Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Today is the parable of the talents. Parables are always interesting, and I think everyone has their own approach for understanding them. Years ago, I was one who tried to find out the singular meaning to each of these stories. Over the years though, my understanding of them began to shift towards realizing that there was not just one interpretation, or one solution, or even one lesson; but that these stories had immense information in just a few paragraphs. Usually too with these stories, there is that knowledge of some of the more popular interpretations and at times those widely publicized explanations get in the way of really examining these stories for their subtle nuances. In past relationships with this particular parable of the talents, the interpretation on what to do with our talents has usually been the focus. This year though a different angle to this story appeared. It was not a focus on what these people did with their “talents,” but instead how they relayed their story to the master who placed these talents in their control. What interested me this time around was that dynamic between the master and the servant.
With the first two servants, the ones that got five and two, they approach their master with it seems the desire to please that master. They sought the reward of recognition for being good and faithful servants. Indeed, when they tell their story of doubling what the master had given them; they get the response “well done good and faithful servant.” One can imagine their joy in pleasing their master. The difference though with that third servant though is in that distinctly different way the servant approaches the master. In the first two, the only description they give of the master is that word “master.” It is neither good master, nor bad master. They don’t view themselves as equal to the master. The relationship stays as master and servant. For the third servant though there is a string of adjectives used to describe that master; demanding, an implied selfishness, and one who causes fear. That servant, it seems to me, had a derogatory opinion of their master. I get the opinion that servant wanted nothing to do with the master and expected nothing in return. Surprisingly, the master’s response mirrors the obvious negativity of the servant. That servant is described by the master as lazy and wicked. In fact in all three instances the relationship between the master and servants seem to mirror each other. It seems that those first two approached that master with honesty and sincerity. Contrast that with the vengeful approach of the third. Might it be that the lesson isn’t just about what one does with their talents, but equally about how one approaches the one that gave them their talents? Doesn’t that mirror the distinctly personal relationship between God and Man?
I think one of the things that reinforced this notion of how one approaches God though did not fully come from the parable, though I do think that is blatantly obvious once someone reads the parable anew. The reinforcement for this parable came later in the Mass during the Collect:
“Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” That collect describe the approach of those two good and faithful servant. Their approach was one of joy and devotion, and not the fear and bitterness of that third servant. The first two served that master, the third perhaps had some tolerance coupled with resentment, and fear, and bitterness. Might part of the message be if one approaches God with that Joy and devotion they receive that mirrored in their return? If one approaches God with wickedly, that is what they get in return. The relationships do seem to mirror one another, and do get one thinking anew about the relationship between master and servant; the personal relationships between God and us.