My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
My friends, in today’s scripture readings, we encounter two great lessons. Of course, we have the lesson which is given to us by our Lord in today’s Gospel, in which we heard the parable of the talents, which parable should be well known to us, and we will speak about that in a moment.
But we also find today a great lesson in today’s epistle, a foundational lesson, and one of which we should be often reminded. It does us very well to reflect briefly on it before we move on to the parable of the talents.
For Saint Paul today exhorts the Corinthians, and through him the Church exhorts each of us, in saying: “[W]e helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.”
“[T]hat you receive not the grace of God in vain.”
Now we can speak about grace, we can consider grace week in and week out, we can even receive the grace of God, which is communicated to us in the mysteries of the Church. But it is very possible to receive the grace of God in vain. And what is meant by this? How is it that the grace of God can be received in vain? Well, let us look at the words of the epistle.
The phrase that is rendered, and quite rightly rendered, as “in vain” in English translation has an even more elemental and even more bleak meaning when we read it in the liturgical languages. We see “Eis kenon” in the Greek, “in vacuum” in Latin, “votŝè” in Slavonic. They all are in agreement and all mean the same thing, and that is: “into a vaccuum,” “into a void,” “unto an emptiness.” Do not receive the grace of God into a void. That is, the grace of God is not to be received and tossed away into nothingness. It is not to be received and nothing done with it. It is not to be received and nothing worked by it. The grace of God is not given as if a reward in itself that is to be locked away, but as precious as it is, it is also truly a tool by which God works within the soul and within this world. And when we close it off into its own void, unable to reach and interact with anything, then this is truly receiving the grace of God in vain. So thus does Saint Paul today exhort us, saying: “that you receive not the grace of God in vain.” “In vacuum.” “Eis kenon.” “Votŝè.” “Unto a void.”
It behooves each and every one of us to recall this; and to ask ourselves what kind of voids are we ourselves are guilty of placing around the grace of God that He gives to us? Do we allow the grace of God to guide us in dealing withour lives? Do we allow the grace of God to work within us when we deal every day with family, with friends, with co-workers, even with strangers? Or do we consider grace something that is just for church, just for Sundays, just for when we come together and say prayers?
Do we work in grace with those only whom we find pleasant in some way, but then lock the grace away in its own void when dealing with those who irritate us?
Do we sing of the glory of God when we are together in prayer, and then send the grace of God off into it’s own empty place when it comes to catering to our own sin?
Let us hear the words of Saint Paul, then. Let us hear what he says: “We helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.”
And further, he continues, “For He saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
When are we to work in the grace of God? Always. For “now is the acceptable time,” “now is the day of salvation.” There is no “unacceptable time” for the grace of God to be received in its fulness. There is no time within our life which has no bearing on our salvation. We must be reminded of this truth constantly, my dear friends. We must remind ourselves of this constantly, and we must be working constantly in grace.
The Lord in His wisdom and His mercy offers to us constant opportunity to work in the grace which He gives to us. And that is precisely what we hear in today’s Gospel, getting back to the parable which we heard, the parable of the talents.
Now a talent is a large amount of money. It’s a very large amount of money, equal to approximately one-hundred pounds of precious metal. In our times, for example, a talent of gold would be worth something in the neighborhood of one and a half million dollars. For most of us – and certainly for the servants in today’s Gospel – this is a fairly considerable amount of money simply to be given by someone, to be worked with in accordance with one’s ability.
Now, in our modern language, a talent is an ability. But that is not precisely what is meant in today’s gospel. Of course, we are expected to work with the abilities – in the modern sense “talents” – that we have. But we see in today’s parable that abilities and talents are two different things. For we read in today’s Gospel, we see: “and to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability.” That is, the abilites of the servants and the talents that they were given with which to work, they are two different things, even though they are very, very closely connected.
So the talents are these extremely large amounts of money which belong to the Lord but are placed in the care of the servants. And the abilities are those things which are interior to the person. The same holds true today. We have what we might call our interior talents, which are either innate or – more often – which we grow and develop through practice, that kind of “talent.” So we have these “talents” in the modern sense; these abilities.
