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A worthy investment, and well worth the risks

Faithpoint | Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Raise your hand if you’ve ever scratched your head over that somewhat mysterious parable of the master who entrusted his money to three of his servants. The first two invested theirs and doubled their amounts; the third buried his in the backyard and had to ‘fess up upon the master’s return. The trickiest part for me was always when the master, furious, heatedly lectures the third servant, takes his money back, and cries, “To everyone to 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.” I remember that as a kid, I considered this principle a horrible idea: What? Give even more to those who already have? Take away from those who don’t?

I’ve been thinking about this Gospel, which comes from Matthew, chapter 25 (take a look at Matthew 25 – it’s not for the faint of heart), because it’s this Sunday’s gospel. We’re in the last two weeks of the Church year, before Advent starts, and the readings in these coming weeks will reflect this in their close focus on the end-times. The master, in Jesus’ parable, doesn’t find the third servant’s behavior merely disappointing, but seriously reprehensible. He takes away the money, but he really means to highlight the magnitude of the servant’s mistake: The servant disregarded the gift, and then if that weren’t enough, tried to pin the blame for his lousy decision on the master.

Here’s a cool fact that helps make sense of the master’s cryptic tirade against the third servant. The Greek term “talent” describes the weight of the sums of money the master gave the three servants. This parable is the source of the English use of “talent,” meaning a gift that can be improved upon with practice. Even as far back as the origins of the English language, people of faith must have understood that Jesus’ parable of the three servants didn’t literally refer to money, but to the manner in which a person accepts a gift. Those who are properly open to receiving a gift – that is, a freely bestowed offering from God – will have the faith and trust to find ways to share and spread that gift and so to make it grow, even though it might mean taking a risk. Those who “have not” the open hearts to receive and appreciate such an offering will find that they lose even any limited ability to act out of faithful belief in God’s love.

Coincidentally – I love when this happens – I attended a meeting Tuesday night for parents of second graders who will make their first reconciliation in a few weeks, and it reminded me of this gospel yet again. We discussed the logistical aspects of our children’s first confession, how we can help them articulate the sinfulness they need to address (second grade sins are relatively unimpressive, but believe me, they understand “doing something wrong on purpose”), and how we can help prepare them to understand and welcome God’s forgiveness.

And there, right on the sheet entitled “Examination of Conscience,” one of the questions read, “Do I use the gifts God has given me for the good of others?” Well, there’s that third servant again! He didn’t use his gifts, and it’s a sin! The master trusted him with a valuable asset, and out of fear, or laziness, or lack of imagination, or plain old disinterest, he hid it away where he could ignore it … until he was forced to face the master and explain himself.

Imagine how our lives might change if we take seriously our responsibility to receive well the gifts God has given us; that is, if we look at all we have as a gift from God, and then figure out how, practically and regularly, to give it away. And it’s a relatively easy task for us. For the people at the time of Matthew’s gospel, attempting to spread the gift of the good news about Christianity meant risking stuff like, well, death.

When you hear this gospel on Sunday, remember that the master – God – tells us that only by accepting and using our gifts will they grow. Take some risks with your faith, your time, your skills; your attention to others. Wouldn’t God rather that we at least take a chance, even if we fail, than bury our talents in the backyard?

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett. Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.