[The kingdom of heaven] is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. Has God really gone away? Certainly it seems like that to us, but perhaps it is we who have become absent from him. But there are two other important points in the same sentence: God calls us, and he has entrusted something to us – namely all that he owns. He holds nothing back, he pours out his nature for us.
To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The way he gives is in proportion to ability. He gives only what is appropriate to each one: no more, no less. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And what he gives is described as “talents” – not to be confused with our abilities, which are the reason he gives these talents to us. A talent in the ancient world was a great deal of money. These talents represent the wealth known as “grace”. Only the Virgin Mary is “full” of grace in the sense of possessing it all. The rest of us receive only a part. But what have I received – what help, what support from God has been entrusted to me, and for what purpose? This is what I need to discover.
The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. The Church fathers speculated above the symbolic meaning of the numbers five, two, and one, but the essential point is that by “trading” – which means by giving to others and receiving from them – these talents can be doubled. If we give, we receive again not only what we gave away, but the same again. Grace is a gift we keep by spending. But if we “bury” the silver, in order not to give or spend it as the master intends, and to hide his generosity rather than reveal it, we ourselves receive nothing at all.
“Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness”. At the final judgement, the man who “traded” in this life is able to give back to his master what he has received from him. Now he is able to receive infinitely more: he is able to receive the master’s own happiness, to become one with God himself. The same is true of the man who received two talents. Though he received less, his reward is the same, because he did what he could in the same spirit.
Last came forward the man who had the one talent… “I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” The man’s self-justification is crucial. His failure is a refusal to love and to trust. This means he does not recognize his master’s true nature, and behaves accordingly. Do we not sometimes do the same, behaving as if God needs to be placated or blamed? He throws the gift back in the master’s face. But a gift such as this cannot be returned except by being multiplied by use in the world.
“You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest." The master implies that even fear should have motivated the man to seek some return, albeit by the unclean business of banking, just as some people are motivated to do good to others in this life by the fear of hellfire. But the man simply did nothing.
So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The man who does nothing with the grace he was given has never truly received it in the first place, and what was given to him will be possessed instead by the one who is most worthy of it.
Concluding prayer: Lord, may we be grateful for whatever we have received, and pour it out for others with the same generosity, not keep it hidden through fear and pride. Amen.
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