33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A, 2014
That last line of the gospel is not too cheerful is it? Wailing and grinding of teeth doesn't sound too good. The stakes are high in this parable.
This parable of the 5 talents seems simple at first. The master gives talents, the first two people invested them to get a return, the third guy buries his talent and he gets in trouble. So, Jesus is reminding us that we are to use our gifts to spread His kingdom in our world.
But, where I think it gets tricky is to figure out what these talents are? The word “talent” throws us off right away. When we think about talents we think about our skills or unique things we can do. I play guitar. You could say I have a talent for playing Dave Matthews Band or Van Halen songs. I also have a talent for golf, I have a single digit handicap and I love playing golf. These are some of my talents. Can I use these to advance the kingdom? Are these the talents Jesus is talking about?
I remember learning in the seminary that our English word “talent” is based upon this word from this passage of scripture. Originally, talent did not mean our skills or abilities. Rather, “talent” was a unit of money. So, I spent some time this week researching how much a talent was worth. This was really eye-opening.
First of all, a talent was actually a measure of weight. It was the approximate weight of the amount of water that filled a standard measuring jug of the time called an amphora. The Greek talent, therefore, weighed in at about 57 pounds. This standard unit was used to measure precious metals, like silver or gold. More than likely, the talents to which Jesus refers would have been talents of silver. A talent of silver was roughly equivalent to the wages of a skilled laborer for 9 years. Hear that again, 1 talent equals the amount of money a skilled laborer would make for 9 years. Put into today’s figures, imagine a person makes 30,000 dollars, multiply by 9 and you get a sum of… a lot! (270,000). All of a sudden this parable seems to take on new significance.
Thinking about my “talents” at music or golf seems somewhat insignificant in the face of the sheer amount of money we are talking about in this parable. The man with the 5 talents was given over a million dollars. This was a huge investment on the part of the owner. What kind of equivalent can we find in our own lives? What are the really massive gifts that God has given us?
Let’s start with life itself. Can any one of us really say that we deserve it? What did I do to earn such an amazing gift? You could say that the gift of life was given by our parents, but where did they get it, who gave it to them? The gift of life is the single most important gift anyone of us has ever received. Ultimately, this gift comes from God who bestowed it upon the human race. If it weren’t for God, none of us would be alive. Now, when we see Christ, he will ask us: “what did you do with that gift?”
Our first reading reminded me of other gifts we receive. It talks about a worthy wife… I think we could also talk about worthy husbands, children, family members. It is no secret that very often we face difficulties and tensions within our family. But, do we ever stop to see them as the amazing gifts that they are? God has invested in us greatly by bestowing upon us life, and also the lives of those people around us.
I was thinking a lot this week about the tremendous blessing of this parish community. I’m constantly amazed at the faith, good-will, kindness, and generosity of this family. And now I have to ask God’s help to see how I can invest all these gifts I have received for the growth of his kingdom. Not to mention gifts like the Eucharist or the sacrament of confession.
This parable is difficult and unsettling in some ways. Here Jesus tells us that he expects a return on the investment he makes in us. But, before we know how to put his gifts into action for the spread of the kingdom, we have to be able to recognize how God has blessed us in our lives. This week, either as individuals, or maybe together as families, make a list of the “talents” or amazing gifts that God has given you. Next, find a way to turn those gifts into investments for the spread of the kingdom of God. We all want to hear the same thing when we meet our Lord on the last day: “well done, good and faithful servant.”