God gifts us with talents for one ultimate purpose: to build up the kingdom of heaven.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
2 September 2017
The gospel reading at Mass today is the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Please take the time to read and deeply reflect on this parable. I’ve included it here for convenience.
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’” (Mt 25:14-30)
Note that the servant who received only one talent, went off and buried it rather than put it to good use, as is necessary to produce more from it. The Master calls this servant “wicked” and “lazy.” He then orders: “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The servant is called “wicked” because he envied those who received more talents and, out of jealousy, refused to produce from the talent he’d been given. He is called “lazy” because he buried his talent away, rather than putting forth the effort needed to multiply what he’d been given from his master.
Morally, this parable teaches that, while each person is unique, we have all received particular gifts from God. The ultimate purpose of these gifts, these “talents,” is that they are to be put to good use in order to bring others to salvation in Christ. Every gift, therefore, must be seen as having the divinely preordained purpose of directing others toward their final end in God. Our gifts originate in God and must be returned to him. To do otherwise is to pridefully reject not only the purpose of these gifts but their divine Source. Additionally, we should put the gifts God has given us at service to him in the world and thus they should bear good fruit in truth and charity, such as loving our neighbor and assisting those in need.
We must not be lazy or fearful. Although it is difficult and requires courage to step forward and openly serve our Master, Jesus Christ, since we often fear reprisal, rejection, and persecution, God calls us to give ourselves entirely to him and break through self-imposed boundaries. It is certain that those who serve Christ will suffer injustices. The reward, however, for this gift of your life to God is eternal beatitude:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:11)
The Holy Spirit whom Christ infuses into our hearts is no spirit of timidity, but rather one of Divine Courage, whose fire of love ignites our being and fuels our activities. Therefore we have the help of God himself in all our efforts directed toward the authentic good. God not only gives the gifts themselves but gives the grace enabling us to use his gifts according to his wise and loving purpose.
The modern notion of “talents,” understood as skills or abilities, comes from the Parable of the Talents. However, people most often view their talents as abilities they acquire entirely by themselves, to be used for financial gain and personal gratification. Pragmatism, individualism, and a philosophy of utilitarianism, all heavily imbued in American culture, teach that the energies of one’s life are to be directed at worldly success. Further, great emphasis is placed on acquiring the technical skills necessary to secure one’s secular future, while the spiritual skills necessary for attaining life in Christ are neglected, relegated to a place of mild interest, perhaps, but no longer seen as of absolute necessity.
However, the task of participating in Christ’s mission of salvation is not optional. It is one of the reasons you were created. If one should refuse, he may hear those terrifying words: “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Christ reminds us today that our talents are indeed gifts from God. We are obligated to use them for spiritually profitable purposes, building up the kingdom of God and bringing others under the rule of Christ. In doing so, we enter into the true meaning of love: the virtue of charity by which we love God above all else for his sake, and love our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God. Charity is the virtue of Christian love; itself a divine gift which directs us to seek the true and authentic benefit of others. It gives us the strength to love as God loves; therefore we are moved to love not only our friends but even our enemies. In faith and charity, we freely entrust ourselves to God for his service and glory, utilizing our divinely given talents for helping our fellow man find his way to salvation in Christ.
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Photo Credit: By Unknown Master, German (active 1560s in North Germany) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.