Sunday, July 19, 2009

To all those who have, more will be given

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

- Matthew 25:14-30

A note in my study bible says that a "talent" (from the Greek) was a great sum of money, and came to designate a special gift or endowment. Our use of this word in English derives from this origin, and so, this particular parable.

So, in Jesus' use of this word as allegory, what do we understand? In Friday's reading (Mark 3:7-19a), we come to understand Jesus as investing in his disciples. Jesus chose the Twelve and called them apostles, investing in them the future of his kingdom. In this parable, we can see another kind of allegory to investment. Talents, as used here, indicate gifts from God. Just as Jesus chose his apostles and invested in them the spiritual care-taking of the kingdom, so God invests in each of us with spiritual gifts.

Therefore, we are to consider what these gifts are and how we may use them. I think of this parable as particularly important in spiritual terms. We have the capacity for understanding scripture, for example. We all share in the ability to pray. From this relationship to God flows the rest of whatever spiritual gifts are ours to develop and to use.

It's my opinion that the Christian perspective on spirituality itself is one of constant movement. We're not to rest on our laurels. It doesn't matter what we've already done or achieved in the sense that today is today; spirituality is living in a constant "now." What are you doing today? What is God calling on you to do today? Is there a need to be addressed right now? Is there something you need to do right now? It doesn't matter, in that sense, what you have already done or achieved. The gifts that are within you are waiting to be used and developed.

It's a great gift, truly, to be able to help others to faith. A great gift to give someone else hope. Another to be able to help someone else to pray, to find their own reason for continuing forward in their lives. When we share and develop such gifts, we are acting in the spirit as, hopefully, it leads us in our own lives. Yesterday (in the passage Mark 3:19b-35), we read that Jesus pronounces that 'whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ So, as we use our spiritual gifts, or rather put them to use, we do so by seeking to follow in faith what we believe God asks us to do. This comes through prayer, through a relationship in faith.

It's quite a remarkable understanding to think that, in terms of spiritual life, we never stand still. We are always making decisions; either we are developing these "talents" (or gifts), or we're not. One thing is for certain: Jesus' parable is meant to teach us that when we stand still, or sit on these gifts, we're not doing what he wants us to do with them. We don't just congratulate ourselves on being good Christians, or that we're in the good church with the right faith, or that we're good people, or good whatevers and think of all the things we've already done to help others, or some other task with whatever gift we have that we've already done. Today is today. We must think of what we are to do today. And that, in my opinion, is the key to understanding Jesus' description of relatedness ('Who are my mother or my brothers?') - we act on what we think God asks of us today. In this way, we develop our talents.

Spiritual gifts work hand in hand with use and with following, as best as we can discern, how we believe God asks us to use them. I believe that these 'talents' are far more than spiritual gifts, but that they are also the type of spiritual values that Jesus referred to when he spoke of treasures in heaven that neither moth nor rust can destroy nor thief take away. When we make the decision to follow, in faith, to act as loving stewards of such gifts, we build values that become not simply stored in heaven but a part of the world as well. Do we act as a neighbor? So we build such spiritual treasure in the world, and our talents in ourselves. Do we pray to heal something or someone? Do we ask God in prayer what to do with our own gifts? All of these, I believe, are ways of building up spiritual treasure. And with each such act, our talents will multiply. 'For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.' But if we congratulate ourselves on where we are and what we've done, and forget that today there is something we're called to do, and stop searching for just what that call is, then we're sitting on our gifts - and this is not the way that spiritual treasure works. Sit still in this stream of spiritual life and it passes you by; if these gifts are not used they are not being valued properly as the gifts they are: 'but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.' The 'outer darkness,' to my mind, is the place of nothingness, the place where, finally, we are ostracized - because we are not participating in that kingdom, we are no longer a part of it.

The talents invested in us, the gifts of God, don't work as treasures that we store up and hold as some great possession and keep them locked up and away from everyone else. Most closely paralleling, in my opinion, the action of these gifts is the nature of love. And, of course, the evangelist John tells us that God is Love in the first place. So, it's natural that Love would be the perfect parallel for the action of these spiritual gifts. Love works by never standing still, by reaching out and sharing itself. Love works best when it is a gift we try to understand as of the spirit, and to share as we believe God wishes us to learn to share it, by deepening our wisdom as to what it is, what it looks like, and how God wishes us to be like Him in its expression and the use of this gift. This isn't merely a chain of works, but depends on faith. Sometimes love means we speak out and correct, sometimes just to give an embrace, and sometimes by sitting quietly. Sometimes it means getting away from those who don't value what we have to give at all. All of this depends on how it is best used - and this is what we ask in prayer to learn. None of this is easy, because it's the journey of a lifetime. It's something we must work at, not a possession we own one day and then keep locked up for the rest of our lives. Our "hard taskmaster" expects that this is a journey where we're bound to learn and to grow ourselves - the gifts, after all, are a part of who we are.

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