The 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is the main focus of the Service of the Bridegroom on Holy Monday evening. The chapter is divided into three parts. The first thirteen verses are the parable of the ten maidens, which is the genesis of the Hymn of the Bridegroom, which we have previously discussed. Verses 14-30 are the Parable of the Talents, which we will discuss in this reflection. And verses 31-46 are teaching on the final judgment, which we will discuss in the next reflection.
The Parable of the Talents is about a man who was going on a journey and entrusted his property to three servants. One servant was entrusted five talents, one was entrusted two talents and the other was entrusted one talent. While there are many lessons from the entirety of the parable, there are two specific lessons even from its first five verses.
First, the talents were “entrusted.” They were not given. They were loaned. They still belonged to their owner. This is important. The owner of the property is, of course, God. The servants are each of us. Let’s say, just to use contemporary terms, that I loaned you my house for a month. There are innumerable possibilities of what could happen with the house. First, there is the possibility that you might not come to the house at all. You’d hold my key for the month, and give it back to me when I returned. I’d come back to find my house dusty, with an overgrown lawn, and if the air conditioning had not been on, it would probably feel pretty stale. Second, there is the possibility that you move into the house for a month, invite your friends over every night for a party and trash the place, so that when I return there are holes in the walls, stains on the carpets, and repairs that need to be made before I can inhabit it again. Third, there is the possibility that you maintain what I’ve given you—you enjoy the house, keep it clean, mow the lawn, etc. And fourth, there is the possibility that you return the house to me better than you found it. Perhaps you repaint a room (the same color only a fresh coat), trim the bushes that are overgrown, pressure wash the driveway, and buy a few new dishes for the kitchen. Considering you lived in the house rent-free for a month, this would not cost that much money (much less than rent) or time (a couple of days tops) and you’d return the home to me better than you found it.
This is how it is with the talents we’ve been entrusted by God. He loans us not only talents but time. He loans us life. We don’t own life. Because something that is owned stays with us forever. Life is not forever, not on this earth. There are the same four possibilities with our lives that there were with the example of being loaned a house for a month. First, we can do nothing with our lives. We can spend them on the couch playing video games, or at the beach relaxing. Second, we can do something destructive with our lives. We can harm others, we can end up in jail, we can be an alcoholic or drug addict. Third, we can maintain a life—get by at a job, look out for ourselves and not much else. Or fourth, we can invest in life. We can go all out at our jobs, we can be dedicated to our families, we can be generous and find time to help others. We can somehow leave our corner of the world better than we found it. Obviously, this is what God wants. Just like the servants who were loaned the talents did, we will choose how we want to invest what we’ve been given. And there should be an understanding at all times that one day, the master, our Lord, will call in the loan, and will want to see what we did with the time and the talent He gave to us.
So, the first lesson of the parable focuses on the word “entrusted.” All we have is a loan. And there will be a reckoning for what we did with what we were given.
The second lesson of the parable is that all three servants were given something different, but they were all given something. A “talent” at the time of Jesus, was an amount of money equivalent to what a person could expect to earn in ten years. So the person with five talents basically was loaned the amount of money he could expect to earn in a lifetime. Let’s say that the annual salary is $100,000 using round numbers. This was like entrusting him with $5 million dollars. That’s a lot of money! Even the servant with the one talent, let’s say $1 million dollars in today’s money, received a lot of money. One million dollars can do a lot of things. So, it’s not like he was given nothing.
Each of those servants made a choice to do something with what they had been given. Two of them went and invested what they had and doubled what they were given. The other was afraid, perhaps lazy (afraid of working), and did nothing with what he had been given. Many times in life, we will look at the things others have and wonder why we don’t have those things. Instead of doing this, we should focus on doing the best with what we have been given. Because we’ve each been given something unique. None of us has received nothing.
The hymn we are reflecting on is based on this parable of the talents. In it we hear, “let us increase the talent of grace.” A “talent of grace.” Have you ever thought of anything you have, both your time and your talent, as a gift of “grace” from God? As we hear in the hymn, “let one be graced with wisdom through good works.” That means that some of us will be graced with great wisdom and if that is our gift, we need to focus on doing good works with the things we acquire because of our wisdom. “Let another celebrate a service of splendor.” This might include being able to celebrate the Divine Services for the one who is a priest. The one who is a teacher can have splendid lesson plans, the restaurant owner can have a splendid menu of food and a festive atmosphere. You get the idea—whatever service we offer should be offered in splendor. Also, we should fight against the inclination to complain that what we have differs from what others have. Personally, I am blessed to be able to celebrate what I hope are services of splendor. I will never be able to operate a restaurant with a splendid menu—that is not my gift. Therefore, I shouldn’t be jealous of the restauranteur, and the restauranteur should not be jealous of me. Rather, we should celebrate, with splendor, the unique gifts we have each been given. For as the hymn says, if “we shall increase what is entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of His grace, we may be worthy of the Master’s joy.”
O my soul, you have heard the condemnation of him who hid his talent; likewise, do not hide away the word of God. Proclaim His wonders, so that, abounding in grace, You may enter into the joy of your Lord. (Praises, Bridegroom Service, Holy Monday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Understand that everything we have is on loan from God. Let us use what we have been given with joy. And let us focus on increasing the grace of what has been entrusted specifically to us, rather than being frustrated or upset over the graces that have been offered to others.