Top Ten Principles about Talents
Top Ten Principles about Talents
I’m going to read a sentence and I’ll be you’ll be able to finish the next sentence. “He's making a list and checking it twice; Gonna find out who's naughty and nice….Santa Claus is comin' to town.” I share this today, not because Christmas was a little over a month ago. Rather, I share it because Santa is not the only who makes a list. We all make lists: grocery lists, to-do lists, wish lists, check lists, and bucket lists. Did I forget any lists? I know--what I just gave you: a list of lists! We like lists. Why? Because they help us get organized and then it’s easier to get things done. Sometimes we need lists because it’s hard to remember everything. During one of the last classes of the Orthodoxy Catechism course, I try to teach students how to take many of the spiritual practices they’ve learned and apply them to their lives. I give them a list and I call it the “Top Ten for Living the Orthodox Faith.” Some of you may remember I made this into a sermon series a few years ago.
Today, I’m going to give you another top ten list. It’s about today’s Gospel reading from the 16th Sunday of Matthew 25:14-30 in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents. I am interrupting our sermon series about Worship and Liturgy because this Gospel passage is somewhat rare in the Orthodox lectionary. It’s only selected when Pascha, the Feast of the Resurrection falls later in the Spring. Thus, today is only the fifth time in the last twenty years that we have heard it read in the Sunday liturgy. So, let us begin with the Top Ten Principles about the Talents.
First, this parable, and many before it in the Gospel of Matthew, make references to the Kingdom of Heaven: what it is like, what it will be, or to what shall it be compared to (v.1). These stories that Jesus tells are illustrating the qualities and characteristics of heaven. Yet, they are not just referring to a future kingdom but a potential kingdom that can exist in the here and now.
Second, what is a talent (to talanto, ta talanta)? A Greek coin with a value of 5,000 – 6,000 denarii (denari = Roman silver coin equivalent to a day’s wages of a common laborer). Thus, one talent = 15 years wages of a laborer. On one hand it can represent property, money and material wealth. On the other hand, it is symbolic for something of great value.
Lev Gillet, (better known by his pen name: A Monk of the Eastern Orthodox Church) explains in his book, ‘The Year of the Grace of the Lord’, “The goods which the master entrusts to his servants signify all the natural gifts granted by God to his creatures: health, intelligence, riches, etc. All these exist through God and for God; we are no more than keepers charged with administering these divine assets. But the talents signify, above all, the supernatural gifts, the communication of divine life to men and the graces with which we are showered at every instant.”
Furthermore, the Apostle Paul, speaking about spiritual gifts (pneumatikwn) says, “4 There are diversities of gifts [xarismata], but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries [diakoniwn], but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities [energematwn], but it is the same God who works all in all. (1Corinthians 12:4-6). He gives a list of possible talents: wisdom, knowledge (v.8), faith, healing (v.9), miracles, prophecy, discernment (v.10). In practical terms, he analogizes the Church as the Body of Christ in which one person represents the hand, another the foot, another the eye and yet another the ear. He articulates another list of various roles or talents: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helpers, and administrators (v.28). In his letter to the Romans chapter 12, Paul gives yet another list that includes: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership and mercy (vv.6-8).
Third, everyone is given at least one talent (vv.14-15). Thus, we should never think or believe that God our Master has forgotten about us and didn’t give us even one single gift. Each one of us has been entrusted with at least one gift that is very valuable. The implicit message is that each one of us is very valuable in God’s eyes and that He trusts us! Our job in life is first to discover our talent(s) and second to use and multiply it. In the life of the Church, our job is to help others discover, use and multiply their talent(s).
Fourth, God has given more gifts to some than others each according to his or her ability (v.15). Therefore, we should not be looking at other people’s talents and wishing we could have their talents or we could have the same number if we have less. Likewise, we should not look down on or judge others because we have more talents. God has given us exactly what we need: no more, no less, each according to our ability.
Fifth, we are expected to be productive and use our talents to multiply them (vv.16-17). The only way to have more gifts and talents, is to use the one(s) God has entrusted to us. As many of us know, to build a retirement fund or other assets, involves investing money in stocks, annuities, bonds or similar. Larger yields or dividends involve more risk. The same is true with the gifts and talents God has given us. When we use them in doing God’s work, we risk that we might suffer loss, rejection or persecution. The one thing we cannot do is play it safe. In the parable, the servant who was condemned, took no risk by burying his one and only talent.
Sixth, at some point in the future we must give an account for what’s been placed in our care. What did we do with our gift and talent and what did we do with the fruits or proceeds that it brought forth? I think this describes our death, our departure from this life. We will not take any of the possessions with us. At that point they will be returned to the master. However, this accounting also happens whenever we are asked to give to someone in need or some charitable organization or purpose--the Church included--that helps other people. Will be like the person with the ten talents and the one with four talents who freely give everything to its rightful owner—that is the one who needs it most (vv.20,22)?
Seventh, joy in this life does not come from how much we have. Rather, it comes from what we do with how much or how little we have. Good management through self-discipline helps us be productive. We are more inclined to share what we have when we understand and accept that we are just stewards or caretakers, not owners, of what God has entrusted to us. We Christians call that stewardship. If I can learn to be generous with others, even if I only have one talent, that determines if I will be entrusted with more talents and gifts. Entering into the joy of our master implies that our heart is already in a condition of joy, full of generosity, free from possessiveness and laziness (vv.21,23).
Eighth, our perception and attitude towards God affects how we live. Ask yourself, do I see God has someone who is harsh and ruthless or has someone who is generous, loving and forgiving? Having the fear of God means that we respond to Him with respect and obedience. It does not mean that we cower waiting for Him to punish us. Fear of God or anyone else is not healthy when our life is inhibited and stilted from fulfilling your potential (v.24-25).
Ninth, idleness and laziness (v.26) imply a self-centeredness that is wasteful of God’s gifts (v.27). When Jesus says, “Take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.” (v.28) and “For to everyone who has will more be given, and He will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (v.29), He is saying that our wicked, slothful attitudes will cause us to want to consume and possess more, to be jealous and covet more. It’s like having an attitude of entitlement in which we think we deserve certain things. On the other hand, generosity and productiveness give us satisfaction and fulfillment, contentment and peace with what we already have.
Tenth, in managing what God has given us, our productiveness (or lack thereof) will affect our salvation, our eternal standing with God. “Outer darkness” (v.30) is symbolic language meaning ‘separation from God and other people.’ It stands in opposition to the “joy of your Lord” (vv.21,23) that represents communion with God and each other.
In conclusion I want everyone to set aside some time and make a list. Think very carefully about what God has given you. He has given everything that you have but concentrate on talents and gifts. It might be one or more of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, teaching, helping, administrating, ministry, exhortation/encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy. Maybe God has blessed you with a lot of money and wealth. Now think about how you are managing that one, two or five talents.
This might help you understand better: Your baptismal robe/garment/outfit that signified your new life in Christ. Where is it? It’s probably in a box, in a closet buried under many other boxes collecting dust. Now think of your faith in God, including your practice of that faith: do you actively practice the life and teachings of Christ? Or are they buried somewhere collecting dust? We probably cannot put on our baptismal clothes anymore, but we can put on the robe of righteousness and faith in God, even if it includes only one talent. And by sharing this spiritual robe, we can help produce more faith, more trust and more righteousness in order to make God’s Kingdom on earth ever present and more powerful. Amen!