Today’s Gospel is St. Luke’s version of the parable of the talents. One interpretation of that parable – perhaps the most common one – is that the parable is a warning to those who do not use their gifts in life. (Our understanding of the word “talent” in English contributes to that interpretation.) And I think that is a good and useful interpretation – one I often speak about when talking about recognizing our giftedness and using our gifts on behalf of the building of God’s kingdom.
We are each given a unique set of gifts by God. And not using those gifts is an act of real ingratitude. So under this reading, this parable invites us to recognize our gifts, to own them, and to use them for the greater glory of God.
But it is worth considering whether the parable has more for us to reflect on.
John Donohue in The Gospel in Parable suggests that the real problem with the third servant was his timidity. “It was timidity that spelled his downfall, which was not warranted by anything known directly about the master.”
Similarly, Gerhard Lohfink suggests that the parable means that the reign of God requires people who go for broke.
The master who goes away is now the exalted Christ. When he returns he will demand a reckoning from each according to his or her abilities. The accounting given by the slaves is thus the judgment of the world. Whoever withstands the judgment receives a share in the eternal banquet of joy (“enter into the joy of your master”). But those, like the third slave, who do not withstand the judgment, will lose everything and will be thrown into the outermost darkness….
Jesus is talking about the plan God has for the world. He speaks of the new thing God wants to create in the midst of the old society. This, God’s cause, Jesus says, will not succeed with cowardice, with people who are immovable, who are constantly trying to make themselves secure, who would rather delay than act. God’s new society only succeeds with people who are ready to risk, who put everything on the table, who go for broke and become “perpetrators” with ultimate decisiveness.
In a related vein that broadens the lesson somewhat, John Buchanan suggests that “The greatest risk of all is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently.”
As you pray with this parable, what is the lesson God hopes you will draw from it?