A second homily on Matthew 25:15-30: the Parable of the talents
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I have already commented this parable five years ago, and the text was put on the webpage of the parish. This parable is part of the Gospel of Saint Matthew dealing with the Coming of the Kingdom, which is the time of the Church, or in other words, the time of repentance. You may not remember, but I had stressed two facts:
1) This parable comes immediately after the parable of the wise virgins. The context is clear: we are asked to be vigilant. To watch.
2) The talenta: literally it is a sum of money of 1,000 siylver pieces. Here it signifies the spiritual gifts given to us by God at Baptism. In modern usage the word “talent” means ability, capability. We lost the sense that it has a spiritual purpose. Our duty as children of God is to make these spiritual gifts multiply.
Today, I invite you to look closely at the “How?”: How to make these gifts grow? Two things are clear.
1) If you do not work at developing Life in Christ in you, the Holy Spirit will leave you, as it happens to the third servant.
2) If you misuse the gift which was given to you, that is to say if you use it for your own sake, it will also be lost.
Here is an example. Imagine someone who is good at organization and public relation. Apparently it is for the good of the community, but in reality, this person loves to have power, or seeks only self-fulfilment, or seeks only to have fun. Where is the good? The individual will become enslaved to pride, and there will be turmoil in the group instead of communion.
Without humility first, there is no true love.
Saint Matthew gives us the answer. He says: Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you.
Notice again that the first quality of the Christian is humility. Asking, seeking and knocking: this is not the behaviour of someone who is proud and arrogant; it is the behaviour of a beggar. Whatever you do, if you do it as a beggar, you are sure to be on the right path.
There is more to it. The Fathers give us the key to interpret these words: Asking implies learning. Seeking implies love. Knocking implies self-denial.
Notice also the progression: seeking is more than asking, and knocking is the last step before entering. So learning is the first step; it teaches us humility because we recognize that we do not know; then we are able to love, and with the love of others we develop self-denial which is love without limits; it is the last step towards becoming Christ-like.
Let us look at these three steps: learning, love, self-denial.
Learning is a duty for all of us: it is studying our faith according to our abilities and strength.
1) It is done by reading the Scriptures regularly.
2) It is by having always a small book to read: some writing of a spiritual Father that you read slowly, taking the time to let the words sink in you.
3) It is by attending the services of the Church and listening carefully to the words.
Take for example the services related to the Cross. You hear often that Moses stretching his arms in the form of a Cross during the battle against Amalek is a figure of Christ on the Cross. After that, every time you read the Old Testament, you see Christ whenever Moses is mentioned. And the texts of the Old Testament take a different meaning. Same thing when you read about the wood of the tree: a reference to both the Tree of Adam and Eve, and the Tree of the Cross, the latter redeeming the former.
Learning is a process. Over the years, while becoming more and more familiar with the Scriptures, the Fathers and the Divine services. Before learning, there were things which did not make much sense; with learning, it becomes clear.
Then, you understand more and more the teachings of the Church and the Mysteries. And your prayer is nourished.
Once you are nourished, you will be able to love. Because you cannot give what you do not have. And Love is the foundation of Life in Christ. It is replacing self-love by the love of others. The prerequisite is, as I already mentioned, humility. Seeking humility is learning true love.
Take the example of a family. What is the end of the parents? To bring up their children and give them the best chances to have a good life. Out of love, they work hard, to provide food and the necessary things for the upbringing of the children. Working hard everyday is their daily goal.
However, if you forget the end, your life will feel meaningless or will become selfish. For example, if the parents work for earning more and more, or if they work out of ambition for a career, they forget the end, which was love. The daily goal, which is only a means, has become an end in itself. The children are left to themselves. Love has disappeared.
Inversely, if you remember the end but do not accomplish the daily goal, then you live in illusion. You live a lie. You talk about loving your children, but you do not have the means to bring them up properly, again for whatever selfish reason: you are either too lazy to work or are afraid of responsibilities. Or think only of having fun and a good time.
As Christians, we are in the same situation. The end of our life is the Kingdom of God; the daily goal, that is to say the means, is: Life in Christ.
Without Life in Christ, without the labour of repentance, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. You are like the parents who cannot feed their children. You go to Church, you repeat: Lord, Lord; but this is in vain: nothing is achieved because you do not work at it. You do not have Love in action.
Inversely, you may spend all your strength in repentance, trying to change yourself. But if you do it for yourself, to become perfect because you like being perfect, instead of doing it for God, then this is not Life in Christ that you do, but life for yourself only. You have no love.
Which leads us directly to self-denial. Self-denial is repentance or ascetic struggle. Following Christ is forgetting yourself as Christ did. It is always thinking of someone else before yourself. In our days of luxury, this starts be renouncing pleasure. If you pamper yourself, if you think first at your own comfort, you will miss your life. It does not mean you should look for suffering. St Gregory of Nyssa says that in ascetic discipline, it is not the suffering that is important, rather the proper functioning of the soul.
In other words, what is important when you multiply your talents is the love and the humility with which you do it.
As you see, Life in Christ goes totally against our modern logic. Life in Christ is Communion; it is neither politics nor economics. Unfortunately we obey the principles of politics and economics, and not the Gospel. You think that you can increase your talents by increasing profit, either for yourself or for a cause. To have Life in Christ, you have to renounce this. To increase spiritually and acquire the Holy Spirit, first you must decrease. Decreasing starts by selfless love and humility.
To conclude: I shall give you 3 advices. 1) Start learning seriously about your faith. If you have no self-discipline, do it with a few other people in the parish. 2) Take the time to look at what you do: you will see that most of the time you do things for your own pleasure, or out of ambition and pride. If this is the case, stop. Whatever your do, do it out of humility, for the love of someone else and not for yourself. 3) Always behave as a beggar, in all situation of life. Even when you give and help others, do it as a beggar, being thankful for the Blessings you receive.
It is difficult at the beginning. But if you take the time to learn about your faith, if you take the time to observe what you do with a critical eye, there will develop in you the gift of discernment. The, Humility, Love and Communion will become natural.
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