My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Recently we’ve been hearing about responsibility – the responsibility caused within us by the reception of good things from God. Whether that is the responsibility that is caused by learning something new, such as when we hear the teaching of the Gospel. Or the responsibility that comes from being placed in a new situation – such as when we are baptised, and chrismated, and made members of the Church, that brings responsibility. Or that responsibility that we hear about in the Gospel today, the responsibility which comes from the natural talents which are given to each of us, to each human person, by God Himself. For the talents bring responsibility.
I think it is not without good reason that the first exhortation that we hear in the Scriptures today, coming from Saint Paul, says it quite clearly: “We helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.” That is, do not receive the grace of God, indeed any grace of God, “in vain,” that is, fruitlessly, without using it, without working in it, without genuine gratitude which renders back to God all that good which He has rendered unto us. Do not receive the grace of God in vain. For indeed doing anything “in vain” is, by definition, vanity.
It is precisely against such vanity that our Lord teaches us today in the Gospel. We hear the parable of a man giving his talents to his servants – and we have also heard about talents lately, a talent being a large sum of money, something of great price. Being a parable, though, we may also see ourselves in this, as the servants, and the talents for us need not necessarily be money – though they can be – but not necessarily. The talents could very well be our natural talents, our abilities, our faculties, our speech, our work, our hospitality, just about anything.
So in the parable this man leaves talents with his servants, to one he gives five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent, and then the man goes on a long journey, leaving his servants there to work with what they have received.
The servants who had received five talents and two talents did exactly that, they worked with what they had received and they earned more talents, so that when the master returned, they were able to return to him what he had left them plus just as much again over and above. The one who had received five talents returned ten talents. The one who had received two talents returned four. The master was very pleased, and praised these good stewards.
But then we hear of the one who had received the one talent. He had buried the talent in the ground when the master had left, and on the master’s return, he dug it up and took it to the master. The master was not pleased at this, to say the least. He said: 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. Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents. For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away.
A seemingly very harsh sentence, to say the least. That is, until we understand that the servants themselves understood, as the Gospel makes clear, they understood the responsibility which came from being stewards, from receiving the talents. The servants knew their master was one who expected much from his servants, that they not be idle with his goods, that they not be slothful, but rather that they use the goods over which they had been given charge to effect even greater good, to increase the wealth.
The same goes for all of us, all of us stewards of the goods which are placed in our care, the natural talents which we have received from the Author of nature. That which we have, and that which we have charge of as stewards, we have charge of so that good may be worked with it. So that the wealth of the Master, who is God Himself, might be extended, made even greater, that grace might all the more abound within the world.
If we have money, let us use it to assist those who are in need, working in true charity. If we have the use of speech, then let us use our speech to give praise to God, and to instruct those under our care for the greater glory of God. If we have the ability to be hospitable, let us welcome the pilgrim blessed by the Church. If we have anything, let us see that we are not the ones who truly own it, but God has placed it in our stewardship, God from Whom all good things and all perfect things come. And God has placed it in our stewardship not for vanity – not that we might receive it in vain – but that we might receive it in gratitude and work in it and with it for His glory.
We even see in the parable that the master says that, if nothing else, the servant who had received the one talent should have given to the bankers, so that he might have at least made some money off of usury!
Now, this is not our Lord condoning usury, which is invariably held by the fathers to be gravely sinful. What it is is our Lord showing that even those who work simply on the natural level can effect some good in this world, and that our Lord is pleased even with this.
Faith without works is dead. Works without faith are not salvific. They won’t save. But works without faith can still accomplish some material good, and they can be the seed which is planted in the heart, these works, which can grow into faith, because there is there in the heart of the one who works the start of the understanding of gratitude, and the responsibility of being a steward. Works without faith, even if not salvific, can at least be a start in the right direction.
Faith without works is invariably deadly, and it takes a near miracle of grace to shake up such a deadly complacency.
So today we have the choice, once again. We have the choice to act as good stewards, to act responsibly, to take the talents which have been placed in our care by the Good Master, and to work with them and in them, to increase within us, and within the world the wealth and the treasure of the Master, which treasure is nothing more – and nothing less – than the grace of God. Therein will we find salvation. Let us hasten, hasten – hurry! – to do it today! Saint Paul assures us, “Now is the acceptable time… Now is the day of salvation.”