As we noted last week we are now in the final phase of the Liturgical Year and we are given two parables about preparedness for the second coming of Christ—last week we had the Wise and Foolish Virgins and this week we are presented with the Parable of the Talents. Then next Sunday the cycle of readings will come to its end with the Feast of Christ the King and a meditation on the Last Judgement.
When I was a secondary school Chaplain I found that the Parable of the Talents was a favourite Gospel chosen by teachers for school masses and assemblies in the run up to exam time. Those teachers used this parable to reinforce their constant message that their students should be responsible and use their time wisely thus encouraging them to study hard and pass their exams.
Or at other times of the year they chose it because they had simplistically equated the biblical word talent with the natural gifts we are all given by God such as the ability to play the piano or a facility with languages or a talent for sports. Then they proceeded to make those with few talents feel very guilty and inadequate!
I was never keen on using the scriptures in this way; I felt it was rather patronising and very heavy-handed. Pupils need to be inspired and they generally don’t respond to laboured advice from their teachers. Young people at school will puzzle things out for themselves and then make the decision to work or not accordingly.
They are not different from adults in this respect. We don’t want to be told what to do either. What we want is help to think things out for ourselves. What we want is a new insight, not repetitious and unasked for advice. That’s why Jesus used parables to get his message across rather than laid down laws.
Let us look at the parable we are presented with today. First a talent was not a coin, it was a weight in gold or silver of about 40 Kilos; so, it was a very considerable treasure that this man was trusting to his servants. One talent was probably equivalent to a whole lifetime’s wages for such a servant. He had entrusted them with something precious beyond their wildest dreams.
The second point is that the Master took a very long time to come back. This is a tiny but important detail in today’s Gospel. It shows the Master’s love for his servants that he gave them more than ample time for the treasure of the talents to yield bounteous fruit.
What is the precious thing that God has entrusted to us? It is not our own gifts or talents, as those teachers tended to imply. It is, of course, the Good News of Salvation. The great treasure that we have been given is the gift of the Gospel; the realisation that Jesus is our Saviour and that through our faith in him we will find salvation. It is what we do with this gift that makes all the difference.
We are surely all at quite different stages in relation to this gift of faith. Some of us may not even be sure whether they have it or not. This might be a particular problem for some of our young people, but not only them. There are many long-standing members of the congregation who suffer doubts and experience long periods of darkness and disbelief. Others of us might find it a bit of a burden, knowing and believing in Jesus and his message but feeling quite inadequate to the task of transmitting the Gospel to others.
Then some parishioners might feel full of faith and have put a lot of effort into carrying out the precepts of the Gospel over many years and who yet feel that for one reason or another God has let them down badly. They certainly haven’t lost their faith but feel a bit depressed about it and don’t know where Christ is leading them. Still others might be experiencing a new joy as they experience some wonderful grace or blessing from God. At various times in our life we might go through one or more of these reactions.
The parable tells us that faith is a real and wonderful gift from God. It is entirely unbidden; as in the parable the servants are given no clue in advance what the master is about to do. Faith is also given to us according to our ability to deal with it; each in proportion to his ability, as it says in the parable.
But the most important aspect of the Parable is that the Master will eventually return. The parable is about Christ’s Second Coming and the judgement we will all face at the end of time. We know that we will be called to account for how we have handled this gift of faith that we have been so generously given. This first thing to realise is that it is not a burden; it is a gift. The second thing to realise is that the man who is punished is condemned because he has buried his talent. He has refused to deal with it. He has simply ignored the gift and literally buried it.
So the message of hope is that whatever stage of life you are at, whether you are doubting, whether you are struggling to make sense of the Gospel message, whether you are teaching the love of Christ to your children, whether you are rejoicing in some new grace or blessing, whether you are going through the dark night of the soul, whether you are groping in darkness and searching for some chink of light; whatever it is that might be happening with your faith at least something is happening!
You are immersed in it, you struggle with it, you rejoice in it, you share it, you search for it, you deepen it, you love it and you even at times might hate it. But you are engaged with it! Yes, we will face judgement and we will have to give an account of ourselves. But it will be a long and convoluted story; however, we will have a wonderfully sympathetic listener (one who knows the story all along because he was an essential part of it) and whose judgement will be merciful and who wants above all other things our happiness. His whole aim is to give us joy; not a superficial joy, but a deep and lasting and fulfilling joy based on a life of engagement with him.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket