The definition of a “talented” person that easily comes to mind is that of one endowed with some special skill or ability – talented footballers, actors, musicians, etc. But that does not mean that the rest of us do not have talents. We all have gifts though not all are meant for popular acclaim or global success. As Scripture says: “Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these varied graces of God, put it at the service of others” (1 Pet. 4:10).Subsequently, the issue is not the lack of talents but the utilization of the little gifts that God has blessed us with. This is the message of today’s parable of the Talents. We are invited to put our gifts to work, to make an honest effort instead of blaming others for our misfortune.
The Book of Genesis describes God as being at work in creation; and he is still working. Jesus himself restated this when the Jews accused him of breaking the law by healing a man on the Sabbath. And he said to them: “My Father still goes on working, and I am at work, too” (Jn. 5:17). And in the beginning, Adam and Eve were commanded to work in the Garden of Eden: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth” (Gen. 1:28). It was only after the Fall that human labour became hard and stressful. Thus, we need to work for both our material wellbeing and our spiritual edification.
As well as the duty to work for our livelihood, human labour is also necessary for the building up of God’s kingdom on earth. We cannot be mere passive functionaries but rather we must strive to multiply whatever talents we have received from God, using all our ingenuity, skill and drive. In his encyclical on the value of human labour, Pope John Paul II saw human work as good for humanity“because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being” (LaborensExercens16).
In today’s Gospel parable, the lazy servant chooses to blame the master for his failure to utilize what was given to him. The master rebuked him not just for his laziness but also for his wickedness. This slothful servant felt insulted to be entrusted with only a single talent, while the others got more. Accordingly, his envious attitude meant he neglected to fulfil his duties while spending his time and energy grumbling about what was given to others. Do we see a bit of this lazy servant in ourselves? Do we find ourselves blaming others for our problems instead of having a bit of introspection to see what we could do differently? It’s not uncommon for a lazy student to blame the teacher, for a lazy teacher to blame the government, or for an incompetent government to blame the opposition or the media for its woes. Passing the buck is as old as Adam’s sin. How amazing it is when smart people do stupid things and, instead of taking full responsibility, they blame the devil.
The indolent servant, to spite his master, refused to trade with or even save his talent in the bank lest his master should profit from his stewardship. But in the end, he burnt his own fingers; he was out of money, out of favour, and out of work. This parable is a strong message against laziness inspired by envy. Envy prevents us from appreciating not only what God is doing in the lives of others but also what he is doing in our own lives. Envy stifles and even helps to bury our talents and initiative. It turns us into the character of ‘Peter Pan’ – the mischievous boy who prefers perpetual childhood rather than growing up. Envy lowers our vision, distorts our focus, weakens our mission, and drowns out our vocation. Envy keeps us in perpetual spiritual underdevelopment – it is toxic!
Therefore, dear friends, we may not have the genius of St Augustine, or the intellect of Einstein; we may not have the mystical experiences of Teresa of Avila or the courage of Charles Lwanga and his companions; we may not have the resilience of Josephine Bakhita or the charisma of John Paul II – but none of these is necessary. All we need is love and the desire to please God. As St Teresa of Avila says: “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” Love inspires us to see the goodness in others and in ourselves; love helps us to see the need to do our best for our own sake and for the sake of others.
Jesus invites us today to rise above our sloth and envy and get down to work, and to let God water the seed already implanted in us and nurture it to fruition. We all have got talents! No one is so poor as to have nothing, just like none is so rich as to lack nothing. We all have been uniquely gifted by our good God – the goodness that gives of itself- and so we must cultivate our own talents, no matter how seemingly small, to work for God’s kingdom and for the betterment of humanity. That is what we are called to do! The works of our hands here on earth are like seeds sown for an eternal harvest, and whatever anyone sows, that they will reap: “If we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind” (Hos. 8:7). It is up to each one to utilize their own gifts according to the mind of God or to bury them in the pit of self-indulgence, apathy, laziness and envy.
Therefore, when we receive Christ in Holy Communion today, let us promise him our fidelity and diligence, and then ask him for the courage and wisdom to make a wise investment of our God-given talents. Amen!