The Victorians were noted for their interest in all things related to death. They built great tombs for their heroes and cherished their love ones through the possession of memento mori – personal items that once belonged to loved ones, such as a lock of hair or a favorite photograph. For them, death was a part of life – ubiquitous and very democratic. What was important was what was left behind. In addition to their ornate tombs, the Victorians also loved grandiose epitaphs that recalled for posterity the great achievements of deceased heroes and national figures.
As we come to the end of another liturgical year, our readings seem solemn and sober, challenging us to reflect on our own lives and to consider our own epitaphs – what we will leave behind or what others will say about us. Will they say that we used our God-given talents well? That we did our part to improve that little piece of the world we inhabited? Today’s readings help us with this challenge.
The Gospel tells of three investors and invites us to identify with them – the two who risked and gained and the one who, stricken by fear, made sure he did not lose the little he had. Our initial reaction might be to side with the prudent guy and why not? In today’s world where the market can be so unpredictable, it makes sense to be cautious, especially when dealing with another’s money.
Yet, is that what Jesus wants? If we equate the word talent with a huge amount of money, we run the risk of misunderstanding this parable. Instead, we should see it as referring to something of tremendous value – the Gospel message. Because Matthew has chosen to place this parable ahead of the Last Judgement, we know that it speaks to us of success, failure, and judgement. Some scholars suggest the parable is really an accusation against the Pharisees for their spiritual timidity. They knew the promise of the Good News, and yet chose to bury it in a tomb of rules and regulations. On the other hand, Jesus exhorts His disciples to take risks – to invest their whole lives in the truth of the Gospel and, if necessary, to risk all for the glory of God.
By first leading us to favor the timid servant, Jesus then turns the story upside down. The irony is that he loses everything – even the little he has. For we need to take note of the fact that each is given according to his ability and that when risked, the reward is a share in the Master’s joy.
So what then, is the moral of this parable? If we see it as an exhortation to work diligently and fearlessly for the return of Christ, then now is the time for all Christians to use and, if necessary, to risk all their gifts and talents, their resources and faith to share Christ with others and to bear the fruit of the dividends of that investment.
-Father Jonathan Austin