Gospel according to Saint Matthew 25,14-30:
Imagine someone who, before going abroad, summoned his servants to entrust his property to them. He gave five talents of silver to one, then two to another, and one to a third, each one according to his ability; and he went away.
»He who received five talents went at once to do business with the money and gained another five. The one who received two did the same and gained another two. But the one with one talent dug a hole and hid his master’s money.
»After a long time, the master of those servants returned and asked for a reckoning. The one who received five talents came with another five talents, saying: ‘Lord, you entrusted me with five talents, but see I have gained five more with them’. The master answered: ‘Very well, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in a few things, I will entrust you with much more. Come and share the joy of your master’.
»Then the one who had two talents came and said: ‘Lord, you entrusted me with two talents; I have two more which I gained with them’. The master said: ‘Well, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in little things, I will entrust you with much more. Come and share the joy of your master’.
»Finally, the one who had received one talent came and said: ‘Master, I know that you are an exacting man. You reap what you have not sown and gather what you have not invested. I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here, take what is yours’. But his master replied: ‘Wicked and worthless servant, you know that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not invested. Then you should have deposited my money in the bank, and you would have given it back to me with interest on my return. Therefore, take the talent from him, and give it to the one who has ten. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who are unproductive, even what they have will be taken from them. As for that useless servant, throw him out into the dark where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’».
A Deluge of Talents
Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, November 19, 2023 | XXXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prov 31:10-13.19-20.30-31; 1Thes 5: 1-6; Mt 2:14-30
Virtues, qualities and talents.
If we read the parable of the talents with the mentality of this world, we will undoubtedly draw a positive conclusion, but nothing original: We must take advantage of our qualities, develop them to the maximum, bring them to their fullness. That is profitable and our parents, our teachers and our sports coaches would agree. But Christ makes two things clear: that the talents of the servants were given to them and that there was a very definite expectation about what they should do with them.
There is no need to explain that the servants had to use their talents in a certain way; it is not a matter of mere personal development or maximizing profits, but of using everything in the service of others. In this sense, an exceptional Olympic champion, a prestigious and creative sage or an artist of the highest level are not necessarily exemplary. What is essential is the projection of these talents in others. The First Reading confirms this when it speaks of what it considers to be a perfect woman and a perfect wife: someone who looks after her husband, the needy and the poor.
One of the most relevant NEGATIVE examples in the Bible is Samson (Book of Judges). Endowed with extraordinary strength, he used his unique power to perform amazing feats, such as overcoming a lion with the power of his arms and eliminating thousands of Philistine enemies; however, he used his talents to satisfy his ambition for power and sexual gratification. Although he was selfish, he had the honor and grace to be used by Providence as an instrument of God’s plans. The meager fruit of his talents was, perhaps, 2%.
First of all, I must admit that yes, I have received talents. I may not be as strong as Samson, as wise as Solomon or as patient as Job. I may focus too much or be made to think too much about my shortcomings, but a talent means something different than a physical, intellectual, emotional or moral capacity. Essentially, it is the ability, the potential to do good.
Neither you nor I can say that we do not have that capacity, but we must make an effort to discover it, to unveil it, because it is something different in each person, as is clearly shown in the parable.
In these days that I have spent with our brothers of Constantina, they have shown me a sculpture that the city has built to a young man with Down syndrome, which, as is known, imposes many cognitive limitations and associated diseases. This person, whom I was fortunate to meet, has a special ability to help others, assisting and accompanying them in the street, in the parish, in shopping… Undoubtedly, he cannot do many other things, but that ability to assist and collaborate with everyone, which is not damaged by his syndrome, is really a talent, a potential put into act.
Some talents that go unnoticed or unused by many of us:
* An innate ability to deal with children, or the sick, or the elderly.
* Creativity in solving technical problems, or small breakdowns, or organizational problems.
* Time management. Not all people are able to organize their time and fall into unpunctuality, rushing, hurrying… Others can help them easily, making them see the real priorities and what can wait.
