Doubling our Talents

Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year. Prv 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Ps 128:1-5; 1 Thes 5:1-6; Mt 25:14-30

The parable of the talents, in today's Gospel, might seem straightforward, but there are certain details that are easy to overlook. It might appear, for example, that the servant who receives just one talent receives only a small sum of money. One ‘talent’ of gold, however, perhaps equivalent to sixty pounds weight, would be a fabulous sum for most people, easily enough to pay a laborer for a lifetime. So all three servants in the parable have been entrusted with a great deal of wealth.

So what are the spiritual lessons that this parable teaches us? The most obvious lesson is the warning regarding the fate of the wicked and lazy servant. This servant buries his master's wealth, ensuring that it remains hidden from the light, cold and unproductive. He does not even pass the wealth onto others so that they can be productive with it, but simply returns what he has received to his master. So this servant appears to conserve his wealth, in the sense of keeping it secure, but he ends up losing everything. As St. Paul says in the Second Reading, it is when people are saying, “Peace and Security,” that sudden disaster comes upon them. What can we learn from his fate? First and most important, it is possible to lose one's soul simply by doing nothing. We have all of us been entrusted with various treasures, gifts from the Lord, and a certain, finite amount of time. If we do nothing with what we have been given, if we do not bear fruit in the ways that really matter, we risk damnation coming to us like a thief in the night.

What does it mean, however, to be productive with the Lord's wealth? How do we avoid the fate of the wicked and lazy servant? In a society accustomed to high levels of material production, it might appear that we have to have productive spiritual lives as well, perhaps generating a certain number of prayers or good deeds. Such an interpretation cannot, however, be correct. There are many saints who seemed to accomplish very little in their entire lifetimes. The thief on the cross beside Jesus did nothing except beg for mercy, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” (Luke 23:42) for which action Jesus promised him paradise that very day. Saint Aloysius Gonzaga died as a Jesuit novice at age twenty-three without even reaching ordination. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux died at twenty-four and only wrote one short book, which became the Story of a Soul. Many other saints die in infancy, having received Baptism but apparently producing nothing in this world. What, then, does it mean to be productive with the Lord's wealth?

A clue to an answer can be seen, I think, in the way that the other servants double their master's wealth in this parable: the servant with five talents made five more, and the servant with two talents made two more. Now the work of a Christian is not production in itself, even though some Christians do have a very visible productivity in the world in all manner of ways. The true work of the Christian is to be conformed to Christ, to become like Christ. From those who do make use of his diverse gifts, Our Heavenly Father does, in a sense, double his wealth. When God bestows, in diverse ways, the graces of his only begotten Son on a human being, that person can become a second child, an adopted child of God.

May we as Christians recognize that our principal work as Christians is to become holy, to follow Christ and become like Him.

Father Andrew Pinsent, St Ambrose Church, St Louis, 16th November 2008

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