It is uniformly referred to as The Parable of the Talents, and as I recalled it, I began the story with no preconceived notion of where it would lead. I read that each of the three stewards accepted the monies deposited with them and then went on to observe their actions.
My first thoughts were that the first two had risked losing the Master’s funds but had by skill or luck been able to add to the riches entrusted to them. I thought the third fellow the smart one–he had taken no chances with the money entrusted with him, but had made sure it remained safe.
What a shock when I got to the end. The third steward was treated, not with the acclaim I expected, but rather with anger and punishment. Although I have since learned the “lesson” offered, I have never really liked this story.
Quite frankly I feel utter sympathy for the poor man who hid the talent. How can one not?
He’s already been designated as the least capable of the three, he was given but one talent to protect. His lack of ability could not have been unknown to himself surely. Most people are only too aware of their limitations. We can relate to him so easily, especially those of us who have been in situations, whether in our families or in the workplace, where we were considered “incapable” in some way.
“I always get it wrong,” a small boy might lament. “Dad never praises me for anything. I’m always the screw-up.” Is it so surprising then, that the untalented one takes the safe route and merely hides the talent, so that at least, he can’t lose the Master’s wealth?
Yet, Jesus makes it so very clear that God and he are not “hard” or “demanding” as some of the texts use. And this is the crux of the issue. Jesus tells us that we are not to approach God out of fear, but rather out of love, confident and assured that we are supported. What went so terribly wrong here is that the servant lived in fear of the Master. He probably hated the fact that he had been entrusted with anything!
We learn that if we approach our faith from fear, then we are no good to ourselves, others, nor the Kingdom. We teach incorrectly, we teach falsely, we drive people from God.
It is hard, at first, to figure out how this passage was joined with the first reading of the day, Prv: 31: 10-13, 19-20.30-31. In those passages, husbands are reminded of the value of a good wife. The good wife fears the Lord, but not in the way that makes her incapacitated with actual fear. No, her fear, is reverence and a love that pushes her to reach out:
She obtains wool and flax
and works with loving hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.
Her “talents” are put to good and fruitful use, and bear fruit that enhances her family and her community.
This is the lesson I believe.
Jesus is nearing the end of his time on earth. He is trying to counter the Pharisaic model of an angry and avenging God who requires adherence to every rule and law to its most picayune point. Matthew urges his community, in including this story, to go fearlessly into the night, proclaiming the message with courage, and assurance.
We too live in frightening times. It is not time to hide under the bed, but rather to stand up, proclaiming our truth.
Are you a good steward?
- Are you a good steward? (christianpf.com)
- Stewardship – What is it really? (christianpf.com)
- Homily on the Parable of the Talents (junjunfaithbook.com)