August 13, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus’ parables: The use of our talents

John F. Fink(Eleventh in a series of columns)

Last week, I wrote about some of Jesus’ parables about servants. I will continue that this week with the parable of the talents, as it is called in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 25:14-30), or the parable of the gold coins, as it is called in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 19:11-27).

I am going to use Matthew’s version because Luke combined two originally distinct parables, one about the conduct of faithful and productive servants and another about a rejected king.

We are all familiar with the parable. Jesus said that a wealthy man was going on a journey so he called in his servants and entrusted his property to them. He knew the abilities of each of the three men so he gave five talents to one man, two to a second man and one to a third. A talent was a coin with a high but varying value depending on whether it was gold, silver or copper. Its only mention in the Gospels was in this parable.

This would have made perfectly good sense to those who were listening to Jesus’ story because wealthy businessmen often had to travel abroad and entrust the running of their businesses to servants. It is not completely unlike the owner of a small business today except that today the servants would be called employees.

The man expected his servants to use the talents wisely. He expected to see a profit when he returned. Both of the first two men, therefore, managed to double the amount entrusted to them. The third man, though, afraid that he might lose what he was given, simply dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

When the master returned, he asked for an accounting. When the first two men reported, the master was pleased and promoted them. But when the third man reported what he had done, the master was angry. He called the man a “wicked lazy servant” (Mt 25:26), and said that the least he could have done was to put the money in a bank so the man would get it back with interest when he returned. He was not just negligible, he was seriously culpable. So he was fired, as he should have been, and the money he had been entrusted with was given to the man who now had 10 talents.

As is true of many of Jesus’ parables, those listening might have thought that Jesus was just telling a story, this time about business and finance. But Jesus was making a serious point: Faithful use of one’s gifts will lead to participation in the fullness of the kingdom of heaven while neglecting to use those gifts will mean exclusion from it.

Every one of us has God-given talents and gifts. Just as the servants in the parable were free to do with the talents given them, so are we. However, God fully expects us to use them to the best of our abilities. Those who do so will be rewarded while those who are too lazy to do so will be punished. †

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