At first reading today’s gospel might appear to invite us to reflect on the world of commerce and finances. The reality of one’s labour, the concept of reward for a job well done, the suggestion of investment and return and more so risk and reward, are all alluded to in this parable of Jesus. Indeed even the concept of a banking system and interest are mentioned. All these topics are regularly part of our everyday news broadcasts and all too familiar to us in the modern world wedded as it is to its financial system.
However we are invited to look beneath the imagery and symbols of this parable and to seek out the life lesson that Jesus offers us therein. In this sense the parable is not a story about the merits of capital and investment, but rather an illustration of being faithful to one’s task, of being fruitful and of resisting the paralysing influence of fear!
When we listen to a parable it is often the third character of the story who is the one to observe closely – he or she is often the one whose actions reveal the important lesson for us. In this sense, it is the third servant’s actions (or in this case the lack of them) which teach us that whilst life is hard and often surrounds us with powerful and even fearful forces, we must nevertheless work to assist the growth of the Reign of God in our world.
Indeed, Jesus tells this very parable precisely because there were those following him “who thought that the Kingdom of God would appear immediately”. Jesus wished to dispel this myth.
Ultimately of course, the growth of the ‘kingdom’ (God’s Reign) is God’s work; but we are invited by our very baptism to participate in this project.
Thus as disciples of Jesus, we cannot simply ‘bury’ our personal talents – hide them away or fail to utilise them – and allow fear or indifference to paralyse us into inactivity. Rather the Reign of God can advance in our world through effort on our part even if at times, the world around us is often preoccupied with power and wealth.
Perhaps too there is another dimension to this story that we might notice. We are each called to contribute according to our talents and ability. We all have a part to play in building up God’s Reign and what one can do – even if seemingly a modest contribution – another cannot do despite their many perceived gifts! It is not so much matter of comparing our talents to others, but of seeing the ‘kingdom’ advance on a broad front by virtue of every disciple contributing their talents and gifts. Further, this parable illustrates that if all do not contribute, then more and more is left to the willing few. In this parable the servant with the one coin fails to act – even in a conservative way with the result that his small role is then given to the one servant who had a larger task. For those gifted and multi-talented disciples amongst us, it may indeed be a privilege to serve others and to take on large, responsible roles, but if such generous people are also taking on the work that others can do, it can lead to the most generous amongst us being overburdened!
So today let us resolve not to be frozen into inactivity by any force or fear, and to contribute our talents and gifts to the growth of God’s Reign in our world.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.