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.
As the landowner in the Parable of the Talents expected his servants to invest the talents he had left them with in order to be fruitful, so does the Lord Jesus expect us to be fruitful. He expects us to appreciate all of the gifts that have been given us, not so much as in a naïve “appreciation” per se but more so in utilizing them to their greatest potential. Our personal efforts and growth to mature spiritually in Christ are the end results that the Lord expects of those who decide to follow him.
It is quite noticeable that, although the parable applies to an eschatological setting, the qualities praised here are of human nature as we know them in the here and now; diligence, perseverance and hard work. The parable seems to imply that there's a big room for everyone; for their initiative and creativity and for the personal involvement of each servant in answering how to use best the given talents. Indeed, it is those servants who assume their responsibility and put their minds and hearts into creative ways of multiplying their capital who get their laurels of praise.
The Gospel of today also focuses more sharply on the Christian attitude towards earthly life as we live in expectation of the Master’s return. This passage, however, goes further in pinpointing the ultimate purpose of our activities. The parable provides some advice on what can be done in the meantime between Christ’s resurrection and his final return, the Parousia. It bids us to make good use of the talents entrusted to us so that we may be ready to face him when he calls us to give account at the end of the ages.
For now, use your talents wisely. After all, “we got talent”.