Unearthing our talents: in service of neighbour and the world
A common understanding of the parable that we heard in the Gospel today is that each of us is bestowed with God given talents and it is incumbent on us to develop them and place them at the service of God and our neighbour. Failure to do so will result in severe punishment.
This may be a fair interpretation but the genius of parables is that they are open ended – there are many possible understanding and lessons that we might derive from them.
One problem for me in this seemingly obvious interpretation of the Gospel is the portrayal of the master. The unfortunate servant says of him, “I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you had not sown and gathering where you have not scattered;” Strangely the master does not disagree with this assessment.
This servant was afraid- he lived in fear of his master. He did not trust his master or have a healthy relationship with him. He believed that if he lost the funds his master had given him then there would be a big price to pay. So in his fear he did nothing- he buried the money.
A climate of fear and bullying will never bring out the best in anyone. The successful servants in the story had probably learned well from their master they may have even befriended him. They certainly had his respect- he rated them seriously and gave them large sums to invest.
The trust he showed them in itself would have given them confidence. Their more healthy relationship with the master creates a climate of encouragement and learning in which they thrive. Being closer to the master he would have taught them how to do the job; introduced them to good business contacts; encouraged them to develop strategy.
The man who had been given little however was afraid. The story tells us that he was the least capable of the servants - he would not have had the skills to match it with the other two who would easily get the better of him in any trade. But it is not his capability that is in question- if he was not so afraid he would have got much more out of his talent. His problem is he did nothing with his talent- he buried it.
While the master was present this servant was not successful in developing a healthy, learning relationship with him and so when the master departed and was absent for a long period the servant remained frozen and paralysed through darkness, ignorance and fear.
This parable helps us understand how important it is to have a true concept of and sense of God. We must not think that God is a cruel, hard and severe master who wishes to punish us.
If this mistaken image of God is the one that we carry within us, our life cannot be fruitful, because like the servant, we will live in fear and this will not lead us to anything constructive. The parable challenges us to reflect in order to discover what our idea and image of God really is.
Jesus consistently demonstrates to us that God is not a severe or intolerant master, but a father full of love, of tenderness, a father full of goodness.
With this image and certainty firmly rooted in our hearts we can set out with confidence, walking new paths, without “burying the talent”, that is, the gifts which God has entrusted to us to develop and exercise in service of our neighbour and our world.