* Motivation. Many people of good will work seriously, but sometimes they do not find sufficient stimulus for their tasks and this discourages them. Others, however, are able to pass on their permanent enthusiasm.
* Start a conversation. Simply start it. Some people know how to do this naturally and are able to push others to communicate many issues, experiences or ideas that would otherwise remain buried.
* Resolving conflicts. We don’t mean stopping a war, but everyday conflicts in a family or community: misunderstandings, forgetfulness, small disagreements about schedules, room temperatures or household priorities.
Clearly, the list could go on and on. These are not virtues; they are talents, usually nothing spectacular, but precisely for that reason they need to be explored and discovered. Our neighbor will thank us with or without words, but the peace he feels will bring him closer to God; no doubt.
Let us not despise the “small” talents. May this story encourage us to understand that we easily bury them:
I have never attended a flea circus. But flea trainers have observed that fleas, when placed in a box with a lid, will over time adopt strange behavior. They will jump and hit the lid of the box over and over again. But as they jump and hit the lid, they end up limiting the height of their jump so as not to hurt themselves. So when the lid is removed, the fleas will have conditioned themselves to jump high enough so that they can no longer get out of the box.
There are only two possibilities: to be like the good and faithful servant… or to be like a flea.
Why do we waste talents? All of us, you and I, have something of the servant who received a talent: fear.
We know that there is a fear that acts automatically and is very useful, like the fear that comes from seeing a lion ten feet away from us. But there is another kind of fear, like the one that invaded the “bad and lazy” servant. It is the fear that we impose on ourselves. For example, when we decide to cross a red light. But sometimes this self-imposed fear is very negative. Not only does it paralyze us, but it causes us to put our attention on something we don’t want or esteem. This fear puts us on the defensive, to continually behave as our instincts dictate. It robs us of hope and joy.
Let us note that at the end of the parable, the punishment that the lazy servant receives is the deprivation of joy; it is not a matter of going to hell, but of not being able to enjoy today the joy of the kingdom of heaven.
Useless thoughts and attachment to fame are the most evident sources of this paralysis and abandonment of our talents: I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered, and I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.
It is not simply a lack of self-esteem or courage. Deep down, it is a lack of faith; we do not believe that God looks at us and knows what to do with our small effort, with our determination to face the possible rejection or the little success of our initiative for our neighbor. The prophet Jonah was afraid of failure and it was necessary that God gave him a second chance to preach the Word to the Ninevites.
This lack of faith begins in us with the doubt that our mission is really unique; not more or less important than that of others, but truly unrepeatable. Contrast this with the confidence of the Lord in the parable, who does not give instructions to the servants as to how they are to use the talents received. It is something that is engraved on his heart and on the face of his neighbor.
If we look at the first two servants, those who decided to use the talents given to them, they received a reward from their Lord. There is no need to make sophisticated interpretations: that reward is new talents, including the one that had been buried by the unfaithful servant.
When discovering a new talent, a new opportunity to do good, we can always be overcome by fear again, as almost happened to a policeman who was giving a lecture on public safety and discipline to a group of elementary school students when he was interrupted by a six-year-old girl. She looked up and down at his uniform and asked, “Are you a policeman?” “Yes, I am,” the officer replied. “My mother told me if I ever needed help to ask a policeman for help. Is that true?” the little girl asked. “Yes, it is,” said the policeman. The little girl extended her foot toward the policeman and said, “Okay, then, would you tie my shoe for me?” The policeman didn’t think twice and did the little girl the favor.
The explanation is found in today’s Second Reading, where Paul instructs the Thessalonians to warn them that God’s way of reaching out to us is unpredictable and illustrates it with strong images: the pain of childbirth, which comes to a woman unexpectedly or a thief who enters the house during the night, when no one is active and on guard.
It is not that God intends to play with us or tries to surprise us; it is rather that his plans are so deep and wise that it is not worth asking: why are you asking me this now? It is a form of helplessness that our mind experiences, discovering in experience that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Is 55: 9). The consequence is that my attention must not relax, must not be subjected to my poor and limited vision or measure of my own spiritual life.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,