You may have heard someone or some people say they were mad at God; maybe, you are, too. Someone once complained: “God, you told us to ask and we shall receive. I’ve been asking for years that I should win the state lottery, but you have turned a deaf ear to my prayer.” That night, she heard God loud and clear. “My daughter,” God replied, “please do me a favor and buy the lottery ticket.” [This is not intended as a promotional for the state lottery, rather an advice: ‘If you wanna win, you gotta play; that’s how it works’]. You can’t just wish for stuff to happen and then sit on your hands. God isn’t going to spoon-feed you, give you a nice shower and tuck you to bed. You must apply yourself.
Experts say that majority of humans use as little as only 10 percent of their natural endowments. Imagine how much better we’ll be if we tried to apply half of our talent. Would you buy a car that operates at 10 percent of its capacity? Talents are given to be used and not abused, hidden away, locked inside our hutch, or buried in a clean cloth. Today’s parable asks us to be positive, be proactive, take action and avoid fearful or lazy inaction. As an eschatological parable, heaven is presented as the prize for our stewardship of God’s gifts, not idle faith. [The motif of this story coupled with the use of the word “talent” in the storyline led to the revision in English language of the use of the term “talent” to describe natural ability or endowment. Talent originally meant “a measure of weight”]. A talent, as used in the passage, is equivalent to 15 years’ wage—thus a huge sum. Not a single one of us is without a talent, which we ought to put to use by making the choice to apply ourselves.
The Master in today’s parable praises the first and second servants for using their talent but reprimands the third for inaction, which he described as wicked and lazy. But let’s examine this sad man who received one talent. From the beginning of the story, we learn that he isn’t a genius but a man of little ability. Therefore, the Master, not wanting to leave him empty-handed, gives him only one talent, corresponding to his ability. Observe that his gift is small, making his task the easiest and his responsibility the least. His neglect is therefore reckoned most inexcusable. About him, Fulton Sheen says that the refusal to help because we cannot be leaders; the refusal to do anything out of the miserable fear of being mediocre or because we cannot do much is what is called in spirituality—acedia or spiritual laziness. Acedia impoverishes life at its core, resulting in tepidity about loving God and neighbor. Laziness in doing good is equivalent to premature death. To withhold or neglect any help we can give because it won’t be much is to cuddle misery and hopelessness. Today’s neglect cannot be compensated tomorrow without neglecting tomorrow’s work. If violence slays thousands, supine negligence slays even millions (Sheen).
Are you a young man who would love to be a priest but afraid you cannot preach like Fulton Sheen? Do you love to sing but won’t join the choir because you’re afraid you’re not gifted with a golden voice like Celine Dion? These do-nothings are usually the first to wickedly complain about how horribly the choir sings or how badly priests preach. Like the lazy servant, they become wicked the moment they start blaming or blurting off accusations, like: “I know you’re a demanding man.” The sharp rebuke against the lazy servant is a warning to us that if we leave our garden untended it would be overgrown with weeds. Also, we never receive new graces until we have used up those we have.
Did you notice that the Master rewarded the servants not in proportion to the extra talents they made? Rather, because they made effort, each received the same compliment: “Well done...enter into your Master’s joy” (Matt 25:21). Booker T. Washington is quoted as saying: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position one reached in life as by the obstacles one overcame while trying to succeed.” Apply yourself, use your talent in gratitude to the Giver; the Lord will grant you increase, and reward your generous effort.
Fr. Jo Chukwudi Okonkwo