November 14, 2023 at 9:43 a.m.

The parable of the talents

When Jesus speaks about using our talents and gifts fruitfully, he is not really talking about the gifts and talents that the world values.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Our parable this Sunday (Matthew 25:14-30) is often called the “parable of the talents.” Jesus tells a parable about three servants and their use of the gifts given to them by their master. This parable can easily find a resonance for us some 2,000 years later. We certainly may notice that in our culture, the search for talent and the appreciation of gifts are very much part of our daily lives. At sporting events, talent scouts will be out looking for that next generation of sporting heroes and almost every night on TV there will be some sort of talent show or program. We admire those who have been successful in business, entertainment or whatever sphere of life, and rightly so.

“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.” 

— 1 Thessalonians 5:6

Jesus’ parable, though, is not really about this sort of talent or success. It is about the deeper gifts or talents that God has given to each one of us out of his amazing love for us, and then how we have used those God-given talents in love of him and our neighbor. Another (true) story may help us to see this. A much-loved and highly-respected teacher was retiring and so a party was held to honor the teacher. Many former students came to the event and they flocked around the teacher. Each in their turn told him of what they had done since graduating and how the teacher had helped them to be successful.

Their stories were indeed impressive: One was an architect who had built a number of famous buildings all over the country. Another was a university professor who had just received a prize for her research into a cutting-edge area of scientific development. Another was now the head of a major international corporation. Another was a household name in the entertainment industry. Another was a very well-known soccer player who was at the very height of his career. One was even now an archbishop in the Church!

Once the gush of all those success stories had finished, the teacher congratulated the former students on how they had used their gifts and talents so well and on how they had become so successful. Then the teacher looked at them with great love and asked them a simple question that went straight to the heart of each of them. “Tell me,” the teacher said, “you have told me what you have done with your life and your talents, but how have you grown in love and how have you helped others to grow?”

A long silence followed this question. They realized that they had focused on their careers and on what they had done or achieved, but perhaps had neglected the very core of who they were, or how they had grown in love, or how they had helped others. They had certainly used well the gifts and talents that God had given them and that was very good, but they had forgotten about the real gift of life that God had planted in their heart: their spirit and soul. We often call these the spiritual gifts or talents: kindness, patience, compassion, working actively for the good, prayer, service for others, etc.

When Jesus speaks about using our talents and gifts fruitfully and of not burying them (as the last of the three servants did in the parable), he is not really talking about the gifts and talents that the world values, and perhaps overvalues, and even over-rewards. As St. Paul writes in the famous page that is often used at weddings, we should “be ambitious for the higher gifts” too. It does not mean that we should neglect all those natural gifts that we have, but rather that we should not neglect the spiritual gifts that God gives us. That is why the master uses such strong language in condemning the third servant. He actually calls him “evil” and “slothful.” Why? Because he has buried the very gifts the master gave him to do good. Indeed, when we examine our conscience we should look not only at sins of commission (doing something wrong), but also of omission (failing to do good when we should.)

Notice too that each of the three servants in the parable are given gifts “according to their ability.” This is an important detail that can be easily overlooked. The word used in the original language of the Gospel is “dumanin.” It really means power, or energy, or force. What is the lesson here? God gives us energy and power, beginning with our very life, but these gifts are not to be squandered or used selfishly.

Let us be like those first two servants. Let us go out and actively, even proactively, using the many spiritual gifts and talents that God has given to us.


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