For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.
In the last reflection, we made an analogy to life, and it’s end, like a student going to college and then graduating and going on to something bigger. Continuing on the college analogy, everyone who goes to college studies something different. Of course, many students have the same major, but if you put together majors, minors, and electives, almost no two students have the exact same course of study. Factor in extracurricular activities and we’ll see that each journey through college is probably unique. What is the same is that people finish and graduate.
Life works in the same fashion. Each of us is on a unique journey. I’m not the only Orthodox priest in the world. I might not be the only Orthodox priest who was ordained on May 15, 1998—perhaps another priest was ordained that day. I am definitely not the only Orthodox priest who grew up in the Los Angeles area. However, I am the only Orthodox priest who grew up in the Los Angeles area who was ordained on May 15, 1998, and who serves in Tampa, is married with one child, loves yard work, and who writes every day. This story is unique to me.
One of the guiding Scripture passages for my life is Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. The parable begins with Jesus telling His Disciples: “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” In this parable, the “talent” is a large sum of money, what one would expect to earn in ten years. Each of the three servants was entrusted something. They each got something different, no one was the same. If one talent is ten years’ worth of earnings, even the one who received the least still received something substantial. The most significant word here is the word “entrusted”—these talents were not given, they were entrusted, they were loaned. The three servants were not owners, but stewards. A steward is a temporary caretaker, one who takes care of what he or she has received.
This parable should speak to each of us. Each of us has been given something substantial to offer the world. This includes our talents (our abilities), our opportunities, the people we meet, even our very life itself. Each of us will have different abilities, opportunities, people and lifespan. It is important to remember that whatever we have is actually a loan, something we are entrusted temporarily. No matter what I do with what I have been given, whether I double it, as did the servant with the five talents and the servant with the two talents, or whether I bury it in the ground, as did the servant with the one talent, at some point, the Master (the Lord) will return and ask me what I did with what He had entrusted me.
If you read on in this parable (Matthew 25:14-30), the master was equally happy with the man who started with five and made ten talents, as he was with the one who had two and made four talents. He didn’t ask the man who started with two why did he not end up with ten. He did, however, question (and punish) the man who had the one talent for wasting what he had been given.
The goal of life is not to live to reach a certain age. It is to see everything we have that is good as a gift from God and to use what we have been given to glorify God and serve others. And what we have been given, in very basic form, is our life today. I’m not entitled to anything, and certainly am not entitled to live to be 80 or 90 or 100 or whatever society considers a good life. What we should be more concerned with is what God considers to be a good life, a Godly life. We should be grateful for today. We should use our talents each day. And if the end comes when we are 40 or 70 or 100, we can rest assured that we’ve done our best and if we’ve done our best, what more can God ask from us?
When a clergyman passes away, there is a special prayer that is offered by the Bishop at his funeral. It speaks to death as being a great equalizer and the common destiny for everyone. It begins:
We thank You, O Lord our God, for Your life alone is immortal, and Your glory is incomprehensible, and Your mercy immeasurable, and Your love for mankind inexpressible, and Your reign without succession, and with You, Lord, there is no partiality towards persons; for You have required all men to pay the same debt when the full measure of their life has been completed. (Prayer by a Bishop for a Departed Priest, p. 237, The Priest’s Service Book, Translated from the original Greek by Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, published by the author in Merrillville, Indiana, 1989)
In a world that seems obsessed with equality, the Lord reminds us through this prayer and through the parable of the talents that it is not longevity that the Lord cares about, but good stewardship over what we’ve been given to take care of. In the same vein, it is not about how much we end up having, but how much we do with what we’ve been blessed with. And third, it reminds us that indeed we are stewards, we are temporary caretakers. God has invested in each of us, and He wants a good return on His investment. We won’t all be blessed with 100 years of life—each one’s life will be for a different span. What matters most is making the most of the life you have, beginning with the unique talents and circumstances that God provides for your life, and making the most of each gift, each day, even each moment.
Finally, each person’s gifts are different. Some are doctors, some are teachers, some are parents, some are plumbers. What would the world be like if we had no sanitation workers to pick up the garbage? We would all die pretty quickly. There certainly would be no need for doctors. What if there were no truck drivers? Food wouldn’t get to the grocery store, supplies wouldn’t get to doctors, medicines would not get to pharmacies. While many parents wish for their children to be doctors or lawyers, the truth is that we need all kinds of people doing all kinds of things to make the world function in a way that is healthy and viable. Rather than focus on what we do for a career, how much money we make and even how long we live, we need to focus on what we do with what we’ve been given, beginning with how we use this day.
Let Thy steadfast love come to me, O Lord, Thy salvation according to Thy promise; then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in Thy word. And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in Thy ordinances. I will keep Thy law continually, forever and ever; and I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought Thy precepts. I will also speak of Thy testimonies before kings, and shall not be put to shame; for I find my delight in Thy commandments which I love. I revere Thy commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Thy statutes. Psalm 119:41-48
It’s not how many days you have, but what you do with the days you have.