But we also have the talents of which today’s gospel speaks – that is, those things which do not belong to us, but rather which belong to the Lord, but which He has placed in our care, in our responsibility, according to our ability, so that we might work in them and with them. These talents are those precious things that are placed by God into our lives and in our responsibility – remember last week when we spoke about responsibility? The ability to respond to that which has been given to you? They have been placed by God within our responsibility so that we might work in them and make response for the work which is done with the goods of the Lord.
Now what are the talents – the treasures – which God places in our lives with which we are to work? What are they? Well, they are manifold, my dear friends. They are dictated by our own abilities, by our situation in life, by our jobs, our relationships, and by our state of life.
For example, for those of you who are parents, children are certainly a “talent” in this sense of God – for they are a great and precious treasure belonging to the Lord in which you are called to work according to your ability. The teacher also has care of the “talent” as it were of the children, to be raised according to the truth and the love of God. The farmer has care of the “talent” of the land, and produces the food thereon for the nourishment of all. The crafstman, the pilgirm, the bus driver, the sewer worker… they all have charge of various “talents” that are placed in their care by the benevolent Lord so that grace may work through them and in them in those things that they have under their care. Our very life itself is a “talent” – a possession of inestimable value – given to us by God in which we are called to work by His grace.
Each and every one of us has the particular situations, the talents, daily which belong to God but which are given to us in which we are to work. Opportunities of grace: the greatest of treasures. We see this in other people, our friends, even in our enemies; all of these belong to God, for He is the creator of all, but they are placed in our responsibility according to our abilities so that we might work in them, and God’s grace might work in us.
There are those of you listening to this today who assuredly have great opportunities right now before you. Opportunities to work within the grace which is offered through the instrumentation of God’s church. Opportunities to answer the call of God in ways known unto Him and unto you. The grace that is offered is offered not unto emptiness, unto a sterile void, but unto working in the vast talents entrusted to you, the untold riches placed within your responsibility and control, so that good may come of it. So that you, too, may hear upon the day of judgment, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Now, in the distribution of the talents, we see that some receive more and some receive fewer, according, as it says in the Gospel, to their ability. But the one who received one talent – and did nothing with his talent and with his opportunity – he is the one who is held up as cautionary example to us.
We see that the Lord even says to him: “Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed: thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury.”
And just very quickly, I will say that usury is not a good thing, my dear friends. You’ve heard me speak about that on many an occasion, and God willing I will speak about it again. It is not a good thing. Our Lord is today not commending usury, but He is telling us a couple of things in this. First, He is expressing the same sentiment as He does in Saint John’s Apocalypse when He says, “I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”
But secondly, and more importantly, is that even those to whom little opportunity of grace is given, still it is a good thing that they work, in the little that they have, even imperfectly. In these times, today, of rampant apostasy and societal degeneracy, there are still many who are seeking to do the will of God, doing their absolute best with the very, very limited opportunity and knowledge they have. All that they do with what God has given them can be put to their credit by God Almighty, imperfect though it may be. That is why our Lord says you could have at least committed my money to the bankers, so that I might have received my own with usury.
Many work today in very imperfect ways, but at least they are making the effort to work with what little they have.
And finally, in the figure of the servant who buried his talent, our Lord gives to us the example of one who truly receives the grace of God in vain. One who digs a hole and hides away that which the Lord has entrusted to him. Instead of working in it, he placed it in its own void, all the while deliberately fooling himself into thinking he was doing something that would please his lord. But ultimately we hear the dread sentence delivered unto this servant: “The unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
May God save us from such a fate ourselves!
Rather, let us hasten to do the will of God, for it is later than you think. Let us hasten to bring forth the fruits of the talents which have been given to us. Let us do it today, this moment, right now.
Pray with me, dear friends: O Lord, thou hast vouchsafed to us many talents. May we respond unto them and work within them according to our abilities, and according to Thy will.
For behold now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.