The basic message of today’s Gospel is that we all have talents. Maybe not in the way other people have: celebrities, sport stars, politician, charismatic speakers and so on, but we all have talents and nevertheless important. Experts say that people in general only use a little fraction of their talents. You are gifted, whether you realize it or not. It just up to you to figure out what it is and do the best you can to use it. Sometimes people don’t use their talents is because other people belittled them or laughed about the things they wanted to explore. To belittle makes someone feel small, less and is bad for their self-esteem. Sometimes it is been done through: cynicism, sarcasm, non-appreciation, taking for granted. The opposite from belittling is to lift people up, to encourage them to value themselves.
Looking at the parable, you might think at first that the third servant took the safe approach. But taking no risk in life at all might at the end not be very rewarding. It might spoil the talents could have used and you didn’t. That might leave you with regrets at the end of your life. The third servant has also a very twisted view on the character of God, which Jesus wants to correct. He tells the master: “I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown.” Look carefully at the word “heard”. He thinks but he does not really know. Here is Jesus criticizing the scribes and Pharisees, towards whom it was directed. Their vision was: God demands perfection and only a scrupulous observance of the Law can give us security. But Jesus says: NO, that is not what God is like! God’s way is different: He loves us and wants us to do something with our lives that is beneficial. He wants an abundant harvest. Jesus wants us to know that salvation comes to those who prepared to take risk, even if they might fail in their efforts. A talent is given to bear fruit and not to be wasted. It may seem wise not to risk, but in the end it is not.
We know from our own experience that everyone has different different abilities. We determine who is good in what and entrust people with tasks that are in line with their ability. We also learn from experience what our own abilities are. And of course we learn where we not that good at or what our limitations are. The rich man in today’s parable was a kind of good manager (they do exist). He knew exactly what the qualities of his servants were and what they were capable off. Before he set out on his journey he entrusted each of them “according to their abilities”. He knew that and only gave them as much as they could bare. The man who received five made five more; the one who received two was capable of making two more; the one who received one talent was capable of making one more (but he didn’t). The first two servants worked according to their ability. The third servant did not lived up to his ability. He gave only back what was given to him, instead of the two talents he was capable of gaining. What held this servant back from working according to his ability? The Gospel gives the answer as well. It was fear. “I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.” We, at times, might feel sympathy for the third servant. Deep down, we are also often hold back out of fear. It is fear that prevents us from doing what we are well capable of doing.
Sometimes even fear that we are not good enough in each others eyes and in Gods eyes. But the thing is we are good as we are to God but he wants us to accomplish what he knows we are capable of doing. Fear is a powerful force in our lives. For some more then others. There are many reasons for this. Those who have experienced a lot of criticism growing up, might have troubles taking risks and will have a more fearful approach to life.
There is a Irish proverb that goes as following: “praise the young and they will make progress”. It makes much sense but the opposite can be true as well. Criticize the young and they will be held back. Unfair criticism can stunt our growth and prevent us from reaching our God-given potential. We hide what we have been given in the ground. There it remains safe, but useless. Jesus was only too well aware of the disabling power of fear in people’s lives. It is striking the number of times in the gospels that he uses the words: “Do not be afraid.” He said it to Simon Peter when he said: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. He knew that it was fear that held him back into the new way of life. Jesus was capable to release people from their fears. He did not want it to hold them back for the life that he knew that they were capable of. He was able to cope with failure in others. He knew that they could learn from failure.
The tragedy of the third servant in the parable today is that, out of fear, he hid what had been entrusted to him. Though he had the ability to use it to grow. God gave us our talents, everyone in our own way, to the service of others. If we hide what he gave us, others will miss out on that. Most of us need some encouragement and uplifting words, to place our gifts for the benefits of others. Part of our baptismal calling is to give others courage, to encourage others. It is as Paul tells us today: “Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” In these difficult times for the church and the world, the ministry of encouragement is even more important than ever. There is much to be learned from past mistakes. But God wants us to learn from these mistakes and go forward again. Now is not the time to hide our talents, out of fear, in the ground. On the contrary, now is the time to encourage each other to share this treasure we have. So that the Church and the World will benefit from it and becomes a better place, where The Living God is present. Amen