Why is the poor guy who only got 1 talent condemned? Our Gospel lesson from Matthew this week centered on the Parable of the Talents. It is a parable which probably shocked Jesus’ hearers as much as it does us. For starters, the wealth of the landowner was prodigious, to say the least. Jesus describes a landowner who had 8 talents of gold accessible! In modern money, that probably approaches $2 million, but that sum does nothing to teach us about the shock value which would have been imparted to Jesus’ hearers of the parable. We are a far wealthier society and are coming off a dot-com bubble. We can imagine a couple million dollars with no problem. Heck, many of us around here do not even bother playing the lottery until it gets over a certain amount because, you know, we want to make sure it is worth it if we win--as if a couple million dollars would not really significantly alter our lifestyle. The amount described by Jesus would simply have been almost unimaginable. A silver talent was worth about 6000 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage. And Jesus is speaking about gold. You do the math.
So, this master places two million dollars into the hands of his slaves, each according to his ability. That is an important phrase. We are told in a very few words that the master understands the gifts and talents of his slaves. The one with more ability is given greater wealth; the one with the least ability is given the least wealth. There are no false expectations in this story on the part of the landowner.
The first two slaves, the ones entrusted with more wealth, double the master’s money and receive his blessing. We are not told what they did specifically nor how long the master was away, but both did well with what they had been entrusted. In fact, each receives identical praise even though one clearly made a lot more money for the master than the other. The third slave is where the spiritual wedgies begin to be formed by those of us listening to the parable. The slave, we are told, buries the talent in a hole in the ground. He tells the master that he was afraid of him. You are a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. Rather than demonstrating love and respect of the master, the slave confesses to fear. That fear causes him to misapprehend the master. Rather than working for his master, as he would have been expected so to do, the slave is alienated from the master and eventually becomes lazy.
In fact, the master describes the third slave as being so lazy that he does not even protect the money by giving the entrusted talent of gold to the bankers. Remember, the master recognized that this slave, in comparison to the other two, was the least talented (no pun intended). Perhaps, had the slave given the money to the bankers, that might have been all that the master could rightly have expected of him. Perhaps he had no real skill or talent to make money. Instead, the third slave stands condemned because he did nothing with that talent entrusted to him.
Perhaps shocking to us, Jesus tells us that the master ordered the talent to be taken away and given to the one who made 5 talents of gold. More shockingly, he orders the third slave to be cast into the outer darkness. Why the judgment?
Jesus is teaching His audience and us about responsiveness. How we use our own gifts and talents will testify as to our own relationship with God. If we respond properly, we will be like the first two slaves, using the wealth and gifts of our Father to glorify Him. If we are like the third slave, however, we will respond to His love of us by using those same gifts poorly. Perhaps we will use them to benefit ourselves, rather than those for whom He has entrusted the gifts. Perhaps we will try to hide them, rather than displaying them for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. How we use His gifts demonstrates our relationship with Him. In this parable, Jesus is teaching us for the need for a productive response. We are not called to sit back and rest on His laurels. Instead, we are commanded to take what He gives us and use them for His glory and His honor. Any other use dishonors Him, devalues the gift, and testifies to the world that we do not honor nor love our Master, our Lord.