Jesus shares a parable of a nobleman who will be absent for a time. He gives the first laborer ten coins to care for while he is gone. To a second laborer he gives five coins. To a third laborer he gives one coin. He instructed them to “engage in trade until I return.” When he returns the one who received ten coins earned ten additional coins. The second one who received five coins earned five additional coins. The third one who received one coin kept the coin buried in a handkerchief. This latter angered the noble man very much. He tells the third man the least he could have done was put the coin in a bank and let it get interest.
Underneath this parable there is a story. Achelous the son of Herod was in charge. He was very unpopular with the people. He was going to Rome, with the hope that he would be given a title of “King.” The people decided to send a delegation ahead of him and ask the Roman authorities to not give him the title. This outraged Achelous so much that on his return he had the delegates put to death.
The holder of the one coin in a way earned the anger of the nobleman. He was told to enter the coin into trade. Instead he buried it. One of the details that further enraged Achelous was he buried it in a handkerchief. The least he could have done was to secure the safe keeping of the coin by burying it in a more substantial wooden or metal box. The penalty for disregarding his instructions was to be killed and bundled up along with the delegates who went to Rome where he was refused the title of King.
Lessons we can draw from this passage are first, The Reign of God is near; we need to be prepared because we know neither the time nor the day when the owner will return. Second, graces are gifts that are given to be developed and shared, not to be hidden. Third, sometimes our call requires for us to take risks and maybe even pain and suffering. The story is told that Renoir the great French Impressionist lived to be ninety years old. He was so crippled with arthritis that he had to have the brushes tied to his hands to pant. His thought on this was “Pain is passing, but beauty is lasting!”
Notice there is not dialogue in this parable. There was a book that has the longest “best seller” record in the field of business management (1981-1989). This book entitled Getting to Yes, by William Paton and Roger Ury. One of the examples in this book of “negotiating skills” is about military leaders who disagreed on how to win a war. What helped them first to focus on the issues; second is to never get personal. Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, put it this way: Be firm, be fair, and be friendly.
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is the formation director and local superior at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.