It can be a fun exercise to look back on how I used to process certain aspects of my faith, and how my perspectives have changed throughout my four years of theology education at Boston College. Attending Mass is one of these perspectives that has shifted, and one which I am reminded of each week. This obligation, which used to be about satisfying the desires of my parents and God, has shifted to my opportunity to be part of a consistent faith community and spiritual practice. Community worship in Mass satisfies my deep spiritual reserves, and can calm my spirit. In a way, it has become my weekly reset button.
However, I did not find my usual comfort or stability in last week’s service. This Mass contained one of my favorite, but most challenging Gospel passages, the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). In this story, Jesus describes a man who gives five, two, and one talents, a sum of money worth about twenty years of wages, to each of his three servants, respectively. The first two servants invest this enormous sum of money and double their earnings, while the third buries his single talent out of fear and laziness. Upon the master’s return, the first two are praised and the third is harshly rebuked, despite returning the original sum of money. Naturally, many questions arise when I hear this passage. Why do the three servants receive significantly different amounts? What is the parable even trying to convey? I left that Mass with more questions than a freshman leaving their first Perspectives class.
I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to take financial risks, or that the path to eternal life is achieved through successfully maneuvering the free market. Though talent in the Biblical context refers to money, it’s English cognate is coincidentally appropriate for understanding this parable in our lives. I don’t know why the three servants received different amounts of worth, but it certainly does mirror reality. In life, each person is given natural talents, to which our society assigns often stratified value. Unfortunately for my curiosity, this parable does not seek to explain this inherent, human-perceived inequality, but rather how we respond to that which we are given. By investing our talents, sometimes taking risks to do so, we will grow in acumen and ability, which can then be returned to God, the ultimate master. However, if we let fear of failure or laziness paralyze us from investing our talents into the market of life, there will be no benefit. Those gifts freely given by God will have been wasted, no matter the potential worth of each.
Though each of these servants knew exactly what worth he was receiving, we have an added wrinkle. We’re not born with a piece of paper listing the talents we have been given, but rather must take the time to discover what they are and how to use them. I leave this parable with many questions, but luckily Jesus’ life and ministry do not operate in an isolated test tube. Rather the parables paint an interconnected story, and the parable of the faithful servant helps to understand that of the talents even more. One line especially summarizes the listen of the talents: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
So though I am not sure why we are all given different opportunities and talents, I can know how to respond to them in a Christian way: by shoving off fear and laziness and investing for the benefit of God and others.
Book: Zealot by Reza Aslan