13 November 2011
1 Thessalonians 5.1-6
A young priest of my own Society, the Society of African Missions, shortly after arriving in an African country was sent by his parish priest to an area which had never been evangelised before. His superior told him that the first thing he needed to do was to go to the local chief as a courtesy and ask him if he could speak to the people there about God. If the answer was yes he should stay there, if not he should return. But the parish priest told him that he had heard conflicting reports about the chief. Most said he would be welcoming but one or two said he was a hard man and would refuse permission. The young priest wasn’t too confident but he went prepared to risk refusal, being told he was unwelcome. In fact, the chief was very welcoming and told him he could do his work without any interference.
Today’s parable is like that. The main point of the parable is the character of the owner. He entrusted his property to his servants, not to family members or friends as such. He was prepared to risk. He obviously was a generous man and he saw the potential in the three servants, giving certain talents to each in proportion to his ability. He trusted that each servant would develop the talents given by him.
A long time after the owner returned and went through the accounts of each of the servants to see how they had done. The one who received 5 talents reported that he had made 5 more. The master congratulated him and gave him a reward out of all proportion to his efforts. He invited him to share in the master’s happiness. The one receiving 2 talents explained that he had gained two more. A talent was worth a thousand silver pieces which was an enormous sum. He also was complimented by the master and invited to join in the master’s happiness.
It is very interesting to note that both received the same reward. The master did not compare the one given five talents with the one who was given two. He didn’t expect the one who received 2 talents to have gained 5. He was wise and kind enough to ask each to work to his own particular capacity or ability.
When he who received the one talent went to the master he gave him back the talent with no gain. He explained that he had heard the master was a hard man and would demand much in return. Obviously this was not true as we saw with the other two. The master was happy with a fair return.
The problem, it seems, with the third servant who hid his master’s money in the ground was that he was afraid to risk, as the master risked with him in giving him the talent to develop. It was like the parish priest in the story who told the young priest that most said the chief was a kind man, only one or two said the opposite. The servant receiving the one talent depended on hearsay, not his own experience of the master. What he heard of the master was obviously untrue.
Why was the one talent taken from him and given to the one with the five? This is a truth we are all familiar with. For example – we ourselves grow in maturity when we develop our talents or we lose them if we don’t develop them. If I am perfectly healthy and decide to stay in bed for 6 months, I will lose my ability to walk so it is not God who causes this. It is my own decision not to use my legs. We may also say, what can I do with just one talent? Look at all the problems of the world. But God isn’t asking me to solve these; he is asking me to use my talent wherever I find myself.
The parable, then, is asking us what Image of God do we have? If we believe in the God revealed by Jesus then we will be prepared to use our talents, knowing that if we don’t always succeed, God will appreciate our efforts. God is incredibly understanding. Mother Teresa put it well. “My God did not ask me to be successful but to be faithful”. Jesus came and developed his talents to give us an example, first of all as a carpenter and then later on as a preacher and leader and with his compassion healing many and forgiving sinners. He accepted the company of sinners, outsiders and holy people equally.
God, like the owner in the parable is marvelously generous. He trusts us as the master did the three servants with his property. It was a risk for the master but our God is surely a God of risk. He gives us a beautiful world and how are we doing? The environmentalists and ecologists will say disastrously, if one is to believe in the theory of global warming. He gives each of us many talents but never, never compares us with one another. So how are we using our talents? Like the talents of our bodies, how do we treat them? What of our children, our compassion re asylum seekers, using our talents not only for those we love but also for the poor. How will people have a correct Image of a generous, compassionate, forgiving God if we do not witness to it in our use of the talents received from our generous God?
“Lord Jesus, thank you for the many talents you give us, for never comparing us with each other since our talents are special to each of us. Help to live our lives that others may come to have a correct Image of you. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA