Sunday, November 16, 2014

Talents, and the Best News Ever

Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents, isn't one of those 'feel-good' stories.

You know how it goes: a man gives three of his servants sizable chunks of money: five talents to one, three to another, and one to the third.

The third servant ends up thrown "into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." (Matthew 25:30)

The line before that is just as grim, and a bit disturbing:
"12 For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
(Matthew 25:29)
These verses reflect the same profound lack of warm fuzzies:
"To anyone who has, more will be given 5 and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
(Matthew 13:12)

"To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' "
(Mark 4:25)

"Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.' "
(Luke 8:18)

" 'I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."
(Luke 19:26)
That looks like the polar opposite of what Amos said about those "who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land." (Amos 8:4)

Matthew, Mark, and Luke aren't saying that we should 'steal from the poor and give to the rich,' or that being poor is sinful. It's okay to be poor — or rich. What matters is what we do with what we've got. (July 28, 2013; August 4, 2011)

Talents, Minas, and Shekels

A talent, by the way, is how much water one amphora holds. That's between 57 and 67 pounds, by my measurement system, and depending on whether you're talking about Attic, Roman, Egyptian, or Babylonian talents.

Folks around the ancient Mediterranean had currency with weights based on those figures. For a while, one Attic talent of silver was worth nine man-years of skilled work. That's a lot of work: and a lot of silver.

For Babylonians, Sumerians, and Hebrews, 60 mina equaled one talent, and 60 shekels equaled one mina — which mattered if you were doing business in ancient Mesopotamia, but not so much today.

Doing Something

Doing something about what we believe is vital.
"...A Christian who withdraws into himself, who hides everything that the Lord has given him, is a Christian who... he is not a Christian! He is a Christian who does not thank God for everything God has given him!..."
(General Audience, Saint Peter's Square, Pope Francis (April 24, 2013))

"...the servant who had hidden his talent and failed to make it increase in worth, had calculated badly. He behaved as if his master were never to return, as if there would never be a day on which he would be asked to account for his actions...."
(Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI, St. Peter's Square (November 13, 2011))
Getting back to Matthew 25, the master asks a good question:
"Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?"
(Matthew 25:27)
Maybe the third servant wouldn't have been rewarded for doing the obvious, but at least he'd have done something with his talent.

I think Luke 8:16-18's advice about not hiding lamps makes sense: and applies to the parable of the talents.

Luke's observation about where lamps should go comes after a parable about seed falling on a path, rocky ground, among thorns, and in good soil. The idea is clearly that responding to the word of God makes sense.

I could decide that being a Christian means that I should stand on a table somewhere, spouting Bible verses. More reasonably, I could do one of those 'quote of the day' blogs: with a Biblical theme.

That's not the only option, of course.

We're not all alike. God doesn't mass-produce people. Our "talents" are different, so we can share with others who need our wealth, skill, openness or other qualities. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1936-1937)

"Faith Without Works is Dead"

That quote is at the end of James 2:14-26; and discussed in Catechism, 1815.

I don't see the point in believing something, without acting as if that belief mattered.

I take my Lord's final instructions, "...make disciples of all nations...," seriously. (Matthew 28:19-20)

"Make disciples?!" That doesn't mean marching someone into church at gunpoint. That'd be silly: also counterproductive and illegal in my country. Besides, I can't "make" anyone believe or not believe. We must be free to follow our conscience. (Catechism, 1782)

Evangelization and Consequences

Evangelization — preaching the gospel, or converting to Christianity — is, or should be, a major priority for every Christian. Again, I can't make you, or anyone else, do or believe anything.

But I can share the best news humanity's ever had: that God loves us, and wants to adopt us. (John 3:17; Catechism, 52, 1825)

There's a catch, sort of. I'm expected to love God, love my neighbor, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I'd like to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

There's more to my faith than 'it's nice to be nice,' but the basics aren't all that complicated. The Nicene Creed is a pretty good summary.

Evangelization is part of my job as a Catholic layman. (Catechism, 905)

I'm a pretty good writer, so putting these posts together seems like an obvious approach to that job.

As I said last week, I don't think that God's waiting for an excuse to drop me into Hell. But I also think that causality exists, and that I'm responsible for my decisions. (November 9, 2014)

Sooner or later, I'll have the final performance review we call the particular judgment. I'm not looking forward to that, but it's unavoidable: and I'm hopeful about the outcome. (November 2, 2014)

Sirach 1:9-12 says that fear of the LORD is glory and splendor; that is warms the heart, and leads to a happy end. On the other hand, fear of the lord isn't being scared of God, and that's another topic. (July 20, 2014)

More of my take on acting like God matters:


Elizabeth Reardon said...

I so enjoyed this post! While I know that this scripture isn't "warm and fuzzy", it has always appealed to me. The reason being is that there is a challenge to take the gifts that God has given us, put them to use, and let God do something magnificent through us! There is a temptation to envy the gifts that others have been given. In doing so, however, we like the servant with 1 talent fail to see the incredible potential God has entrusted us with. So many things others may be better than I am at. Yet, I will give all that I am for God to use. Here's my 1 talent!

Martianne said...

I want to come back and read this again when I am not distracted by my littles. Thank you!

Brian Gill said...

Thank you, Elizabeth Reardon, for your good words.

And indeed - life's full of challenges.

Brian Gill said...

Marianne, thank you for taking time to comment.

I hope you've had time in the meantime to come back and read this.

That's a lot of "time."

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