19 November 2023 | Frank Gillies
Today’s Gospel reading was the Parable of the Talents – of three servants, and of a man going on a journey who entrusted his property to them. It is yet another parable that Jesus uses to illustrate the Kingdom of Heaven, and it follows on immediately from the previous verse in Matthew: “you must keep watch! For you do not know the day or the hour of my return.”
Jesus talks of a wealthy man going away on a journey. This man represents Jesus. The master who is leaving calls three of his servants together, and he hands over talents for them to manage while he is gone. In the reality of the time, that was a lot of cash.
It is a story to show what people should do with their lives. Rather than becoming complacent or lazy, God wants His followers to live in a state of readiness, of seeking and striving for his kingdom. He does not want any of us to live for ourselves and merely hope for the best. Those who follow Jesus will be at work, doing the work He wants them to do, and making the most of what ability each individual has. That, I think, is the point of the parable.
Two of the servants apply the funds and double the sums of money the master left with them. They are richly rewarded when he comes back. The third servant buries the money and does nothing with it out of supposed fear of the master who, on his return, condemns his servant’s laziness, his lack of meaningful action – and casts him out. What each does with those resources mirrors how people have different abilities or assets, and the ways in which each person can respond to those. The parable implies that different returns are expected from different abilities. People are not competing against each other, only against themselves.
In this parable, the point is not about money. Jesus is showing His disciples what He expects of them and of us. He expects us to use whatever we have been given – our talents, our abilities – on His behalf. It is about working, following God’s will, to help bring about the kingdom of Heaven.
The servant with the one talent did not try to multiply his master’s money. Nor did He invest it, or work with it. He simply buried it. He dug a hole and hid everything in the ground. He did nothing constructive. His master’s response shows that this was the worst thing the servant could have done.
Laziness is not often viewed as a sin. Today’s parable, though, shows that it can be seen that way. Here, there is implied a moral failure, a failure of omission … of something not done, not merely something caused by tiredness or weakness. Jesus tells us that is not an excuse for inaction when action is what God wants of us.
In this, there is an important truth for followers of Jesus: it matters that we make something of what God gives to us, of what we have received – either through genetics, providence of birth, education, opportunities, or luck – for his purpose. That is, how do we use our human talent – our intelligence, our cleverness, our common-sense, our drive, resourcefulness, wisdom, our spirit of generosity, of hospitality, of tolerance and so on – our personhood, which is the sum of our personal attributes and ability. Are they used just for our own advantage, or do we also use our abilities for the benefit of others in society and those we share our lives with, for the common good and especially for those in need? In a nutshell, are we selfish, or are we generous and giving?
People who trust and believe in Jesus Christ, striving, however imperfectly, to follow in his ways, are rewarded for making good use of what they have been given. Jesus says that those who share generously the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves enriched with more benefits. In this, I am reminded of that great prayer of St Francis with its insightful line, “it is in giving that we receive”.
But those who say they are Christians yet do nothing to respond to Christ are just pretending to be His followers. This was the case with the third servant who hid the master’s money and did nothing with it. He was cast out into the darkness – but not because he did not accomplish enough for the master. He was not damned for his disobedience. Rather, his action – really, his inaction, doing nothing with what had been entrusted to him – showed that he was not a true servant at all, but a pretender and that is why he was rejected by the master.
So what are we to take away from today’s parable? Jesus’ message is for people to use their talents, their abilities, in the service of God. We are to help bring about, and to lead others to, the Kingdom of Heaven – a place of being where God rules, characterised by justice, forgiveness, acceptance of others, honesty, truth, healing, peace, faith, love.
God wants us to use the gifts of personhood that each of us has, for building his kingdom. The kingdom of God starts small with each one of us and we should seek to increase it to include more and more people. It does not depend on wealth and ambition, which are the secular world’s values.
Matthew’s message about the kingdom of heaven is that faithfulness will be rewarded. What is faithfulness? In Matthew’s gospel, faithfulness is following in Jesus’ footsteps. All who would follow Jesus are to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom to the world (Matt 24: 14) by going about the work that God has called them to do. This work includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, looking after the sick, and visiting the incarcerated (Matt 25: 35-45).
Those who are found faithful may, at the last, hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” …. ‘come and receive the inheritance prepared for you’.