Reflecting on the Parable of the Talents: You Are Not St. Francis

Yesterday’s Gospel, the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), has some interesting elements: the Master gives one servant 5 talents, another servant 2 talents, and the third servant 1 talent.  .  Talents, if you’re not familiar, are a unit of currency (which we’ll get to below).  The first two servants invest these talents, doubling their investments, while the third, out of fear of his Master, buries the talent in the ground.  The Master rewards the first two, while punishing the third harshly for not investing his talent.

Fr. Robert J Carr had some great reflections on this Gospel.  First, he explained first that, roughly speaking, “a talent was 15 years worth of salary” (it’s 80 pounds of silver, or 6,000 denarii, and a day’s wage was one denarius).  In today’s money, assuming a year’s salary at about $40,000, a single talent is worth $600,000, then.  Reconsider the parable in that light.  In other words, when the Master gives 5, 2, and 1 talents, he’s giving about $3,000,000, $1,200,000, and $600,000, respectively.  It’s easy to pity the guy with only one talent, until you realize just how many gifts he’s been given.  

Jesus uses these extravagant amounts of wealth to symbolize just how blessed each of us has been in our own lives.  This wasn’t lost on the early Christians.  Just look at the English words talented and gifted.  Each of them is a recognition that the skills that we have are a blessing from God, and that this is the sort of blessing that the parable of the talents is really about.  And remember this, too.  Even if we’re the least skilled Christian on Earth, we possess something infinitely more valuable than silver in our Baptism.  In the words of one of the best hymns of the twentieth century, “we can only wonder at every gift You send, at blessings without number and mercies without end.

And the success these servants have with their talents is extravagant, too.  The two who actually invest the money get returns of 100%. There’s a lesson here, as well.  When we put our God-given talents to His use, He’ll aid us, and we’ll get returns on them beyond what we’d ever imagine.

This probably never happened to you.

So the question then becomes, how do we respond to these extravagant blessings?  Do we use them for the glory of God?  Or do we complain that we only got $600,000, rather than the $3,000,000 our neighbor got? Do we use our mere one talent as an excuse not to invest?  In the words of Fr. Carr, “You are not St. Francis, but that does not give you the excuse to be any less a servant of God. If we turn around and say that the Lord did not invest us with a heroic amount of holiness as we see in the saints, that does not give us a reason to live not holiness to the fullness of our ability in His grace, regardless of circumstances.

Instead, each of us is called to holiness in a unique and personal way.  While He’s given some more talents than others, in His Justice, those to whom much has been given, much will be expected (Luke 12:48).  So the servant who was given two talents returned with four, and was richly blessed for this.  That wouldn’t have worked for the servant given five talents: he would have actually reported a loss (and just look how the Master responded to the servant who broke even!).  There’s an important lesson here, too.  It’s easy to get discouraged that we don’t have the sanctity of the greatest Saints in history.  But God isn’t expecting that of us.  From the servant He gave one talent, He’s just asking him to return with two.

So given how richly every one of us has been blessed, and given the way that God will assist us in even the smallest task done for His Glory, we need to seriously examine whether we’re using the talents we’ve been given.  I’ll leave it for Fr. Carr to lay out the tough talk:

If you are not praying and seeking to grow in prayer, you are burying for gift of holiness. 

If you are not living the liturgical life of the Church, you are burying your gift of holiness. 

If you are not seeking to go beyond the minimum, you are burying your gift of holiness. 

If you are not evaluating your life and seeking to improve on your witness to Christ, you are burying your gift of holiness. 

If you are not participating in the sacraments, which include reconciliation and when applicable marriage you are burying your gift of holiness. 

If you are living less than what the teachings of the Church call us to, you are burying your gift of holiness. 

Each of these are difficult in one sense, but remember Jesus calls us to remember that He is like a difficult master who reaps what he does not sow, and harvests what he does not plant. 

However, when we participate in His gift, we are rewarded with sharing in His joy. His joy is found not only in us, but in others who also join God’s kingdom because of us. 

Now, in this last Sunday we celebrate in green for this year, may look at ourselves in preparation for Advent in two weeks and ask, where do we need to grow in the grace of God? Where do we need to be stronger in holiness? Where do we need to bear more fruit? And bring the answer to our reflection to Christ in search for His grace to change our lives. 

Let us seek the reward that is waiting us by asking the Lord to grace us with the wisdom to give Him a return on his investment in us. That we too may share our master’s joy.

6 Comments

  1. This is one of my favorite parables. It reminds me to “Try a little harder to be a little better” as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley said. It helps me to focus more on what I’ve been given and to do what I can rather than worry about what someone is accomplishing. Thanks for the spiritual thoughts.

    Jennae

  2. When I was writing my notes for this Sunday’s readings, I came across this quotation in the Catena:

    “The servant who of five talents had made ten, and he who of two had made four, are received with equal favor by the Master of the household, who looks not to the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will” – St. Jerome

  3. One thing about this parable that was pointed out to me by our priest during his homily yesterday was the fact that the master gave the two servants more responsibilities.

    He pointed out that one doesn’t normally think of getting more responsibilities when one enters heaven, and that he was looking forward to finding out what those responsibilities might be.

  4. I know I am greatly blessed, and often this parable worries me — am I doing enough with what He gave me? Recently I’ve had some different thoughts on this parable.

    I’ve always assumed the ten which got ten more placed some kind of good bet with his talents; he used them well. But looking at my life and the opportunities he has given me, I think it is more appropriate to think of using the talents one by one. I am blessed in many ways, so one day I will be given the opportunity to give financial aid to the poor, another day to counsel a friend, and another day to teach a class. I expect with more talents, I will be given more opportunities to use them well. While from one point of view it’s a worry that He might ask so much of me, but from another viewpoint it is a question of how am I using this one talent today, and not placing a big all-or-nothing bet with the ten. And so, in trying to do His will, I can accept that perhaps sometimes I will fail with this one, and that this is not a disaster, but just an opportunity to get up and try again. More opportunities will come along to use the talents — if I am willing and open to do so.

  5. Do Not Be Anxious,

    I think that’s a good way of reading it. And I’m reminded of a quote by Mother Teresa: “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”

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