“At the end of our lives, He will ask what we did with what we were given.”
This Sunday’s Gospel is one of my favorite parables of Jesus – the parable of the talents. It’s a multifaceted parable that can be read on many levels, and I think it’s a good examination of conscience for Christians in their work of evangelization.
First, it’s helpful to note that a “talent” was not a coin but a unit of weight. The worth of the talent would depend on the material, but regardless, it is a significant amount of money. It is believed the most common talent was made of silver and was worth 15-20 years of wages. That is a shocking amount of money, and possibly a bit surprising that he entrusted his servants with it. It’s also rather surprising that the servants with five talents and two talents were able to double that amount during the master’s absence.
This large value should tell us something. These servants have been entrusted with a lot. The man trusts them – not with some pocket change, but with a great fortune.
One explanation of the parable is that the “talent” symbolizes the gifts and abilities we have been given. This is where we originally get the word “talent” to mean a special ability or aptitude. The three servants were given different amounts “according to their ability.” The man knew his servants. He knew what they were capable of. And he trusted them.
This is what makes the failure of the last servant so disappointing. First, it isn’t that he could not have done something with the talent. The master clearly knew he didn’t have the ability of the first servant – that’s why he wasn’t given five talents. But the master believed he could do something. Otherwise, he would not have given him a talent at all.
Perhaps the master’s reaction to the failure of the last man seems a bit severe. But remember, the master wasn’t handing pocket change out arbitrarily. He knew the servants, he knew what they were capable of, and he expected them to do something.
Another interpretation of the talents is that they represent knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom. Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri explain, “Remember that the disciples, unlike the crowds, were blessed to receive the interpretation of the parables in private (Mt 13:16). Their instruction in the kingdom is the sacred trust to be invested through a ministry of preaching and teaching the nation” (The Gospel of Matthew). If we interpret the talents this way, perhaps the master’s rather severe reaction to the last servant makes more sense. Those who are given knowledge of the kingdom are also given the responsibility to preach the Gospel and spread the kingdom.
The master in the parable is embarking on a journey. In the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus goes on a type of journey. He is going towards Calvary, to his death. His hour has come. After that journey, his disciples will be called to preach the mysteries of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. The mysteries of the kingdom had been revealed to them, and now they must preach what they had seen and heard.
What would happen if, at the end of their lives, they had squandered that gift?
When teaching this parable in a Bible study, I was questioned about the master’s severity. How was it fair to punish the servant? At least the servant didn’t lose the talent. Was he really being called wicked simply because he didn’t do something with what he had been given?
Yes. The servant had been entrusted with a talent. He squandered it. When we think of sin, we usually think of our sins of commission, but what about our sins of omission? What have we done with what we have been given? We are going to be called to account for that as well.
We have been given a great responsibility. Since we know the Gospel, we have the responsibility to share it with others. He hasn’t given us our talents for ourselves, but so that we can put them to work in service of others and the Gospel. God knows us. He know what we are capable of. And at the end of our lives, He will ask what we did with what we were given. Let us not bury the talent, fearful of the Master. Let us joyfully go out in service to Him, scattering seed, lighting lamps, and multiplying the sheep of His Kingdom.
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