The Parable of the Talents
It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ [Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant![k] So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Mt 25: 14-30
I am on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus taught many parables, but the parable of the talents was taught in Jerusalem. Jesus in fact looking at the holy city from the Mount of Olives explains to the disciples the events that precede the end of the world.
This parable is therefore inserted between the eschatological discourses and parables on the final judgment, like the parable of the foolish and wise virgins and the one that shows the final judgment, with the Son of Man separating the sheep from the goats, the good from the bad, I was hungry and you gave me food….
All this tells us the importance of this parable: on the scale of our judgment before God there will also be the talents received that we will have been able to make fruit or not. And to further confirm the seriousness of his teaching Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth“. God’s words are on a different level than human words that are sometimes inconsistent: there is an inexorable term, a showdown, of which Jesus speaks to us insistently almost at the end of every parable, no one can escape this and life is given to us to decide where we stand.
First of all, what are talents? The talent was a measure of weight – in ancient times the weight of the money was representing its value – , about 40 kg of silver, which corresponded to the pay of about 30 years of work of a worker. To make a similar analogy with today’s currency, one talent would correspond more or less to 1 billion USD.
Jesus suggests that what we have received is a huge thing, it is the immense gift of life and redemption, but not only.
Talents cannot be restricted to the spiritual sphere alone, I personally believe that they are all the gifts and qualities we have received, both spiritual and human, gifts of grace, gifts of nature, faith, education received, intelligence, all our abilities (the use of the word talent, talented, in the sense of an ability, derives from the evangelical parable, by semantic evolution).
What we received is huge, but God did not give to all the same talents, this is an important teaching of the parable. If I have to do a mathematical calculation, it requires a certain amount of effort and it does not come to me automatically, but there are people who instantly are able to do very difficult calculations; it is obvious that I do not have the five talents in this area.
God does not ask us what He has not given us, we must not think of a merciless God, the Lord only asks us what He has given us and what we can really get to, this development of talents must be lived with serenity. We need lucidity to discover what talents we have and to recognize what we do not have, so as not to waste precious energy and time. Remembering that we do not always have the five talents also helps us in our relationships with others, sometimes people can have behaviors that leave us perplexed, remember that not everyone has the five talents, not everyone gets to understand certain things, just as we do not get to understand certain situations, nuances and unwittingly we can hurt others.
“But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money“.
There is a positive and evangelical concealment, which is the invitation to humility, such as not showing one’s alms, not praying to be seen or putting ourselves in the last place when one is invited. But there is also a concealment that is not evangelical, because the lamp must stand on the candlestick and make light, because men must see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven, because we are the light of the world, Jesus said, and a city set on a hill. We have talents that are not only for us but for the good of all, we cannot hide them, they must be made to bear fruit!!!!
The ruin of the useless servant was fear. He made himself the image of a severe God, who has no compassion, that is why he hid the talent. God doesn’t reproach anyone for overdoing!!!! He does not even look at how these talents were earned, the problem is that that servant hid the talent and was so afraid that he did nothing, he was paralyzed. If we wait for everything to be perfect or totally clear and transparent, then we’ll end up like the useless servant, we’ll never begin to trade in our talents for fear of making mistakes. Let’s immediately start dealing, like the one who received the five talents, and the skein will unravel. Let’s not make the mistake of believing that our talents have value only if we are the best in the world. You don’t have to be the best painter in the world to share your painting, our imperfect canvas will still give joy to many of our brothers and will say something about God and our uniqueness, even if it is not a work of Michelangelo. God is happy with the one has received few talents as with the one has received many, as long as everyone makes them fruitful. Every talent is precious, the most humble as well as the most showy!!! Making a cake, for example, is not the most difficult thing to do, but how would a birthday be sad if there were no one to make the cake and put candles in it?
Whether we have few or many talents, whether we are talking about flashy services or humble daily actions, our most bitter enemies are inactivity and paralysis for fear of making mistakes or being judged by God or others, which this parable teaches us to win. And this is where the bankers come into play, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest“.
Who are the bankers?
I have always seen in them the dimension of fraternal and ecclesial communion. When we are stuck or in a blind alley, entrusting talent to bankers means seeking a dialogue with our brothers and sisters. In fact, it is often the brothers and sisters who make us understand that we have a talent and push us to use it. There are the bishops and priests, of course, who have a specific role and charism in guiding the community and with whom it is necessary to deal, but it would be reductive to restrict the role of bankers to them. Let us think how important friendships in the Lord are, the people from whom we have received an example of faith, how much encouragement and good advice we received when we shared our experience. The whole church is this bank where we recognize our talents guided by the Spirit and helped by others, who in turn we help to recognize and make their talents bear fruit.
This bank cannot be restricted to the church alone, because how many times have we been confronted with non-believers or people belonging to other religions, and we have received light, edification and words that have really helped us? It is a bit like the parable of the Good Samaritan, it happens sometimes that the simplest person gives advice that is better than that of the priest.
“Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”.
The fact that God takes away the talent and gives it to the one who has the ten talents reminds us that divine judgment does not respond to mathematical laws or our criteria. Even if the evil one is punished, what God has given will not be lost, but the talent that the evil servant should have gained and that would have cheered the chosen ones for eternity will be lost forever.
“And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth”.
We cannot choose better than how Jesus chose, and if he ends this parable with the threat of punishment there is a reason; to shake our numbed consciences. This ending reminds us that making our talents bear fruit is not an optional extra, but is necessary for our salvation.
This article is the transcription of a video commentary I made in Italian for the youth of the Church of Siena (see below)