In our Gospel reading for Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about a man and three of his servants. I would like to focus on two of the three. So, the parable begins with the man, before leaving on a journey, giving one servant five talents (coins of high value), another servant two talents, and the third servant, one. The first two servants used the money that had been given them and made twice the amount. The third, however, decided to bury the talent given to him. When the man returns, he rewards the first two servants but punishes the third, taking the one talent from him and giving it to the first servant who now has ten.
When we hear this parable, we know that the word “talent” represents money, but we also see the parable about how we are to use our “talents,” in the way we usually use the word today. The parable calls us to use the gifts and talents we have been given. For what purpose? To continue the theme I’ve been looking at the past few weeks, we are to use our talents for the sake of the Gospel; in order to obey the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor; to help build up the kingdom.
The parable tells us that the third servant buries the talent he has been given. Why? In the parable, the servant tells his master that he buried it out of fear, knowing that the master was a “demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter.” Fear can be an obstacle to us in using our talents. I don’t believe God is as ruthless as the servant perceived his master, but people can be afraid to fail, or even afraid to succeed. Or we may not want to seem foolish, using our gifts, not to amass wealth for ourselves as the world would expect, but to serve others. Or, out of a false sense of modesty, we may be afraid to stand out or draw attention to ourselves. All these kinds of fears can get in the way of answering the call we have from Jesus.
Instead of the third servant, we need to be more like the second. Why do I refer to the second instead of the first? Mostly because I aspire to be like the second servant. He does not succumb to another common obstacle to using one’s talents: comparing ourselves to others. The servant who received two talents did not seem to resent that the first one received five. He also does not seem to consider himself superior to the one who received one. He simply uses what has been given him and makes the most of it he can. What a model servant, not to let ego or jealousy get in the way of using one’s gifts! So often we can use up a lot of energy wondering why we aren’t as gifted as the next person, or deciding that, because we aren’t as gifted as someone else, that we don’t have anything to give. May we not fall into this trap! We all have been given gifts and talents, no matter how insignificant they may seem to others and even ourselves. Even in this pandemic, we can find ways to use what we have been given.
At the end of the parable, the master says, “Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” I think very often these words are used as some kind of rationalization for the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. But I believe what Jesus is really saying is that the more we are willing to use our talents to love God and neighbor, the easier it will be to use those talents, and we will even discover talents we didn’t know we had!
May our talents be used to witness to the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.