THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (A)
What is the lesson of this parable? That we should wisely invest our money so as to make a profit? I would suggest that this parable actually has very little to do with money. In fact, when it comes to money, Jesus tells us that it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Mt 19:23-24). I suggest that this parable has to do with talents.
A talent in ancient Greece was a measure of value. The word entered into ancient and medieval Latin and ultimately became part of our modern English vocabulary. We think of a talent today as something we are good at. But the way the word was used in medieval Latin was a bit different. A talent was an inclination, a desire, or a leaning of the will, irrespective of whether one was actually good at a thing. We sometimes speak of someone having a "natural talent," but very rarely does a person acquire great skill without great effort. One may have a natural inclination to play basketball, but it is only through hard work and practice that one becomes a great player. If one does not develop the talent it will go to waste.
God gives each of us certain talents -- that is, certain inclinations. Our proper response to this gift is first of all gratitude. But we also have a responsibility to invest in the talents He gives us. We need to put in the work to develop those skills, whatever they may be. To discover your talents requires self-examination. What are your inclinations and desires? (I speak not of sinful inclinations that come from the devil or our fallen nature). Do you have an inclination to music? Then learn how to sing, or play an instrument. Do you have an inclination to art? Learn how to paint. Are you comfortable speaking in public? Perhaps you have a gift to be a preacher or debater. Whatever your talent is, you have a responsibility to develop it so that it may increase. Do not hide it away and let it go to waste.
The servant who buried his master's talent in the ground was cast into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (an obvious reference to hell). Jesus is warning us that we can actually damn ourselves if we don't use the talents God gives us. That's a pretty harsh judgement! But it is a just judgement because those talents don't really belong to us. They belong to God, and He gives them to us for a reason. He gives them to us so that we may return them to Him magnified. Like the first two servants in the parable, we are expected to multiply the Master's treasure.
Now you may be thinking, I don't have any talents. I am not a scholar, artist or athlete. What do I have to offer God? This is thinking like the wicked servant. Why did he bury his talent in the ground? Could it be the sin of envy? The other servants received more talents than he and so he grew resentful of them and hateful toward his master. He buried his talent so that his master would not benefit from it. In the end, even that one talent was taken from him. Some days we may feel like the wicked servant. We look at others around us who seem to have so many gifts and think, by comparison, that we are rather limited. We can grow resentful and refuse to develop our own gifts. But the talents that God gives us are not always the ones that appear spectacular in the eyes of man. In fact, I would say those talents are the exception rather than the rule. There are talents which the world does not value but which are priceless in the eyes of God.
Consider the worthy wife in today's first reading (Prv 31). She works with wool and flax to make yarn on the spindle -- a basic craft that requires some skill but is certainly not the dazzling talent of a Michelangelo or a Mozart. But with that yarn, her family is clothed. Moreover, she "reaches out her hands to the poor." She "extends her arms to the needy." She "fears the Lord" and "brings good, and not evil." In other words, she exhibits a Christ-like love of neighbor. She may not have a lot of talent as the world understands talent. But she performs simple tasks with great love. (This is the "Little Way" of St. Therese of Lisieux). For that, the scripture says "her works praise her at the city gates" with a "value far beyond pearls."
It is not our business how many talents others around us have. Our business is to invest the talent God gives us and return it to Him with increase. The worthy wife from Proverbs did not waste her talent. The world may not look upon her as one who does great things. But the Master will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibility. Come, share your Master's joy." May we each be so blessed as to hear those words at the end of our journey.