What Jesus actually means
Sometimes a very small word can make a very large difference. We hear the word “talent” in today’s gospel, and we probably assume that Jesus meant specific gifts. Athletic ability is a talent. Beauty is a talent. Intelligence is a talent. Charisma is a talent. Cooking is a talent. But what if we don’t possess these talents? What if I feel like I’m the person who only received one talent? We might ask ourselves “Who can blame the servant in today’s gospel for burying it in the ground? It was likely so insignificant that he was ashamed of it.”
But the word “talent” in the Biblical world had a very specific connotation. It meant a sum of money equal to 6,000 days’ wages. Given the current average annual salary in America, one talent would be about $130,000 – not chump change by any stretch of the imagination. The point is that even the man who only received one talent got a great start.
What are my talents?
We’re all starting off rich. St Paul speaks about God being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4). We’ve all received the gift of God’s merciful love, beginning with our baptism. St John says that from Christ’s fullness we’ve all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16). We’ve received his love over and over again in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. We are rich indeed.
And this is a gift. The more we become aware of the gift, the more we appreciate it and the freer we are to respond with love. In his Theology of the Body, Saint John Paul II puts it like this. “The freedom of the gift is the response to the deep awareness of the gift… Through this truth and freedom that love is built up, which we must affirm is authentic love” (TOB May 30, 1984).
A Gift calls for a Response
In today’s gospel, the man who received the one talent didn’t appreciate what he had received. He failed to recognize that even one talent was a tremendous gift. And so he failed to invest it.
Why don’t we recognize the gift of God? Often the cares of the world weigh so heavily upon us that we simply forget. Sometimes the whirl of thoughts and pending duties distracts us from focusing on God. St. Theresa of Avila said that we’re often tempted to live in the past or in the future; but, in the end, the only place we can actually love God and others is in the present. Perhaps the man who had received the one talent fell into that trap when he said to the master: “I knew that you were a hard man…”
Or sometimes our lifestyle can cloud our recognition. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God” (John 4:10). Her adulterous relationship obscured her ability to recognize the Lord. If our hearts are bound to something other than God, we will not be able to see him or his gift.
Whatever the cause, this servant didn’t even try to make the gift bear fruit. He didn’t even try to respond to the trust that the master had shown him. The Lord simply wants us to try.
We often stress about the results, but God will take care of those. What matters most is that we recognize and respond. God will do the rest. St. Paul encourages us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation in fear and trembling because is it God himself at work in us, both to work and to desire.
The other two servants, however, invested their gift. And note that the master didn’t discriminate in his gratitude to them. Although one had received five and returned ten, and the other received two and returned four, the master said the same thing to each of them. “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.”
He wasn’t simply commending them for returning the sum with interest. Above all, he praised them for responding to the gift given. They didn’t allow it to lie unused. They didn’t allow fear to paralyze them. They acted with courage.
Jesus loved this trusting attitude: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
Come, Share Your Master’s Joy
The master’s final words to the first two servants give a very beautiful glimpse into the heart of God. The servants’ awareness of the gift led to a response to the gift. And so the master told them to come and enter into his joy. That was their greatest reward.
Jesus invites us to do the same. He invites us to remember the why behind the what. He invites us to recognize that we’ve received the gift of his love. He invites us to recognize that the gift calls for a response, and that our free response leads us to share in his joy.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. John Pietropaoli, LC is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ who serves as community superior in Philadelphia. In June, 2015, he attended his first course at the Theology of the Body Institute – “TOB and The Way of Beauty” – and became convinced that art is not a waste of time. Basketball, books, and mountain biking are, for him, particularly moving manifestations of God’s gift.