22 The Parable of the Talents - January 27, 2008

Colossians 3:12-16

Matthew 25:14-30

This parable of the talents given in different amounts to servants of the Master follows other parables told by the Savior to illustrate how lovers of God are to live in the age of this world. They know from God’s prophets that God will bring this age to a close and he will come like a Judge entering his courtroom and compel all to stand before him and give an account of what they have done with the divine image in which he created them.

The faithful live in this world in such a way that they will be ready for when the Master comes. God does not give us the day or the hour of his return; but he hints in this morning’s parable that he might be gone for a long time.[1] The faithful, taking this hint of the Savior as a “word to the wise,” endeavor to use their time in this life to full advantage. By “full advantage” the faithful understand that this means to conduct oneself as St Paul exhorts the Church of Colossae: wisely. This means to live in the fear of God, honoring his blessed commandments, in order by them to trample down all carnal desires and so enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing to God. As St Paul says: “devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving – in other words, in an inner mind that is constantly nourished by the sacraments of confession and holy Eucharist – seeing to it that your speech is always seasoned with grace,[2] because even though you do not know when the Master will return to collect the talents he gave you, with interest, you can be sure – because he told you – that he will come when he is least expected, like a thief in the night.[3] Therefore, live in constant vigilance so that when he comes, you will be ready.

I think we can take this state of alertness in unceasing Eucharistic prayer to be what the Savior is referring to when he says of the faithful servants of the Master in this morning’s parable that they went immediately and traded with the talents to gain even more talents. Trading the talents to gain more talents represents the ascetic work of faith. The ascetic work of faith embraces inner work and outer work. It is given in yesterday’s epistle and this morning’s. Its inner work is vigilance in prayer in an attitude of repentance and thanksgiving, walking in love as Christ has loved us, letting the word of God dwell richly in our hearts. Its outer work is divesting oneself of immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jokes, while clothing oneself with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, and beyond all of these things, putting on the love of God.[4] 

The servant, then, who did not go immediately to trade his master’s money, but who instead immediately buried it in the ground, is that servant who, having received the grace of holy baptism, having even partaken of holy Eucharist, does not work at all to repent, to devote his inner life to prayer and keeping himself alert in it, or to changing his outer life, to clothe himself in purity, and in the humility, the patience, the compassion of Christ.

And what’s his excuse for burying his talent? It’s given in the parable. There’s a tone of resentment in his answer: “I knew you were a hard man.” I mean, you’re always telling me I’m a sinner and that I need to change my ways. You make me feel like I’m a bad person, and I don’t like it. “You reap where you did not sow, you gather where you scattered no seed.” You want to take over my life and make me give up a whole lot of things that I have a right to do if I want to. It’s my life. Get out of it and leave me alone.

It’s interesting that in the parable, the Master doesn’t argue with the servant. He makes no effort to defend himself against the servant’s accusations, just as he was silent before Pilate. Why should he defend himself? Where do you think we came from? Did we make ourselves? No, the Master created us. We owe our very existence to him. He is the Master supreme and we are his slaves through and through. And how did he create us? In his image! And what have we done with the image of God in which we were made? Like it or not, we belong to him; we don’t belong to ourselves. We answer to him, he doesn’t answer to us. If we had half a brain, we’d realize that we’ve got no trump card. He’s got all the cards. And you think he suffered the agony of the Cross so we could take his image and eat, drink and be merry and make it over into the likeness of a mindless brute? So, get over it! And get to work on that one talent he gave you.

So, what is the talent?

In the parable, the Lord says that the talents he gives to his slaves belong to him: “A man, who was about to go on a journey (this would be the Lord’s journey of dying and rising again, and ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father) called his own slaves (the faithful, who have been baptized, who have been clothed with the Robe of Light, and who have been born from above as children of God), and entrusted his possessions to them.” These are the talents, of which he gave five to one servant, two to another and one to a third. They are the Master’s money (v. 18); so they are units of great value.

What has the Lord given us that is of great value? Listen to what the priest says as he gives to you from the Chalice: “The precious and all-holy body and blood of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ is given to the child of God…” Listen to what the Church sings following Holy Communion: “We have found the true faith; we have received the Heavenly Spirit.”

The talent, which is God’s own possession, is his Heavenly Spirit, which he gives to us in different measure according to our faith; in other words, according to the degree to which we fear him, and put our hope and our trust in him, and love him. The gift of the Holy Spirit, given to us in our baptism, renewed in us in the sacrament of confession, and given to us in Holy Eucharist, grows in us like the talent, like the mustard seed sown in the ground, like the yeast that leavens the lump, as we practice the ascetic works of faith to take off the rags of immorality and impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jokes, so that God may clothe us in the luminous garments of his Heavenly Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, woven from the threads of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and that he may grant us what we truly desire, what we were in fact made for: to become communicants of life eternal, partakers of that divine Beauty that all creatures long for.

We are approaching now this Saturday on Feb 2 the final feast of the Winter Pascha, the presentation of Christ into the temple, when Simeon receives Christ as we have received the Master’s talent in holy baptism and holy Eucharist. We should leave the Winter Pascha and enter Great Lent to prepare for the Spring Pascha in the mind of St Simeon; praying that the Lord will grant us to die in peace, having seen the light of his salvation, and having received it into the arms of our heart in faith and in the love of God. Begin now to take the talent of the Holy Spirit given you by the Lord out of the ground and get serious about taking up the ascetic works of faith given us to do in Great Lent. They are centered on repentance, the Lord’s very first command that he gives to us. Great Lent is surely a gift worth many talents that the Lord is giving us; for in its ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting and practicing deeds of charity, the Lord himself is helping us to engage the ascetic work of faith so that his Holy Spirit may increase in us, so that when he comes again, he will be able to find his image in us; and we will be able to stand before him in the fear of God, and draw near to him in faith and in love.

[1] Mt 25:19

[2] Col 4:1-6

[3] Mat 24:50 & 43

[4] Eph 5:1-8 & Col 3:12-16