In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus tells us another parable. It is about a Master, and the people who work for him.
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.
We have heard about talents before. A talent is like gold. One talent is worth as much as 15 years worth of work—each one is a small fortune.
What can we say about the Master? How could we describe him? He is very wealthy, but he does not keep his wealth all to himself. He gives a large portion of his great wealth to each person. We could say he is very generous.
We might also say the Master is very trusting. He does not seem worried about leaving his wealth with these people who work for him.
Would we say the Master is fair? He does not give the three people the same amount of his property. Does he treat the man who only gets one talent unfairly? Jesus says he gives to each person "according to his ability." The Master knows each person. He knows what they are capable of doing, and he entrusts each person with his wealth. Five talents, two talents, one talent—each portion is a small fortune.
“The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.
In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.
But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Two of the people take the wealth that has been entrusted to them and they go to work. They work hard, using the Master's wealth to build even more. Why do they work so hard? They must be aware of the great generosity of the Master. We wonder if they ever worry that they will lose the fortune. He gave them a huge responsibility. Where do they get their courage to use the Master's wealth to build more? Perhaps they recall his trust in them. They know that he knows that they are capable. They must feel grateful for his confidence in them.
The third person does not use the Master's wealth. He buries it. We might think that this is the safe thing to do. The Master gave him only one talent; he must not have as much ability as the others. Maybe he is not good enough. He could lose the wealth of the Master. Burying it—perhaps that is a smart move.
Except...the Master did not have to give this person anything. The Master chooses to involve this person. The Master trusts him. The one talent is still a small fortune, and the Master entrusts this person with this wealth. This person does not even try to use the wealth. He buries it.
“After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
These two people never forget that the wealth that was entrusted to them belongs to the Master. They know they have a task to do, and they do it. How must it feel to hand over even more wealth to the Master? We can see how the Master feels. He is very pleased with them. He was right to trust them.
And then he invites them into his joy. Where do we keep our joy?
The Master invites them into his heart.
How can we describe the relationship between the Master and each of these people? There is a knowing there—a good sort of knowing. The Master knows them, and they know the Master. There is trust. And there is joy.
“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’
Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is the first we have heard that the Master is harsh. This person says he knows it. He says the Master reaps and gathers where he did not plant...is he suggesting that the Master steals? If the Master reaps and gathers where he did not plant, is that not because his people, the first two servants, did that planting for him? What is this person trying to say? Does he really know the Master? What about the joy—does he not know about the joy? What has happened to this person?
His last words tell us something as he gives back the talent: "Here, you have what is yours." He hands it back over, like he wants nothing to do with it.
“But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.
The Master is upset. He cares about all this. The Master does not think the man was afraid. He calls him wicked and lazy. This person did not even try to use the entrusted wealth at all, and the fact that he did not even try has hurt the Master. It is like the man has rejected the Master. "Here, you have what is yours."
So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all 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.
What is going on here? What does Jesus mean by this parable?
Who could this Master be like?
Who is this Master who involves his people in the work of his great wealth?
Who is this Master who knows each of his people so well, and entrusts each one with so much?
Who is this Master who delights in the work of his people, and invites them into his heart, into his joy?
We know because we have been entrusted with so much. At our baptism, as our candle is lit from the great Paschal candle, these words are said,
"Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly, so that your child, enlightened by Christ, may walk always as a child of the light and persevering in the faith, may run to meet the Lord when he comes with all the Saints in the heavenly court."
In Baptism, each of us is anointed priest, prophet, and king—just like Jesus. We are given a share in his mission. We are entrusted with building the Kingdom of God.
We can think of people who have used their "talents," have taken this great wealth that is given to them, and have worked to build the kingdom.
But are we each called to do exactly the same as them? Probably not.
Jesus says that each is given wealth according to his or her ability. Probably he does not mean so much more or less, but different.
Each of us is unique. You are not me and I am not you. Neither of us is Mother Teresa or Saint Francis of Assisi.
But we have each been entrusted with great wealth—we have been entrusted with our own particular mission to build the Kingdom of God.
And so to enter into the heart of God.