18 - Talents From the LORD's Substance, Jan 31, 2016 (with audio)

For audio, click here

Colossians 3:12-16

Matthew 25:14-30

Come on a treasure hunt with me. Let’s find the reality veiled by the talent in this morning’s parable. I think, actually, that all the clues we need are given in the parable itself.

It says, “The Kingdom of Heaven (cf. 25:1) is like a Man going on a journey.” The Man is the LORD. His journey is to the Cross and, in His Holy Resurrection, up to Heaven. The Man’s return is the LORD’s coming again when He will hold us to account for the talents He gave us.

Before He departed on His journey, it says, this Man, “called His own.” This takes us to the Gospel of John: “He came to His own…and to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God.”

Because the talents look exactly like this power the LORD gave to those who received Him, I believe the talent is the power of the LORD’s Holy Spirit given to His own who receive Him that they might become children of God. Here, too, then, is given the goal of trading with the talent.

But, before we get to that, it says: “He gave to them His hyparchonta,” translated here as His material possessions. But, this is a very important word in the history of Orthodox dogma. Literally, it means “what begins or comes forth from below, or what exists underneath,” so that it denotes theologically the root principles of nature. Often, this word was used with hypostasis, “that which stands underneath.” That word came to signify the Person of Christ; i.e., His inner identity or “I Am”. Like a door, then, this word opens this parable onto a path that goes down into the mystery of being itself. It shows the LORD, as the Man in this parable, giving to His own who receive Him the goods or the riches that are His own as talents, which are the power of the Holy Spirit to become a child of God.

It says that this Man gave His goods. This is the word for Tradition – what is given. St Paul uses it to show how we received the Eucharistic Tradition of the Church. He says: “I was given from the LORD what I gave to you, that on the night He was given over to the Scribes and Pharisees...” (I Cor 11:23) This is the word in St John for the moment of the LORD’s death: “When Jesus had received (same family of words) the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished’; and, inclining His head, He gave up His Spirit.” (Jn 19:30) Now, in Deuteronomy, Moses says to Israel: “Behold, the LORD has given the land before you. Go in and inherit it.” (Dt 1:8 LXX) But, the Psalmist says: “The LORD Himself is the portion of my inheritance and my cup.” (Ps 15:5) So, when the LORD as the Man in this morning’s parable gives of His substance in the form of talents to His own, He is giving them the power of His Cross to go in and inherit the Inheritance He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; which isn’t the land. It is the LORD Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Whoever receives Him, receives from His substance a talent, a unit not of monetary value but of eternal value: the power of His Holy Spirit to inherit the risen LORD Jesus Christ Himself so as to become a child of God, an “heir of the Promise” and a “partaker of the divine nature.” (II Pt 1:4)

This talent was given to us at our Holy Baptism. It is given to us as our Food and Drink in the Cup of Holy Eucharist, as we sing after receiving from the Cup: “We have received the Heavenly Spirit!” Let us understand, this talent is the very Holy Spirit given to Adam when God breathed into Adam’s face (his heart, the spirit, the self) and Adam became a living soul, i.e., a son of God (Lk 3:38).

The talent given to the LORD’s servants, then, is of God’s hyparchonta, a unit of ultimate and eternal spiritual value, given freely to His own who receive Him. It is the treasure hiding in the field of our soul; for, it is the power that stamps us in the Image of Christ; it “finishes” us as living souls, it completes or perfects us as children of God. With this talent, we are able to become what we are at the beginning or at the root of our earthly existence in this world. This is the talent that was taken away from us in the disobedience of the First Adam. Now, it is given again in the obedience of the Second Adam, the Man in this morning’s parable.

It says that this Man gave talents to each of His servants according to each one’s own dynamis; i.e., his potential or capacity. Now, Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd C. gave as man’s “primary principle” (hypostasis) that defines who and what we are as our having been created in the Image of God. St Didymus the Blind of Alexandria (early 4th C.), a student of Origen, went on to define the Image of God as “capax Dei”, the “capacity for God”. The primary principle of our nature, then, our having been made in the image of God, is an innate capacity to receive God, so that to receive Him is not alien to us. It is most natural, and we become what we were created to be. The LORD Himself tells us through the Psalmist what we were created to be. “I said you are gods, sons of the Most High!” (Ps 81:6 LXX; cf. Jn 10:34)

So, “He gave to each of His servants according to his potential or capacity” puts us in the mystery of our having been created in the Image of God, the principle of our nature that makes us who and what we are. But, having fallen away from God through disobedience, we have become estranged not just from God but from the principle of our own nature, and so from ourselves. And so, we are weak if not dead with respect to our love for God. Our potential for receiving a talent of the LORD, then, is measured by how much we desire to love God. God knows our desire, and His mercy is shown in that He does not demand from us more than what we can give. So, to one servant He gives 5 talents, to another He gives two, to another one.

But, we are given these talents in order to trade with them, or rather, to work them (ergazomai). How do we work them? By practicing obedience to the commandments of Christ. And, look what happened when the talents were worked. They increased. Each servant’s capacity for God was actualized and their heart was enlarged (2 Cor 6:11) so that they could be given more; and, if the “interest” earned from the talents was worked again, would not the heart be enlarged again?

Behold the marvel and the value of these talents given us by the LORD when we receive Him and take up our cross to follow Him! We work with them to deny ourselves and we gain God. We work them to lose our life and we gain Christ, Himself the Resurrection and the Life. We work them to put to death what is earthly in us and we gain Heaven in Light unapproachable! We work them to decrease that Christ may increase, and our hearts are enlarged in the unfathomable abyss of divine love that abides forever!

Now we can see that the servant who dug a hole and hid his talent in it is the one who receives the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of the Church and makes little if any effort to take up the work of faith. He does not deny himself to fight the law of sin active in him. He does not turn away in repentance from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. He loves the darkness more than the light; and this makes him lazy and cowardly so that he prefers to drift with the current, indulging himself in the sweet things of this life; and this deadens his heart so that he has no interest in the “rumor” of the ineffable sweetness of the LORD’s eternal substance, the hyparchonta of His eternal Beauty. He does not want to become a child of God, and so the LORD when he returns gives him his wish. He becomes eternally a child of darkness.

Great Lent approaches, beloved faithful. We need to begin even now preparing the way of the LORD in our souls and forming in our mind through prayerful vigilance a resolve to take the talent we have been given and to work it, to follow Christ into the wilderness of our soul and to His Holy Cross in order to put to death what is earthly in us and become one with Him in the tomb of our heart, that we might find our heart enlarged and ourselves “finished”, made complete, born from above as children of God! Amen!