In one of St. John Henry Newman’s prayers, we are reminded that God has created us for a special purpose. A task he wants us personally to perform in His Name. We are co-workers with Jesus in the Kingdom of God. This life is our privileged place of work, labouring in the vineyard, doing the Master’s bidding. We are a people with a purpose and a destiny. This life is a wonderful gift but it will pass away. It is vital we take the opportunity to love and serve God in our concern for our neighbour. The Gospel this week gives us a Master entrusting his property to his servants, a common theme of the last few weeks. There are several aspects to the Master’s actions that enlighten us as to how God acts towards us:
First: the Master trusts his servants. Trust is vital and must in turn be treasured by the one trusted. The servants had lived in a way worthy of their Master’s trust. This did not happen overnight. This allows the Master to entrust his precious property/talents to his servants upon whom he feels he can rely. Trust is vital in our relationship with God. Each day God takes us into His trust. God gives us precious gifts of love, faith, grace, compassion, mercy, kindness and humility. God cannot predetermine how we will or will not use His gifts, but He still gives them to us. These are given to be used with largesse as we interact with others. God trusts that we will use them as opportunity presents itself. The issue is not just about God trusting us. It is also about us trusting God. My mother taught her boys to say, “O sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in Thee”. If we do not trust God, then we will lack confidence. We will be hesitant and ineffective. St. Peter lacked trust and he began to sink when he stepped out of the boat in the storm. On the other hand, the centurion showed trust when he knew Jesus’s Word was enough and his servant would be healed. I am sure there was trust in Jesus’ reassurance in the Good Thief’s heart as he closed his eyes for the final time on the cross.
Second: as with other similar Gospels, the Master goes away, he leaves them to their task. Maybe you have had the experience of your boss looking over your shoulder while you are trying to work. It is much better when you are left without overt supervision to do what you need to do. We are reminded God takes risks with us. He is prepared to stand back a little. It isn’t a case of sink or swim. God will catch us if we begin to fall.
Third: The Master doesn’t give his servants a set time as to when he will return. If there was a set time, the servants may lose incentive and leave things to the last minute. In today’s Gospel, the Master could return at any minute and this is intended to keep the servants proactive and mindful of each day and how they are managing the Master’s investment. As Christians, we know that the Lord will return at the final time and we will go before Him to give account of our stewardship. We don’t know the day or the hour, all we know is the Lord will return. This keeps us on our spiritual toes. Every moment matters and we should fill our day with prayer and loving concern. We do not want to be caught out and be unprepared.
Fourth: The Master gives the talents in accordance with the servants abilities. One servant gets five talents, a second two and a third one. The Master know his servants abilities and limitations. He will not ask too much of someone who cannot cope. Equally he will not give less to someone who could do better with more. We are reminded how well the Lord knows us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses. The Lord’s grace enables us to do wonderful things but God will never put us out of our depth. God will never ask too much of us or line us up for failure and frustration. As we said of St. John Henry Newman’s prayer, God has his task for us and it is well within our ability, augmented by Divine Assistance, to succeed. Five talents or just one? It is important that we must not make comparisons between ourselves and other Christians. We are all the same to God, Pope or pauper.
Fifth: The Master expects some return on his investment. The servant with five talents makes five more. Likewise, the servant with two talents, makes two more. Both give the Master a return on his investment. They show his trust was well placed and they are rewarded accordingly. The problem arises with the servant given one talent. He has buried it and ignored its potential to make more money. The first thing I notice about this servant is that for one with nothing to show he has a lot to say. The excuses pour out of him to justify his inaction. He takes the problem from where it is –himself; and puts the problem where it isn’t – the Master, “I heard you were a hard man…”. The Master reminds him with that no effort whatsoever on the servant’s part, he could have simply gone to the bank and the staff there would have done the hard work and he could have sat back while the talent made interest. But he couldn’t be bothered, and did nothing. The Master takes the talent from him and gives it to the man with five talents. We are reminded that the Lord’s work needs to be done. We get the first opportunity to show compassion, concern, love, mercy, generosity and kindness. If a person doesn’t receive it from us they still need to receive it from someone. The phrase used by the Master is telling: “As for this good for nothing servant”. “Good for nothing” is a terrible indictment of a life.
We all want to be good for something. I think the servants who gave the Master a return have been watching how the Master made his money. They have learned valuable lessons and are able to reflect the acumen and flair of their employer who has shown them how to invest and make more of what they have. They have shown initiative and imagination and evidently have learned like attentive disciples at their Master’s feet. The Third servant has learned nothing. He is not willing to make the effort, take a risk, put in the sweat and to do some research to work out the best investment of the talent. He could have asked his fellow servants for advice. But we all know: nothing ventured – nothing gained. As we mature in faith, we continue to learn from our Master, the Lord Jesus. We must emulate His people skills, love compassion and gentleness. We must thank the Father daily for the immeasurable investment of Love He made in us when He sent His only Son to save us. Jesus in turn gave all He had to give us as He died on the cross. We feel very humble as we see how much has been given to us. Of course, to whom much has been given, much will be expected.
Also, we learn today that what God gives He expects us to use. I remember the glass cabinet in our front room at home. The room was kept for visitors and myself and my brothers ventured in from time to time. In the glass cabinet was a teapot. It was very ornate, not like the one we used every day. Maybe it was, but I can’t remember mum ever making tea from the ornate teapot. Of course, I didn’t know the value of it as an ornament – that was an adult thing. I only knew it was a nice teapot. As a teapot I am sure it was fit for purpose. I today look back and wonder, if the teapot could feel, was it happy in that glass case or would it rather have made a brew and brought refreshment to others? We all have potential placed in us by God. Only faith can fully exercise our God given talents. I don’t want us to end on a seemingly negative note. Rather than focus on an unused talent being taken from us; let us remember a talent properly used will increase and be added to. This addition may well be treasure in Heaven – the best investment of all.
Fr. Gerard X