by Pastor Doug Kings
In Matthew’s version of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, a rich man entrusts various amounts of his wealth to three servants before he goes on a long trip. While he’s gone, two of the servants invest their money and double its value. The third servant, however, is too afraid to risk the money and simple buries it for safe keeping. Interestingly, he is the one who received the smallest amount.
When the servants’ master returns and they give the money back to him, he praises the two daring servants for their resourcefulness but condemns the timid servant for being lazy, even calling him “wicked.” This harsh judgement startles us. The master got his money back and we all know investment is risky. But Jesus’ parables often shock us to get us to wonder, “What is this story is really about? What’s Jesus trying to say?”
In the ancient world, a talent was a large unit of money. The word’s usage shifted centuries ago to today’s meaning of a “natural aptitude or skill” because of this story. People understood that Jesus wasn’t talking about investment strategies but the use of our abilities, seen here as gifts from God.
With that understanding, Jesus seems to be encouraging a surprisingly radical attitude towards life. Take risks! Be bold! Throw caution to the wind! Who you are, all that you have, is a gift. So take chances. Put your talents to their fullest use. Don’t hold back! Be all that you can be.
The “one talent man” (as he’s been called) received much less than the other servants, yet even a single talent was a great deal of money in those days. His perception of having meager resources seems to be what led to his hesitancy. “I have so little compared to the others. I better just protect it as best I can.”
Where do we find the courage to use our talents to the full? For Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, the key is to live with gratitude. “Everything is a gift,” he says. “The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.” He goes on, “The root of joy is gratefulness… It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
It is not a stretch to see the enthusiasm with which the first two servants put their talents to work as a kind of joy, reflecting their gratitude for the opportunity their master has given them. The other servant experiences only foreboding. Rather than opportunity, he sees only danger and anxiously clutches what he has.
Right now we may think a lot about what we don’t have because of restrictions on our lives. And others have experienced genuine losses of health, jobs, and even loved ones. Nonetheless, we all have God’s greatest gift, our one, unique life, which is always worth far more than we realize. And in living it to the full with gratitude, and sharing who we are, and who we have been gifted to be, with those around us, we find joy and bring joy into the world.
All we need to celebrate this season is the gift of ourselves, lived with thanks. As David Steidl-Rast says, “The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.” And who we are is more than enough.
Blessings in your life and ministry, Pastor Doug