"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' -Matthew 25:14-30
John of the Cross wrote that "In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone." The two servants in this parable, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of sheer foolhardiness, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master's wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point, and like sinning against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:32) the poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness for clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground. John Wesley comments, "So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation."
Hidden dangers may include missing the point through carefulness (meditation one) or mistaking what's called for (meditation two), or worse, putting God under a mattress to "protect" the Holy from adventures in love and inclusion (meditation three).
May you find yourself adventurously loving, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) fully alive
Recently, a friend of mine wrote me about an experience some years ago that had changed her life. She had gone to an artist’s studio to have her portrait drawn. The artist took his time, asking her a number of questions aimed at drawing her out. Eventually he asked her what she feared most. Her first answer was nuclear war. She mentioned that she had repeatedly had nightmares about nuclear holocaust.
But the artist said, "No, I don't believe you. That can’t be right. Something more personal."
Nancy thought and thought. Finally it dawned on her. "What I fear most is getting to the end of my life and realizing that I had been too fearful -- too careful -- that I never really used my talents."
"That's it," the artist said.
-Robert Ellsberg Sermon, St. Augustine's Church, Croton-on-Hudson November 12-13, 2005
I must confess that in my misery it was the overwhelming sense of my disgrace rather than any ardour for conversion to the religious life that drove me to seek the seclusion of the monastic cloister. Hèloise had already, at my bidding, taken the veil and entered a convent. Thus it was that we both put on the sacred garb, I in the abbey of St. Denis, and she in the convent of Argenteuil, of which I have already spoken...
[Heloise did] go forthwith to the altar, and lifted therefrom the veil, which had been blessed by the bishop, and before them all she took the vows of the religious life. For my part, scarcely had I recovered from my wound when clerics sought me in great numbers, endlessly beseeching both my abbot and me myself that now, since I was done with learning for the sake of gain or renown, I should turn to it for the sole love of God. They bade me care diligently for the talent which God had committed to my keeping (Matthew, xxv, 15), since surely He would demand it back from me with interest. It was their plea that, inasmuch as of old I had laboured chiefly in behalf of the rich, I should now devote myself to the teaching of the poor. Therein above all should I perceive how it was the hand of God that had touched me, when I should devote my life to the study of letters in freedom from the snares of the flesh and withdrawn from the tumultuous life of this world. Thus, in truth, should I become a philosopher less of this world than of God.
-Peter Abelard 1079-1142 Historia Calamitatum, chapter 8
Abelard and Heloise, Illustration from 14th century manuscript, Roman de la Rose
Man Digging, 15th century Italian miniaturist
Meditation Two (insight) maybe not what you think
When the poet anguishes about not being able to use his God-given talent "which is death to hide" Patience appears to gently convince him that God doesn't need his gifts, there are many thousands of others all over the world to work at the King's bidding. Instead, Patience says, bear this mild yoke, because perhaps this kind of surrender also serves God in some mysterious way. On His Blindness
When I consider how my light is spent, Ere half my days in this dark world and wide, And that one talent which is death to hide Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, lest He returning chide, 'Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?' I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent That murmur, soon replies, 'God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed, And post o'er land and ocean without rest; They also serve who only stand and wait.'
-John Milton 1608-1674 Sonnet XIX
Meditation Three (integration) under the mattress
The tragedy is that many people are afraid of losing or endangering God and so seek to protect God from adventures, to resist attempts at radical inclusion that might, they fear, compromise God's purity and holiness. Protecting God is a variant of not trusting God. Matthew wants his hearers to share God's adventure of inclusiveness. God is bigger than our religious industry. Sometimes we find God is pulling in great profits in areas which we had deemed beyond God's interests. It is a fascinating thing to have God compared to the entrepreneurial multimillionaire. "God's mercy never ends" is a way of saying grace has capital, love is rich. We need to encourage people to stop putting God under the mattress. As we begin to trust allowing God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change. There are rich pickings, so to speak, and the harvest is ripe.
So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation!
-John Wesley 1703-1791 Wesley's Notes on the Bible
The Last Word
"He that had received one" - made his having fewer talents than others a pretense for not improving any. Went and hid his master's money - Reader, art thou doing the same? Art thou hiding the talent God hath lent thee?
-John Wesley 1703-1791 Wesley's Notes on the Bible
On the Couch
This parable scares me more than all the other parables and Biblical admonitions put together. It makes me curl into a ball on the couch with a blanket over my head.
I do not believe in the Last Judgment – at least not in the way people often think Christians believe in one – with a humorless white haired judge on a throne separating the sheep from the goats, that is, one denomination against another, or one religion against another, or whatever group needs a group against which to elevate themselves.
But I don't need to believe in a hateful judgment. I am my own merciless judge.
I see myself as the slave in the parable of the talents, who buried what was given him, and, summoned before the master, admits his failure to risk investing it as the other slaves had done with so much success. I look at my life and send myself to the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Or, at least to the couch.
The only salve for this trap of doomed perfectionism, misplaced ambition, and self-hatred are other scriptures. The parable of the lost sheep is helpful. The character of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night and later helps bury Jesus is another. I take comfort in Dismas, the thief on the cross next to Jesus who said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And in next week's Gospel, on the feast of the Reign of Christ, where the judge separates the unfortunate goats from the sheep, we hear the righteous being welcomed into the kingdom. They ask with perplexity, Excuse me, but “when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'”(Matthew 25:37-40)
All I can hope is that once or twice I did something kind and forgot about it. But the main point is that I'm not the judge of that.