This parable begins with a Greek preposition which establishes a very close connection with the precedent parable. It could be read as such: «and here is another example...» The precedent parable deals with the wise virgins whose virtue is vigilance. Therefore the background and the context of the parable of the talents is one of vigilance.
Like in the parable of the wise virgins, the master (the bridegroom) comes back and rewards those who have been vigilant; on the other hand, he punishes the negligent ones. His return coincides with the Final Judgement which is the topic of the following pericope in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Between the time when the master leaves and the time he returns, there is a long time: this is the time of the Church, this is the time of repentance.
When the master leaves, he hands over to us spiritual gifts: the talenta яliterally a sum of money of 1,000 silver pieces. Because of the usage of the word «talent» in modern languages, we have lost this sense of divine gifts. All gifts given to us by God have a spiritual purpose: to make us to return to Him, to grow spiritually that we may repent and be found worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. These spiritual gifts are not ours: they belong to God. We are entrusted with them; it is a deposit. They are distributed according to the strength of each one of us, according to our abilities, acording to our vocation. Nothing is given to us that we cannot work with it. Our duty as children of God is to make these spiritual gifts multiply, to make them grow to perfection.
Perfection? What does it mean? It does not matter if we have five, two or only one gift. The man with five talenta had them doubled in number; the one with two talenta did the same. Is the latter inferior to the former? No. The one with five talenta had the strength and the vocation to work with five; while the man with two talenta was made to work only with two gifts. Each one is a full person. The Master treats them in the same way. If the one with one talenton had been vigilant, he would have doubled it and would have been treated equally by the Lord. Perfection does not mean many gifts. A single gift can make you a saint, even a very small gift that most people would not even consider. Consider for example the life of these very simple saints like St Euphrosynus the Cook яor more recently, in the Latin Church, Ste Thèrése de Lisieux.
What makes us saints is perfect, absolute submission to the Will of God. This can be achieved with many gifts or a single one. The result is the same. It can be understanding the Scriptures, having much possessions and distributing them, having humility and love, etc. Gifts are lost if they are not for us the means to achieve perfect submission to the Will of God.
Therefore we are really living in a time of Repentance. Christian Life is a struggle which is nothing else than the path to Repentance. Repentance [metanoia] means change. It can be a change of mind; it can be a change of life; it is always struggling to change ourselves and become Christlike. Before all, it is abandoning the «I know better» of the world. It is recognizing our dependence on God, that which Adam refused to do. It is confessing our limits, our infirmities and our weaknesses, turning away from the pride of the world.
Let us turn to the man with one talenton: what does he do? He buries his talent in the ground, in other words: he buries it in worldly business. He does not seek spiritual benefit. He cares only for his own earthly profit. What happened to this man who had one talenton? He was afraid of taking a risk. He was afraid of following Christ, loosing his own life. And therefore he condemns himself: «I knew that you were a hard master...» He was afraid of life divine but he was not afraid of idols: a life of pleasures in the world, thinking as the Psalmist says: «God will not know...» It is a question of life and death as the parable reveals it to us: we must make a choice. Christian life is a choice. Love is a choice. It is even more than a choice: it is a risk.
Finally we must remember that we are not alone in this pilgrimage. We are the Church. And to us as Church God hands over spiritual gifts. The Greek word for «hand over» is [paradidomi] which means literally «to transmit»: it has given the word «tradition». As a community, as the Church we must struggle also. What do we do with that which has been given to us? With the Tradition? Do we hide it? Like the lamp that we put under the bed or in a closet? Do we bury it? Like the man with the one talenton? Or do we confess it?
Like the Virgins, like the men with the talenta, we do not know when He will come. We can turn away and die. Or we can make the choice of love and take the risk to live. Our only and sure goal is absolute submission to the Will of God. It does not mean resignation or passivity. It means to be bold like strugglers and abandoned like children.
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