Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.
The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”
His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.” Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents, here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.” Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” he said “I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you had not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth."
In considering this parable there is often a focus on using our gifts or talents, and the responsibility we have to do so. The role models are the two servants who used the master’s money to make more money, and we are often exhorted to follow their example. The “bad guy” is the servant who hid his talent in the ground.
The servant who hid his talent in the ground is actually the person in the parable who should receive our closest attention. His actions create questions for us to consider in our own personal context. He was obviously afraid of the master and did not trust him. He feared losing the talent with dire consequences from a master who seems to have been rather vindictive.
The one-talent servant was afraid, lacking in confidence, and trying to protect the little that he had. He may have had good reason not to trust the bankers, or he may simply have been too poor to be familiar with them. He may not have had the time to trade with his talent, as his menial job may have occupied every daylight hour. He may not have had the contacts or the knowledge to trade with his talent, and known that if he tried he ran the risk of being defrauded of his talent by wily traders.
It can be difficult for people who are poor to use their talents. Shortage of time, tiredness, inadequate knowledge, and lack of networks can all play a part in keeping people in the position they are in. How do you use your talents to improve your qualifications if you have to work two low- paid jobs just to survive?
Everyone has talents but not everyone is living in circumstances which allow them to use those talents. Agencies such as governments, churches, NGOs can make a difference in helping people to use their talents. Paying a decent wage so people can work reasonable hours helps people to use their talents.
At a personal level poverty may not be impeding the use of our talents. Instead we may be afraid that they will make us conspicuous, or we may think that what we offer will be inadequate or make us look foolish. In our childhood we may have been knocked back enough times to have lost confidence in our abilities. Using our talents may present a personal risk which makes us afraid. Identifying and examining this fear may help us to move beyond it.
In the parable the two servants who knew how to trade could have helped the servant with one talent to make the most of his talent. By amalgamating his money with theirs they could have assisted him to make a profit as well, and protected him from wily operators while they taught him how to trade. Talented as they were, the two successful servants fell down in terms of solidarity and support for their fellow servant.
Our talents are gifts to the community. We need to support one another in using the talents that God gave us.