Tuesday, July 14
When meeting an incoming class of college students at the beginning of the term, I often used an “ice breaker” exercise designed to help them meet another new person in the class while also underscoring a key principle of their chosen program of study. So, imagine for a moment you are sitting beside another new student. The first thing following the welcoming comments from the professor you have just met is as follows: “I want you to pair up with one other person. Then take a sheet of paper and write in a vertical column each letter of the alphabet. Then I want you together to list something either one of you has in your possession for each letter on the list. The first pair to complete all twenty-six items will win a small prize.” What happens next is usually that the pair of individuals begins in a frenzied manner to rifle through their purses or knapsacks to identify items for their list. Typically, someone asks the question, “Do we have to have it here with us?” The reply is, “No, as long as you have it somewhere, but in your possession.” This answer helps spur the activity by widening the “search zone.” The activity usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes before a pair of students finishes all twenty-six items. The requirement before awarding the small prize is that the potential winners have to recite to the rest of the class each item on their completed list.
At the end of the icebreaker, I turn to the class and note that a majority of the listed items just heard, and indeed likely seen on many of the other lists in the class, included tangible things – cellphone, lipstick, notebook, etc. But what about something you have in your possession that you cannot as easily see, compared to items on your list, that is nonetheless something you possess – a second language, decisiveness, empathy, problem-solving ability, etc? The closing point made to the class here is that many of the things you have in your possession are talents that employers are willing to reward (compensate) you for, and it is these skills, abilities, knowledge and experiences that are at the core of the courses you will study in the human resources management program over the next several years.
Let’s now shift gears. A parable, derived from Greek, means a short story based on common experiences that convey a meaning. In looking more closely at a portion of Matthew’s gospel (25: 14-30), we see a short tale that is no doubt familiar to us – the Parable of the Talents. To understand the point of this story, let’s examine some of its key elements – namely the who, when, what and why in order to grasp the meaning of this parable.
WHO & WHEN → Today’s Scripture passage starts in a somewhat hypothetical style, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey… ” (25:14). Biblical scholars agree that man here – the “who” – is Jesus. There are three other characters in this narrative – three slaves or servants – whom we will return to shortly. The “when” elements in this story involve three temporal references; a futuristic statement that this man is “going on a journey” (25:14); and after dispensing the talents to the three servants, “Then he went away.” (25:15); and finally, “After a long time…” (25:19) he returned to settle his accounts with these three persons. This aspect of the parable may be understood as Jesus foretelling those around him of his impending death on the Cross and His return at the eventual Day of Judgment.
WHAT → At the centre of this parable in this notion of talents. While there are many interpretations of this term in the context of Matthew’s gospel, I like Jon Bloom’s (2016) description of the origins of the word “talent.” He stated that in Biblical Greek, the word talanton meant the measuring of weight, often money, such as a talent of gold or silver. He further noted that in the New Testament, a talent was the largest described unit of monetary value with some contemporary estimates of the value of a talent running upwards of a six-figure amount. Bloom cautioned however that in this parable, Jesus uses talent in a metaphorical sense to mean any God-given gift which humans are entrusted with, including our abilities. This interpretation used in Christian teaching up to the 14th century CE caused the word “talent” to be adopted at that time into English vernacular to mean human abilities and aptitudes.
In the Parable of the Talents, the master entrusts a significant portion of his assets – in the form of talents, to three of his servants. This practice was not uncommon at the time of the gospel writing for masters to entrust possessions to their servants during an absence. The definition of “entrust” is to give something over for care, safekeeping or performance. Jesus noted that each servant was given a different amount of talents – 5, 2 and 1 – “each according to his ability” (25:15). The master entrusted his servants with a portion of his property in order that the servants would use their own unique abilities during his absence.
We know in this famous parable what happened during the master’s absence. Two of the three servants took their given talents and doubled their respective return. Both servants are praised by their master upon his return saying, “Well done, good and worthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.” (25:21-23) The third servant, who was afraid due to his perception of the master of a harsh man, hid his one talent in the ground and returned that same amount to the master. We know from the parable that this last servant was chastised by his master who ordered him banished to the outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
WHY → I know I, and perhaps you too, have struggled to understand the reactions of master towards the three servants in this passage of Scripture. However, New Testament scholars remind me that in Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shares with his disciples the upcoming reality of His suffering, death and ascension (“going on a journey … Then he went away”) to prepare them for the days ahead when their faith would be tested. This parable also depicts how Jesus’s disciples are to demonstrate their faithfulness as they anticipate the return of the Lord (“After a long time the master of the servants came and settled accounts with them”). This faithfulness is reflected in what Jesus called his disciples to do – that was to emulate His ministry in their lives by feeding the hungry, curing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, blessing the meek, and serving the least.
So, why is this passage from Matthew relevant to us today? It is because we too are called to carry on as followers and disciples of Jesus to use our talents which are given to us by God, according to our abilities, in order to help create His coming Kingdom. What is exciting to me at present are the numerous ways that many members of All Saints’ resemble the first two servants in the Parable of the Talents. These individuals, as did the students in the opening part of today’s message, have identified items they have in their possession which in turn can be used for the benefit of others. What is encouraging to me is the possibility of assisting other members of our parish to reflect on, and marshal their talents to spread the Good News, by word and deeds, among our fellow parishioners and the surrounding community. We do this as faithful servants of Christ in anticipation of hearing Him say upon His return, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Heavenly Lord, do not let us neglect Your Spirit or the gifts You have given us. Give us courage to use these gifts and the humility to not use them for our glory, but for You and Your glory. Help us see the good work You have ready for us and embrace that work with willingness and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A Prayer for Using Your Spiritual Gifts
By: G. Laurie