Rev. Pierre-Henry Buisson
November 15, 2020
St Luke’s Episcopal Church, Prescott, AZ
Proper 28 A
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. (Ps 19:14)
Most of us know very well this parable and its name, the parable of the talents. I wonder if this title is really the most appropriate. Is Jesus talking about talents, our God given abilities? Maybe. But not only. It is true that in English as in French and many other languages, the word talent means abilities, gifts, and more and more a very special gift as in a talented artist. This meaning comes from the medieval preaching about this parable. Apparently, Jerome, who lived in the 4th century, is one of the first who interpreted the word talent as an ability, or gift from God. So, it’s natural to jump to the conclusion and to think that Jesus is preaching about our talents, and how we need to use them. It could be a good starting point for Stewardship season…
But what was a talent in Jesus’ time? The talenton in Greek was a unit of value, a very important amount of money. A talent represented almost 20 years of wages; two talents about 40 years; and 5 talents about a hundred year! That’s huge. Even the servant who received one talent was entrusted with a lot. That means that not only the master was wealthy, but he was also extremely generous. Not only was he generous, but he also trusted his servants, making them stewards of his belongings. Stewards, because the money did not belong to them. The master was wealthy, generous, trusting, and he knew his servants. He knew their abilities. It’s why he gave different amounts to each depending on their own abilities. The master did not put a burden on their shoulders, rather he gave them what they needed to be successful.
Have you noticed what the master told his servants to do with this money? Nothing! The master entrusted them with his wealth, and went away for a long trip without giving any clue about when he might be back. He left absolutely no suggestion nor direction about what to do with this gigantic amount of money. He left the servants with a total freedom to use this money that belonged to him as they wanted. No string attached! Almost no string attached: they were supposed to use their talents, and to make them fructify. Is not that a good steward is supposed to do: to manage in the best possible way what belongs to another.
The master represents Christ: who soon will be absent because in a few days he will die on a cross as a criminal. The master represents Christ: who will come back at an undisclosed time. During the apparent absence of the master, the servants, the disciples, the Christians, are invited to use their treasure, their gifts as best as they possibly can. One day, like the servants of the parable, they will have to report to the master.
This parable is not a stand-alone parable. Jesus is still answering the question his disciples asked him privately on the Mount of Olives, “Tell us when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming at the end of the age?”(Mat 24:3) With different stories and parables Jesus warns his disciples that nobody can foretell when the end of time will occur, and stresses that they need to be watchful (Mat 24:36-44), faithful (45-51), and awake (Mat 25:1-13). They need to be ready at all times, because they “know neither the day nor the hour” of his return (Mat 25:13). And after this parable Jesus is going to conclude his private teaching to the disciples with the parable about the last judgement (Mat 25:31-46). So, when we look at the so-called parable of the talents in this context, we realize that it is no so much about the talents, money or abilities, than about our lives, the greatest gift ever, and about what we do with our lives, the choices we make.
This parable is an invitation to use our lives to do God’s will. This parable is an invitation to discern God’s will for us, first, and to act. Somehow we are invited to take risks, to experiment, to try in order for our lives to bear fruit, in order for our love to grow, in order to be real ministers of Christ, servants of Christ. The 2 first servants did extremely well with the money entrusted to them, but more than the financial result, they are commended for what they did. They started working as soon as the master left. They did not rest. They did not procrastinate. They did not play it safe. They worked on behalf of their master because they trusted him. They were not afraid of him, This is the difference with the third servant who did nothing for his master because he was fearful and scared. He was paralyzed by his fear and his misconception of who the master really was. He did not even try anything! He just buried his master’s treasure. It is why the master will call him worthless, wicked, and lazy: he did nothing! He played it safe. He lived his life during the Master’s absence, as if the Master would not return, as if he were his own master. The problem of the 3rd servant is not that he had only the one talent to give back to the master. The problem is that he did nothing with the talent. I’m pretty sure that if he had only a couple of coins to present to his master because in spite of his hard work and labor he had lost most of the treasure, that would not have been a problem. The master was not necessarily expecting the servants to make profits, to increase his wealth; he was expecting them to do their best, to try, to take risks, to be inventive, or with other words, to live their lives to the fullest. The 3rd servant is a warning to invite the disciples to be awake, faithful, and ready for the last day, while working day after day to spread the Good News. The two first servants are an encouragement for the disciples who one day will enter in the joy of their master, and will share in his eternal life.
So, at this time, we should look at our own lives and ask ourselves what talents has the Lord entrusted us. What particular gifts? What abilities? What wealth? Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge our own gifts out of modesty, or out of fear. If we don’t acknowledge what the Lord has given us, how can we use these God given gifts? What are my talents, and how am I using them to the glory of God? What are my talents, and how am I using them to share the Good News of Jesus? What are my talents, and how am I using them taking my part in the mission of the Church, in the mission of St Luke’s?
We all have talents, different talents, are we willing to use them? Or are we trying to bury them? Are our lives signs of Christ’s radical love, or are we stuck in the spirit of the world where anger, resentment, violence, selfishness, hatred, fear are the norm?
When I think of the incredible amount that was given to the servants, I am amazed by the varieties of gifts, great and small, that the Lord has entrusted each one of us. What are we willing to do with them? What risks are we willing to take for the spreading of the Good News? For us, at St Luke’s, that brings new questions like, in what ministries should I use my gifts? What need in the community and or in our church am I willing to support? And because talents were initially a monetary unit, what part of my treasure am I willing to give to support the mission of St Luke’s, and the spreading of the Good News?
Let us not wait too long, because we don’t know when the hour to meet our Savior will come. Now is the time to use our gifts, whatever they are, big or small. Now is the time to be involved, now is the time to work as disciples of Jesus. One word summarizes the parable for me: generosity. God’s generosity first, and our own faith filled generosity with those around us, our own faith filled generosity when working for the Lord, when doing God’s will, when sharing our money with St Luke’s. We are called to be even more generous with our lives. So, maybe the title of the parable should be, the parable of the generous servants…
Let us pray with the words of Ignatius of Loyola:
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek reward, except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.