Let me paraphrase the opening of our gospel to make a point or two. “A man going on a journey call in his servants and handed over to them his possessions. To one he gave five pounds of $1,000 bills. To another, two pounds of $1,000 bills, and to a third, one pound of $1,000 bills – to each according to their gifts, talents and abilities – he did not give one them more than he or she could handle.”
The points are simple – the word talents that is used in the proclaimed text is not a metaphor; it is cold hard cash. Each talent is the equivalent of 15 years of a daily wage. We are talking about some serious money. And in case you are wondering, 15 years at $30,000/year will result in about $450,000, which, as it happens, is about one pound of $1,000 bills. As I said, some serious money.
The master gave “each according to his ability.” In other words, the servant already possessed gifts, talents and abilities. The master was giving them startup capital, an initial investment, a boost, placing a bet – call it what you will. And consider this – although our gospel uses “entrust” the underlying Greek simply means to “give” or to “hand over.” The master knows his servants, knows the gifts and abilities they already possess – gives them money and opportunity – but not more than they can handle.
And now it is up to them.
Pause the story. We typically think of the parable of the talents as a narrative about well-using or being good stewards of the gifts and ability God is giving you. But I am suggesting that your gifts and abilities are already present – what God is giving you is something different – each according to your ability. The master gives “his possessions” – and I am suggesting this is the grace of God. You are given the grace of wisdom to know the breadth and depth of your existing talents. You are given the grace of insight to know the time and place when your gifts can be used to build up the Body of Christ. You are given the grace of fortitude to take that deep breath and step out of the comfort zone, the grace of perseverance to hope all things, belief all things, and bear all things. You are given grace that will dress your gifts and abilities in charity, in compassion, and more. This grace infuses you and the gifts you already possess. It is the grace of God that leverages and multiplies your gifts to accomplish tremendous things; tremendous things; things beyond our imagining. Things that touch hearts, minds, and lives in ways we can’t always imagine, and may never know.
We only have to remember the stories of our own life, the way our hearts, minds, and loves have been touched – and how often is it that the one who was the instrument of God’s grace that day never knew the impact they had upon you. Sometime in the early 1980s I attended by first Easter Vigil mass. For the first time I heard the Exultet sung. In earlier years, they skipped singing the Exultet, this marvelous rendering of God’s grace and power in the history of salvation – there was no one to sing it. The pastor asked around, cajoled, begged, and pleaded. His perseverance was rewarded even though the cantor did not have formal training or much experience. The pianist was modest in ability. Heck, the piano was a simple upright that probably was first played when Theodore Roosevelt was president. In our parable, maybe they all would be “one talent” kind of folks on a half-talent piano.
But behind it all was God offering a partnership: their gifts, His grace. The servants in the parable were offered the partnership; a singer and a piano player in a small country church were offered the partnership. All of us are offered the partnership. Some of us are going to see the partnership offer as an opportunity; some will see it as a burden. Some will see the risk but take a deep breath and plunge in; some will respond in fear and find a way to say “no” and risk nothing.
The singer and piano player eventually, against their good judgment said “yes.” They did not hit every note; it wasn’t perfect – but it was graced. Their music went timidly forth. The grace amplified it and smoothed it over. The result was a mighty torrent that touched hearts and changes lives.
This parable serves to remind us that we live in a world we do not create; we receive blessings we do not earn; we use resources we do not own and our response to this generosity can either be faith or fear. The parable reminds us we are to live our lives as a way of receiving, of multiplying, of letting go, and yes, of taking risks. We are reminded that we worship a God who is willing to invest in us. We worship a God who is willing to make a bet and take a risk – to hand over His possessions: grace beyond imagining.
Your talents – God’s grace: a partnership in the making. God is all in.
Take the risk; make the bet with God’s grace.
It is perhaps the only sure thing in this life and the next.