Anyone who has spent enough time in the working world would certainly agree that not all bosses are created equal. I worked many different jobs before entering the seminary, and in that time I worked for dozens of different people; some of them were excellent bosses, and some of them were not.
But in the parable Jesus tells this morning we encounter a boss—or the Master, as Jesus refers to him—who is quite different than anyone we would ever meet in our 9 to 5 workday. This Master, Jesus tells us, is going on a journey so he gathers the servants before him and entrusts them with everything he owns.
He gives them each a certain number of talents, expecting a return. In the end he receives a mixed response; it turns out very positive for the first two servants but disastrous for the third one. That final servant—upon the Master’s return—comes forward and says:
Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
A demanding person. Harvesting where he did not plant, gathering where he did not scatter. Not a very positive picture, is it? But is it an accurate one? Is this what the Master is all about, or is there something more?
The picture Jesus paints for us of the Master is quite different than the one the servant describes. In fact, I would suggest that there are three things worth noting about the Master in the Parable of the Talents, three things that the last servant would have been wise to consider before he went and buried his talent in the ground.
Firstly, the Master is one who has an intimate knowledge of the servants he is in charge of. Jesus says that he:
Called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability.
To each according to his ability. This is a Master who knows his servants. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, what they can do and what they can’t. He gives them exactly what they need and exactly what they can handle, “each according to his ability.” God knows us intimately. One of the most comforting psalms in the Bible, Psalm 139, puts it this way:
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
That is intimacy; that is how God knows us. The amount of faith we have been given right now in our lives is exactly what we need and exactly what we can handle. The question we need to ask is: Are we living out that gift of faith? Is our faith bearing fruit in our lives and in the lives of the people around us?
Secondly, the Master is one who has an incredible trust in the ones he has chosen. Jesus tells us that the Master gave the servants the talents and then simply went away. He does not stay around to micro-manage the servants or check up on them every five minutes. He trusts them to do what is right and just with the talents he gave them.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that our freedom is one of the things that makes us most like God; our ability to make correct choices, to be creative in responding to the initiative of God’s grace. Each of us will live out our faith differently; each of us will share our faith in a unique way with the people of this world. But God expects us to have a living faith that impacts our daily lives and makes a difference in the world around us. He is trusting us to do exactly that.
Finally, the Master is one who has the greatest of intentions. We discover, in the first two servants, what the master had in mind all along. He says to each of them:
Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.
The reason why he entrusted the talents to them in the first place, the driving force behind his incredible trust in these servants, was so that—in the end—they might share in their master’s joy.
That is all God wants for us; he does not have any other plan; there is no ulterior motive. God simply gives us life and faith and He trusts us to use it, to live fully and totally according to His will so that we can become more and more like Him here on this earth and live forever with Him in the world to come; simply to share the Master’s joy.
So if all that is true, if that is what the Master is all about, then shouldn’t we be willing to take a chance in this life and live out our faith more completely in this world?
The Parable of the Talents is meant to teach us about the great gift that we have been given as people of faith, but also of the tremendous responsibility we have in living out that faith. In the end we will be judged according to how we did that.
When Christ comes again, will He find us like that servant who was afraid of the Master because he was a “demanding person” and went and hid his talent in the ground? Or will He find servants who recognize that their Master knows them intimately, trusts them completely, and wants nothing more for them than to share in their Master’s joy?