Just as nature seems to encourage us to slow down a bit during this season, so too, does the Church invite us to adopt a more contemplative spirit as we approach the end of our liturgical year and prepare to enter the season of Advent, looking forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. But, before we can get to this joyous celebration, these last days of the liturgical year call for us to consider whether we are prepared to meet Our Lord.
In the past few weeks, our Mass readings have been inviting us to reflect on this very topic. Last Sunday, we were reminded in the parable of the ten virgins that we should stay awake, for we don’t know the day or the hour at which Our Lord will come. Today, in our second reading, we see that the Lord comes like “a thief in the night.” Both of these clearly point to the need of living as Christ’s disciples each and every day, so that we might be prepared for whenever we are called to meet Our Lord.
In the parable of the talents that we heard in this week’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a man who was embarking on a journey. But, before leaving, he summoned his servants and gave each of them a certain amount of money to care for in his absence. Two of them went out and wisely used what their master had given them and, in turn, saw a return that doubled what they had been given. But, the third servant, fearful of the master, kept to himself what he had been given and returned only that to the master. The two that used the gift wisely and saw a return on what they were given, are invited to share their master’s joy, whereas the one who kept to himself what he had been given was cast out.
In trying to understand this story, there’s a likely possibility of confusion when one word has multiple meanings, as is the case with the word “talent.” Today we think of “talent” as a special attribute that a person possesses – in sport, in art, in music or whatever. Talents are the gifts that enable people to excel in a particular area or field in their lives. These talents are not earned, but they can be developed. We get annoyed when we see gifted people who do not use their talents properly; conversely, we are particularly impressed with people who use their talents for the good of others.
However, the talents in the Gospel are different. They’re more like sums of money that can be invested, which is what two of the men in the parable do with them. The talent was a measure of weight of an amount of metal. A single talent of silver was worth more than fifteen times the basic daily wage at the time; so, gifts of one, two or five talents were quite extravagant. However, one man does what people of long ago were advised to do with their money: he buried it–for safety. Two thousand years ago the sensible thing was to dig a secret hole and bury your savings, because it was too easy for anyone to break a hole in the wall of a house and steal valuables.
Parables are notorious for turning upside down the expected order of things, and this one is no exception. The risk takers are rewarded for their boldness; the “prudent “one is punished. It is clear that playing safe with God’s gifts is not an option in the kingdom of heaven.
Do you wonder how this parable speaks to us today? The clue is in the reward. Those who took risks are praised for being good and faithful stewards; and they’re invited to come and share their master’s happiness. The other ‘played safe,’ risking nothing for his master. He’s deprived of his talent and cast out.
This should remind us that we have been given much by God. We don’t have the option of not using our gifts to build up God’s kingdom. We’re his servants. The talents are the gifts that God has bestowed on us – our intelligence, our ability to love, our skills, and even our temporal goods. The journey that the master takes signifies the duration of our life. His surprise return represents our death; the settling of accounts our judgement; and the banquet is Heaven. If we invest God’s gifts well, the promised reward is to share in the happiness of the master’s kingdom. So, take time to reflect on your life and seek to understand whether you utilize the gifts that Our Lord has given you to build up his kingdom on earth. Whether we live the stewardship and discipleship way of life, or whether we keep God’s gifts to ourselves, that will determine our final destiny.