Thought for the day
What does God desire of us? This simple question is perhaps not asked frequently enough! It can be made quite personal: what does God want of me, from me? In the end, the answer has to be—in the words of the song—“all that I am,” precisely because God loves all that I am. This will mean allowing ourselves to be loved. It will also mean responding with my whole self, including all the gifts of body, mind and soul that God has bestowed upon me. In the end, God does hope that we may be and become our true selves. Nothing less is adequate to God’s own love for us.
We are truly grateful to you, God our creator and redeemer, for your many gifts. We ask your help that we may use all you have given us for your glory and for the good of our neighbour. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Matt 25:14 “For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The inspiration for this scary parable is from Mark’s Little Apocalypse:
It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. (Mark 13:34)
There is also a version in Luke, with a different atmosphere and an even more alarming conclusion, very striking in this gentle Gospel. Cf Luke19:24-27.
He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’ (Luke 19:24-27)
How much was a talent? In the Old Testament, a talent was a measure of weight approximating 75 pounds weight / 34 kilos. In the New Testament, a talent was a monetary unit roughly equal to 6,000 drachmas, greater than sixteen years’ wages for a labourer. In other words, even one talent was mucho!
Kind of writing
In Matthew 24:3–26:1a we have the last discourse of the Gospel. Its end is signalled by the typical refrain in 26:1a (“when Jesus had finished all these sayings”).
In his careful study of the Parable, JP Meier conludes that only four may be traced back with certainty to the historical Jesus. The four include this parable because the very different version in Luke permits multiple attestation. As with last week, is good to bear in mind that a single parable will never give us all we need to keep in mind, but only one or two aspects. Thus certain questions such as the harshness of the boss are, perhaps, not relevant, because the bottom line here is we are each responsible for our response to grace.
Old Testament background
In the Wisdom books of the Bible, making use of your abilities is stressed, as we can see from today’s first reading. It may well be that the “woman” in question stands for Lady Wisdom who “complements” each human being.
New Testament foreground
(i) This parable is found in a parable section in Matthew which deals with the end of time. The context is a complex of themes, so the setting matters in Matthew (see also last week’s chart).
(ii) Given the great differences between the version in Matthew and Luke, it is better to think of the parable surviving in M and L rather than in the Q sayings source. This has the added advantage of multiple attestation, allowing us to attribute the parable to the historical Jesus. Matthew reads the story as an allegory of the Second Coming, providing a reflection on the nature of Christian waiting until the Lord comes again.
Luke 19:12 A certain person, on taking a trip, 13 called ten of his slaves and gave them ten minas and said to them: Do business until I come. 15 After a long time the master of those slaves comes and settles accounts with them. 16 And the first came saying: Master, your mina has produced ten more minas. 17 And he said to him: Well done, good slave, you have been faithful over a pittance, I will set you over much. 18 And the second came saying: Master, your mina has earned five minas. 19 He said to him: Well done, good slave, you have been faithful over a pittance, I will set you over much. 20 And the other came saying: Master, 21 I knew you, that you are a hard person, reaping where you did not sow and gathering up from where you did not winnow; and, scared, I went and hid your mina in the ground. Here, you have what belongs to you. 22 He said to him; Wicked slave! You knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather up from where I have not winnowed? 23 Then you had to invest my money with the money changers! And at my coming I would have received what belongs to me plus interest. 24 So take from him the mina and give it to the one who has the ten minas. 26 For to everyone who has will be given; but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.
And do this because we know the time, that it is already the hour for us to awake from sleep, for our salvation is now nearer than when we became believers. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light. (Romans 13:11–12)
Verse 14 Temporary absence of the landowner was not untypical. Likewise entrusting your property to your servants was usual. Servants/slaves in this society could range from abject servitude to positions of real responsibility and authority.
Verse 15 A talent is an unusually large some of money—as we saw above. It was never minted as a coin. The man is shrewd and he distributes his gifts according to the perceived ability of his servants. His assessments turn out to be accurate.
Verses 16-17 The first principle of business was to increase the wealth of the master. Such trading involves risk taking (not unlike the faith project itself).
Verse 18 This person takes no risks. In antiquity, burial was considered the safest way to protect your money, as can be seen from the finds of such treasure which turn up from time to time.
Verse 19 The long delay has an allegorical meaning, pointing to the delayed second coming of Christ.
Verses 20-23 Good and faithful are not simply complimentary; they mean rather that the servants have engaged fully and creatively in the (gospel) project. Cf. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28) Entering in to the end time joy of the master—an addition—suggests paradise in Matthew’s reading.
Verses 24-25 Even though the master is not defrauded, the time has been wasted and the trust placed in the servant has been fruitless.
Verses 26-27 Unreserved condemnation for failure to take even the minimal, obvious, even easy initiative.
Verse 28 Judgement is immediate and disturbingly unjust, at least in our eyes.
Verse 29 A paradoxical teaching at the service of the main message. This concluding saying just might be secondary to the original parable, because it is found elsewhere. Cf. the earlier: For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. (Matthew 13:12)
Verse 30 “Outer darkness” and “grinding of teeth” are typical expressions of Matthew, so we hear his voice very much in the conclusion. Vivid punishment is an invitation to change now.
Pointers for prayer
1. A gift given in love, is given to be enjoyed, treasured, and used. Through fear, one servant failed to recognise the loving trust being shown to him and buried the talent. When have you found that overcoming fear helped you to make the most of opportunities in life?
2. On the level of our own personal life, faith is not given to us to be locked away, but to be “traded” with. We trade with it when we believe in its value, trust it, and use it, bringing it into the experiences we have in daily life. Can you recall times when relying on your faith has brought you rewards?
3. Likewise with our own personal gifts and talents. We can fall into the trap of seeing these as our personal possession so that we can do with them as we like, rather than share them as gifts so that they can be multiplied. What is your experience of hoarding or sharing your own gifts? When did you feel most alive?
4. Pope Francis in his letter The Joy of the Gospel wrote, “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities. … The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters.” EG (33) How is your parish responding to this call?
O God, from whose own abundance, all gifts and skills are lavishly bestowed, encourage us to use our talents as generously as you have allotted them, so that, being faithful to your purpose, we may become sharers in your glory.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.