Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Remember how today’s gospel begins: “Jesus told his disciples this parable.” The gospel is not a treatise on investment banking. Jesus is not speaking to us like a financial advisor. Jesus speaks to us as someone who wants to share an insight into God’s kingdom. The gospel parable is not about money, and it is not about our more common understanding of the word talent, as though the parable is referencing musical or athletic talent. He is saying something about God’s kingdom and our readiness for it.
The talent spoken of by Jesus is the largest unit of currency at the time, weighing approximately 75 pounds. Were it silver or gold it is safe to assume that a person possessing even one talent would be considered a millionaire. It is fairly safe to assume that the followers of Jesus were unlikely to have ever seen a talent, but they knew it was extraordinarily weighty and valuable. In the parable Jesus’ reference to “talents” is hyperbolic language, meant to enforce a point – the Master is incredibly generous to all his servants, “to each according to his ability.” The benevolent master knew his servants, and distributed his gifts accordingly. While we might be tempted to see the third servant as “short changed,” that would be a mistake, for the single talent entrusted to him was still a sign of the master’s confidence in his “ability.” Unfortunately, that confidence was misplaced, thus earning him the extreme adjectives of “wicked,” “lazy,” and “useless.”
What exactly was the sin of the third servant? He didn’t lose the talent. In fact, he was able to return it to the master. His sin lies in what he did not do, what we might call a “sin of omission.” One has the sense that the third servant was crippled with fear. He knew the Master could be “demanding,” and yet he chose to bury his talent. Perhaps he had no confidence in himself. Perhaps he was unable to recognize the gifts that he did possess. Whatever the reason, we see him being judged harshly, thrown out into the darkness where there is “wailing and grinding of teeth.” But remember – this is not a parable of judgement, its a parable about the kingdom, and we should not get lost in the details of the servant’s harsh punishment.
Pope Francis sees the actions of the third servant as an example of the “fear of risk which blocks creativity and the fruitfulness of love, because the fear of the risks of love stop us.” The extravagant treasures that God shares with us – salvation, faith, friendship, love, beauty, mercy, forgiveness – are meant to be used, says Pope Francis, “to benefit others.” All the gifts shared with us by a loving God are meant to be shared and given to others, and thus they increase, spread and multiply.
We are reminded on this Sunday before we close the liturgical year to be like “good and faithful” servants who recognized the trust that was placed in them and multiplied their gifts by sharing them with others. We are not meant to be crippled by fear – fear that we have nothing of value to offer; fear that our gifts are too small; fear that others will misjudge us or question our motivation; fear that what I am doing will not make any real difference. God has bestowed on us many gifts that are meant to be used for the building up of God’s kingdom here on earth. Recognizing the treasure we possess in these earthen vessels, let us, with grateful hearts, use that treasure for doing good that we might be prepared for the day of the Lord whenever that should occur.