A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs a the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!
But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
Jesus told this parable to his disciples: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who, before 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.'"
At first sight, this parable suggests that the third servant took a prudent course of action, "I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown." The scribes and Pharisees, towards whom it was directed, would argue like this, "God demands perfection; the Law expresses his will; only a scrupulous observance of the Law offers security." But according to Jesus, God's way is different: He wants an abundant harvest, and salvation comes to those who are prepared to risk their all for him. A talent is given to bear fruit, not to lie in the bank, unused. It may seem prudent not to risk, but in the end it is not what God expects of us.
We know that different people have very different abilities. A person with a gift for listening to others may not have the skill to be a good administrator. Someone who is able to mend a leak or fix a washing machine might have no musical ability. An effective teacher may be a hopeless mechanic. We learn from experience who is good at what, and we hire people accordingly, entrusting people with tasks in proportion to their ability. We also learn from experience what our own abilities are, and our limitations, and we tend to take on tasks that are possible for us and avoid tasks that are not.
The rich man in today's parable knew the abilities of each of his servants. Before setting out on his journey he entrusted his property to each in proportion to his ability. He only gave as much responsibility to each of them as they could bear. The one who got five talents of money was capable of making it grow by five more; the one entrusted with two talents was capable of earning two more; the one who got one talent could have made one more.
The first two servants worked according to their ability. The third did not, and just gave back the one talent he had been given, instead of the extra he was capable of gaining. What held him back from working according to his ability was fear. "I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground."
We may find ourselves in some sympathy with the third servant, because, deep down, we are aware how fear can hold us back and keep us from doing what we are capable of. Fear is a more powerful force in the lives of some than others. There can be many reasons for this. Those who have experienced a lot of criticism growing up can develop a fearful approach to life. There is afamiliar Irish proverb, Mol an oige agus tiochfaid siad. Praise the young and they will grow. The converse can also true. Blame the young and you hold them back. Unfair criticism can stunt our growth and prevent us from reaching our potential. We hide our talent in the ground. There it can remain safe but useless.
Jesus knew of the disabling power of fear in people's lives. It is lovely how often he tells people, "Do not be afraid." When Peter fell down on his knees saying, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man," Jesus told him, "Do not be afraid, from now on you will fish for people." When fear threatened to hold Peter back, Jesus called him into a new phase of his life. Jesus wants to be present to us all to release us from our fears.
We have each been graced by the Lord for the service of others. If I hide the talents the Lord has given me, others are thereby deprived. Most of us need some encouragement to place our gifts at the disposal of others. Part of our Christian vocation is to give others courage, to encourage them. A couple of verses beyond where today's second reading ends, Paul writes: "Build each other up, as indeed you are doing." In these difficult times for the church, the ministry of encouragement is vital. Now is not the time to hide the Good News in the ground out of fear. Rather, it is a time to encourage each other to share this treasure so that the church may become all that God is calling it to be.
The parable reminds us that we all have talents. Maybe not spectacular or dramatic like other people who get national or international acclaim; just ordinary, but nevertheless important. Experts say that the average person uses only a fraction of their talents. Here are three statements to think about:
1. "I weep that there are so many missed opportunities for comforting, so many smiles withheld, hands untouched, kind words unspoken." (from Sheila Cassidy's Sharing the Darkness)
2. "They also serve who only stand and wait." (John Milton: On His Blindness **)
3. "Take the talent from him and give it to the one with five". In other words "use it or lose it". (Jesus)
One of the main reasons why people do not use their talents is because they have been belittled in the past. To belittle is to put someone down, to make them feel small, lessen their sense of self worth. There are many ways of demeaning another person: cynicism, sarcasm, non-appreciation, taking for granted. The antidote to belittle is to lift people up, to encourage them to value themselves. (John O'Connell)
Milton, On His Blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which 'tis death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd?"
I fondly ask. But patience to prevent
that murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his State
is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
and post o'er Land and Ocean without rest.
They also serve who only stand and wait."