Across the 50 parishes and missions of our Diocese of Palm Beach, our annual Diocesan Services Appeal for 2018 has begun. With respect to many blessings God has graciously bestowed on us in this life, we are being asked to prayerfully consider what we can do to offer some of our gifts to help serve some of the poorest and most needy of God’s people who are found in all parts of our diocese. Sometimes the simplest offering, made in a sincere and unassuming manner, can bring hope and joy to a person who we don’t know, but is a fellow traveller on the pilgrimage to heaven. Yet, the gift we give is actually not ours.
In the beautiful parable of the talents, Jesus tells of a man who was embarking on a journey; but, before leaving, he summoned his servants and gave to each of them a certain amount of money to care for in his absence. Two of the servants went out and used what their master had given them wisely and, in turn, saw a return and doubled what they had been given. However, the third one, fearful of the master, kept to himself what he had been given and returned only that to the master. The two that used their gifts wisely and saw a return on what they had been given are invited to share their master’s joy, whereas the one who kept to himself what had been given out was cast out.
In trying to understand this parable, there can be some confusion when one word has multiple meanings, as is the case with the word “talent” in this parable. We think of “talent” as a special attribute that a person possesses – in sport, in art, in music or whatever. Talents are the gifts that enable people to excel in a particular area or field in their lives. These talents aren’t earned, but they can be developed. We’re annoyed when we see gifted people who do not use their talents properly; we’re also impressed with people who use their talents for the good of others.
However, the talents in the Gospel story are different — more like sums of money that can be invested, and which is what two of the men in the parable do with them. You see, the talent was a measure of weight of an amount of metal. A single talent of silver was worth more than fifteen times the basic daily wage of the time; so gifts of one, two or five talents were very extravagant. One man, however, does what people in earlier times actually were advised to do with their money: he buried it for safety. Two thousand years ago the sensible thing was to dig a hole secretly and bury your savings, because it was too easy for burglars literally to break a hole in the wall of a house and steal valuables.
Jesus’ parables are notorious for turning upside down the expected order of things, and this one is no exception. We sure may wonder how such a parable speaks to us today. It seems the high-risk takers are rewarded for their audacity, while the prudent one is punished. Perhaps the clue is in the reward. Those who took risks are given extra talents, and they are praised both for being good and faithful servants, and are invited to come and share their master’s happiness. The one who played safe, who risks nothing for his master, is deprived of his talent and cast out. It is clear that playing safe with God’s gifts is not an option in the kingdom of heaven. The investing we do must be done wisely and prudently.
But Jesus’ emphasis here is on the positive. That parable reminds us that we have been given much by God. We don’t have the option of not using our gifts to build God’s kingdom. We are his servants; and the talents are the gifts that God has bestowed on us: our intelligence, our ability to love, our skills, and even temporal goods. The journey that the master takes signifies the duration of our life; his unexpected return represents our death; the settling of accounts is our judgment; and the banquet is Heaven. Whatever we invest, the promised reward is to share in the happiness of the master’s kingdom.
So, it’s always a timely idea to consider that if we invest in the kingdom of God, we can look forward to a life that takes us into the fullness of God’s life itself. It’s the perfection of all that we could ever hope for. So, take time to reflect on your life and seek to understand whether you utilize the gifts that our Lord has given you to build up His kingdom here on earth, and so live the stewardship and discipleship way of life; or whether you keep them to yourself for your own gain. I certainly hope that each of us can say that we will try our best to be good stewards of the God-given talents we have and use them well on a daily basis. In this way, we feel quite sure that Our Lord will one day call us to Himself and say to us, ”Well done, good and faithful steward; enter into the Kingdom prepared for you from all time.”