Saturday of week 21 of Ordinary Time – Gospel


Commentary on Matthew 25:14-30

Eschatological discourse (concluded)

Today is our final reading from Matthew’s gospel and on Monday we will begin the reading of Luke’s gospel. Today also is also our last reading from the fifth and final discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.

There are two great passages left – the parable of the talents and the description of the last judgement – but we will only be taking the first of these. Both deal with the final judgment and, like the parable of the bridesmaids, are warnings on how we are to prepare.

The parable speaks of an employer who, before he set off on a journey, entrusted his servants with large sums of money. He gave them different amounts according to their ability. One got five talents, one two and the third just one. A ‘talent’ was an enormous amount of money in the ancient world, so five talents was a veritable fortune. Originally, the term stood for a unit of weight, about 75 pounds or 30-something kilos and later for a unit of coinage, the value depending on the metal used. Actually, the current meaning of ‘talent’ comes from this parable.

The amount given out indicates the generosity of the employer. But the money was not for their own personal enjoyment. It was meant to be used productively.

The first two both traded actively with the money they had been given and doubled their original capital. The third man, however, buried his money in the ground (the most secure place in a pre-banking society).

When the employer came back, the first two presented their accounts. The employer was very pleased and they were entrusted with even more. To each he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

Then the third man came along with his one talent. He had not traded with it because he was afraid he would lose his money. “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid… Here is your talent, have it

back.” Ironically, he was the one who was given the least and from whom the least was expected. But even that little he failed to produce. Perhaps he even expected to be praised for his prudence.

The employer does not deny the charge of being a hard man, but he accuses the man of not having done even the least thing to increase his capital. He could have deposited or lent the money and got some interest. But he had absolutely nothing to show of his own.

The money is taken from him and given to the one who had five talents. Surprising? Unfair? Not really. This man had already shown he was a very good investment. And Jesus sums up: “To everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The word ‘talent’ which in biblical times referred to a huge amount of money now denotes a particular gift or ability with which a person is endowed. “He has a great talent for music; she has a great talent for design.” In that sense, we have all been endowed with talents in varying degrees or, to use a word which Paul prefers, ‘charisms’. In either case they indicate some distinctive ability which is to a large extent innate or God-given.

Everyone of us has been endowed in some way. And, as in the parable, some are greatly endowed and others less so. All that is asked is that we make use of that gift or those gifts to the best of our ability and not for ourselves alone (that is to bury them in the ground) but to build up the kingdom and make a positive contribution to the community to which we belong.

At the end we will be asked, as the men in the parable were, “How did you use the gifts I gave you and how productive were they in furthering the growth of the Kingdom?”

Today then is a day for us to identify what those gifts actually are. It is possible that some people have never given it much thought. They see their Christian life in rather passive terms, just looking after themselves, living in conformity to the commandments of God and the Church, fulfilling their ‘religious duties’, making sure to die “in the state of grace”. This, in effect, is to bury one’s talents.

Today’s gospel makes it very clear that far more is expected of us. We are expected to make an active and positive contribution to the work of the Kingdom and of the Christian community as the Body of Christ. In practice, that means taking an active part in our Church, in our parish and in making a contribution to the betterment of our society. So, it is very important for us to spend some time in reflecting on what are my unique ‘talents’ or gifts or abilities and then to ask how and to what end I am using them?

And the time to do that is today because, as we have been amply warned, we do not know when our ‘employer’ is coming back to check his accounts with us.

The end of today’s passage indicates that if we do not move forward, or are not productive, then we go backwards. We cannot remain static or purely passive in God’s service. To do nothing is not a possible option. The more we give and share with others from the resources we have the more we are personally enriched; on the other hand, to cling to our gifts and keep them just for ourselves is to become smaller in every way.

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