View all Posts | September 1, 2014
Investing Our Treasures
- The Parable of the Talents
- The Context of the Parable
- The Core Message of the Parable
- Applying the Parable to Our Own Lives
- Conclusion: A Dangerous Misinterpretation
Investing Our Treasures
The Magi brought their treasures to Jesus. They offered to the Lord what was most valuable to them. This was their great act of worship, their way of responding to God’s call and entering into a personal relationship with God.
That personal relationship with God, what the Catechism calls “to live in communion with God” (CCC 45), gives our lives the meaning we long for. The deeper that communion goes, the deeper our experience of meaning and fulfillment.
One way to make our communion with God deeper and stronger is to follow this example of the Magi, to offer our treasures, what is most valuable to us, to Jesus. Jesus himself calls us to do so in one of his most memorable parables, the Parable of the Talents.
In this parable we discover a very comforting truth: Namely, that everything we do in life — and that means everything, not only praying and going to Mass — can become an act of worship and a means for growing closer to God.
In this conference, we will take some time to understand this parable more fully. We will look at four aspects:
First, its context — where it appears in the Gospels.
Second, its central meaning, its core message. Third, how it can apply to our lives.
And fourth, a dangerous misinterpretation of this parable.
The Parable of the Talents
It will be as when a man who was 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.”
– Matthew 25:14-30 NABRE
The Context of the Parable
The parable of the talents appears in two Gospels, Matthew chapter 25 and Luke chapter 19.
In both cases, Jesus tells the parable at the end of his public ministry, during the days immediately preceding his Passion.
Both versions follow a similar structure:
There is a king who has to leave his kingdom for an extended period of time.
Before leaving, he entrusts a good amount of wealth to his servants, so they can make use of it during his absence.
When the king returns, each of his servants gives a report on how they invested their money, and each one receives a reward for doing so.
Only one servant doesn’t receive a reward, the servant who hid his money instead of investing it, instead of making use of it.
That’s the basic structure of the parable.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel, this parable is one of three parables having to do with the final Judgment, and he emphasizes the importance of keeping that Judgment in mind as we go through our daily lives, so as to keep our priorities straight.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, the parable emphasizes that Jesus doesn’t establish a political kingdom, but a Kingdom of grace, which will grow and spread through the work of the Church until his Second Coming.
This is the basic context of the parable, and it will be important to keep that context in mind as we dive into exploring what it means for us.
The Core Message of the Parable
All of Christ’s parables have a core message, but it’s usually a message so rich in meaning that it can’t be completely explained in just one or two statements — and that’s precisely why he used parables.
In this case, the core message has to do with the relationship of the servants to the king, and how that relationship is affected by the servants’ activities.
Three aspects of that relationship are especially noteworthy.
In the first place, the king wants his servants to be involved in building up his kingdom. He actually leaves his kingdom in their hands, entrusting it to them, in a certain sense. He gives them a share of his wealth and gives them the freedom to use it however they see fit in order to increase the overall wealth and prosperity of the kingdom.
This shows how much he values his servants, how he treats them with dignity and respect, how he wants them to be partners in defending and caring for his kingdom.
In the second place, the king rewards his servants super- abundantly, out of all proportion to their actions. St. Matthew has the king saying to his servants,
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.
– Matthew 25:23
St. Luke has the king specify what those “great responsibilities” are — he puts his servants in charge of various cities, according to how much each servant increased the king’s wealth during his absence. Here we see God’s hope and dream for each one of us: He wants us to “enter into his joy” and to take part in his own divine activity of governing the universe. In other words, God wants to make us sharers in his own divine nature for all eternity.
At the end of the parable, the distinction of roles between the good servants and the king almost disappears. The servants are elevated to the level of the king himself — this is their reward for faithfully administering the king’s gifts during his absence.
In the third place, we see how the actions of one servant cut him off from the kingdom, destroying his relationship with the king. St. Matthew shows the king calling this servant “wicked and lazy,” and St. Luke’s version calls him simply “wicked.”
In both versions, the servant is punished and excluded from the rewards given to the others. The wicked servant didn’t put to use the wealth he had received from the king. Instead, he went and hid it; he buried it in the ground. And so, when the king returned, the wicked servant didn’t have any profit to show from the wealth he had received.
He gives explanations and makes excuses, but the king doesn’t’ accept them. He tells the servant that he should have invested the wealth he had received; he should have put it to work for the benefit of the kingdom. Because he didn’t, because he kept it for himself alone, he is excluded from the kingdom and thrown “into the darkness outside” (Matthew 25:30).
We can see from these three aspects — that the king involves his servants in the work of building up his kingdom, that he rewards his servants by giving them a greater participation in his own life and in his kingdom, and that those who refuse to invest in his kingdom will be excluded from it — that the relationship between the king and his servants is mediated, at least in part, through the servants’ activities.
In other words, the servants who receive the king’s gifts and use them generously, for the good of the kingdom and not just for their own personal good, actually deepen their relationship, their friendship, with the king.
