Matthew 25: 14-30
Jesus tells his disciples this parable: A man going on a journey calls his servants and entrusts his possessions to them. To one he gives five talents; to another, two; to a third, one — each according to his ability. When the master returns, he discovers that the servant who was given five talents made five more; the one given two talents made two more. They are happy in receiving the master’s praise for having used their abilities in a creative way. However, the servant who received one talent had hidden the talent out of fear, and now returns the talent to the master. The master calls him a wicked, lazy servant, and orders that he be thrown into the darkness outside.
Matthew in this passage is addressing the time of the church — the time between Christ’s going away and his return. He has already warned us about doing wicked, violent things during this time (Mt 24: 48-51), and also about foolishly ignoring the reality of Christ’s return (Mt 25: 1-13). In this parable, the warning is about playing it safe by doing nothing, taking no risks out of fear. The master calls the servant who had buried his one talent a wicked servant, not because he had done something evil, but because he had done nothing to advance his master’s interest.
A “talent” originally meant money; soon it received its metaphorical meaning, one’s ability. One might also think of the talents entrusted to us as our life, which includes our abilities, our time on earth, and all the rest that life connotes. In his parable Jesus warns us, in this time before his return, that we must use the gift of life entrusted to us in a creative way to advance the interest of God’s kingdom. Essentially this means the works of love, as the scene of the final judgment upon Christ’s return makes clear (Mt 25: 31-46). Fear or laziness is unacceptable as an excuse for doing nothing.
Perhaps we can extend the meaning of the parable a little further by thinking of the many ways that the life entrusted to us can be wasted, even without doing evil things. Thorton Wilder in his play Our Town shows us one of these ways. The point of the play is that because we live in illusions, we do not “find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life” (Wilder’s quote).
Emily Webb is the main character of the play. Emily, who had died in childbirth, is permitted to return to Grover’s Corners for only one day, to redo “the least important day” of her life. Now she is able with clear vision to pay attention to the smallest events of that very ordinary day. Here are some of the things she says: “I can’t look at everything hard enough . . . Let’s look at one another . . . I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed . . . Good-by to clocks ticking . . . And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you . . . Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?” Thorton Wilder has another character respond: “The saints and poets, maybe — they do some.”
The prayer of our Eucharist today might be to ask again for the Spirit of Christ. In his Spirit we can be poets (able to see and to tell the wonder of ordinary things) and saints (able to respond with gratitude and love).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.