Jesus once told a story of a wealthy man who was preparing for a long journey. He called his three servants and divided his possessions among them, each according to their ability.
Why is life like that? We are all equal in the eyes of God. But when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be. God simply did not make us all the same. Each of us is a unique, partial reflection of God. And, depending on our talents – that is, the abilities he has given us – God entrusts us with a share in building up his kingdom. Those are the talents given to the servants in today’s Gospel. There are some people who can handle five talents; there are some who struggle to handle only one. But, we all have some talents, that is, God-given abilities that we can use to make God’s presence more evident in the world.
The man then went on his journey. When he returned he called together his three servants and asked them to give an account. The five talent man had used his talents well and was able to return an additional five talents, a 100% return. So, too, the two talent man doubled his money. Well, done good and faithful servant. But what about the one talent man? He stepped forward and said: Sir, I knew you to be a hard man so I return what you have given me. The man, incensed, used very strong words, calling him “wicked” and “lazy.” Angrily he took the talent back and gave it to the servant who already had ten.
It is interesting to note that, in both last week’s and this week’s gospels we hear about something happening after a long time. Last week, we heard that the bridegroom came after a long time. Today, we hear that the master returned after a long time. This is Matthews’s way of saying to us: Our master may be delayed in his return, but, in the meanwhile, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you? It is very clear that God expects a return. We had better not simply bury what he has given us.
It is obvious that the star – or we might say the villain – of today’s gospel story is the one talent man. The important question is: why did he choose to do nothing with the one talent that had been given to him? There are many reasons why he might not have taken steps to increase the yield of his master’s wealth. Let’s examine two of them for a moment.
Perhaps he did nothing with his one talent because he feared failure. How did he word it? “Out of fear…I buried your talent.” Fearful of doing the wrong thing, he chose to do nothing at all. But, before a God who is our creator and is both loving and demanding, we can’t just do nothing. Made to be his image and likeness in the world, we are called to action, to step out in truth and trust in God.
Another reason why this one talent man did nothing with his talent could have been that he played the game “if only.” If only I had been given the talents of these other two men, then I could have accomplished something. I suspect that we like to play that game too. I would love to teach a PREP class if only I had her ability. If only I had his voice I would sing in the choir. I would support the church or be more generous in my charitable contributions if only I had a little more money. We should allow today’s parable to speak to us. When we complain that we wish that we had more of this or that, God tell us to use the gifts he has given us, to stop hiding behind what we do not have and start concentrating on what we do have.
Whatever the reasons for the one-talent man’s inaction, we hear very clearly that God rejects them. As we approach the end of another liturgical year – it ends next week with the Feast of Christ the King – we are reminded today that God, like the man in today’s gospel account, will return to settle accounts with us. In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the community in Thessalonica, we hear that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. We, who are children of the light – that is, enlightened by Christ at our baptism and called to be children of God – are called to stay sober and alert and use our abilities to do our share in building up God’s kingdom. The worthy woman whom we hear praised in today’s first reading is a model of God’s faithful ones who, day by day, go about doing good, caring for their family and everyone they meet who is in need. Like the master in today’s gospel, God has handed some of his fortune over to us, his servants, with the charge that we continue the work that he sent his Son to begin: the building up of God’s kingdom among us. Notice what the master said to the first two servants who had doubled the fortune he had given them: “I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” This is another way of saying, “Come and share in the joy that you will experience in making my kingdom come about in your midst.”
Everything we are and everything we have – our opportunities, our energy, our intelligence, our relationships, everything in life that is meaningful to us, is a gift from God given so that we can continue the work that Jesus began when he was with us – the building up of God’s kingdom. We are not called to simply keep the faith, but to share it
Although God’s kingdom is most fully realized only in heaven, we are called to continue to bring it about here on earth. Jesus gave his life for that very purpose. He began his public ministry with the bold proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And he calls us – his followers – to invest our lives in that Kingdom until the end of time – whenever that may be. And, he has given us the resources we need to do this work and all sorts of opportunities to begin to share in the joy here that will find its fulfillment in heaven. In these challenging times, that is, indeed, good news!