Applying the Parable to Our Own Lives
And that is exactly the key point to pay attention to when we want to apply this parable to our own lives.
The king in the parable is Christ himself. The servants are you and me, and all members of the Church. The money that the king gave his servants stands for all the gifts that God has given to us, especially the supernatural gifts like faith and grace, but also all our natural talents and opportunities, and even our sufferings — everything that comes to us from God’s providence.
The extended period of the king’s absence stands for the entire age of the Church, between Christ’s Ascension into heaven and his Second Coming, when the final Judgment will take place. And the message Jesus wants us to hear is that what we do with the gifts we have received, during however much time is allotted to us here on earth, really matters.
Our lives, and so all of our gifts, have a true, meaningful purpose: We are created and called to live in communion with God, in relationship with him, and how we administer our God-given gifts can either foster or frustrate that relationship.
He is the king, the lord of the universe, but he wants us to be part of his royal court, to participate in his work of salvation, to share in his life and in his joy. But he won’t force us to do that. He gives us a choice, every day.
We can keep the gifts we have received to ourselves, like the wicked and lazy servant of the parable, or we can take those gifts and invest them so as to increase the wealth of Christ’s Kingdom. And the wealth of Christ’s Kingdom is measured in terms of love — love for God and love for neighbor.
So the message for us is simple: In order to grow in our relationship with God, the only relationship that will give us the lasting fulfillment we yearn for, we have to invest our gifts in actions of love, of self-giving and self- forgetful generosity towards God and neighbor.
This is one of the ways we bring our treasures — all that we are and all that we have received — to the feet of Jesus and worship him, just as the Three Wise Men did.
Conclusion: A Dangerous Misinterpretation
Before moving on to the personal questionnaire, we have to pause to point out a dangerous misinterpretation of this parable.
It is possible, especially when we are still at the beginning of our spiritual journey, to interpret this parable
through the lens of our own insecurities. Because we live in a fallen world, and because we are fallen human beings wounded by our own sins and by the sins of others around us, we have a deep-seated tendency to doubt our self-worth, to doubt that we can actually be loveable.
When we allow this insecurity to dictate our behavior, we find ourselves trying to earn the love of others, trying to become worthy of being loved through our achievements or some other activity. This is not a healthy way to live, because it is built on a false foundation.
In God’s eyes, we already are lovable, infinitely lovable in fact, in spite of our flaws and failings and wounds, and even our sins. This is the radical, wild message of the Gospel, that, as St. Paul put it:
… God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:8
In the parable, this comes across clearly, if we are willing to look. The king already shows his interest in his servants and his desire to involve them in his affairs and draw them closer to him by giving them a share
in his wealth, by entrusting his kingdom to them. The servants actually have no wealth of their own; they receive all their wealth from the king, because of his devotion to them.
This is our case in relation to God. All that we are, all that we have — life, hope, the earth, faith, friendship — every good thing that exists is a gift from God, a sign of his total love for us and dedication to us.
And so, when the king goes away and gives his servants a chance to invest their gifts for the good of his kingdom, he is not withholding his love from them until they prove themselves worthy.
On the contrary, he is showing his love for them, and hoping that they will return his love with their love, thereby allowing their relationship to grow, to reach a new level.
This is simply how friendship works: It grows when both friends invest themselves in things that matter to both of them.
God, in giving us so many gifts and inviting us to use those gifts to build up his kingdom, is giving us a chance to do just that, to choose to make what matters to God matter also to us, and so deepen our friendship with him.
We don’t have to earn God’s love; we just have to welcome it.
Take some time now, without rushing, to prayerfully reflect on the ten questions in the personal questionnaire, which is designed to help you see new ways to grow in your friendship with the Eternal King.
1. Make a list of all the natural gifts that I have received from God’s goodness, especially the ones that mean the most to me, and thank him for them.
2. Make a list of all the supernatural gifts (gifts having to do with Christian faith and life in the Church) that I have received, especially the ones that mean the most to me, and thank him for them.
3. Of all these gifts, which ones are my unique ones, ones that most other people don’t have?
4. Jesus wants to be able to say to me, at the end of my life, “Come, share your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25:21). Use my imagination to think about what that might mean, what that will be like.
5. What may have been some of the difficulties that the servants faced during the king’s absence? How do those relate to the difficulties that Christians face during this age of the Church, before Christ’s Second Coming?
6. What may have motivated the wicked, lazy servant to keep his gift for himself, instead of investing
it for the good of the larger kingdom? Why do I sometimes hesitate to invest my gifts for the good of Christ’s Kingdom?
7. Think about the times I have put my gifts to use for God’s Kingdom in the past. What happened? How did it make me feel and why?
8. Think about the times I have kept my gifts to myself, preferring to keep them safe rather than to risk losing them. What happened? How did it make me feel and why?
￼9. How can I better invest the gifts God has given me for the good of his Kingdom? Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten me about this.
10. What situations or circumstances make me doubt that God can really love me? How do I usually react to those doubts? How would God prefer me to react?