This past weekend the gospel in our lectionary for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A, was from Matthew 25: 14-30, The Parable of the Talents. A talent is the value of 75 pounds of gold or silver – a LOT of money! The master went on a journey and entrusted to the first servant were five talents, the second servant - two talents, and the third - one talent, each according to his ability.
The first two doubled what they were entrusted with, while the third saved it and made nothing. The first two were trustworthy, their master was pleased, and he promoted them to more responsibility commenting, “Come, share your master’s joy!”
The third did not feel empowered or trusted, but rather feared the master, and so buried the one talent. His poor relationship to the master led to a bad decision made out of fear. At the accounting he says, “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.” As a result the master takes away his one talent and gives it to the more fruitful first servant. Then he casts out the third servant into the darkness “where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The relationship of fear and the poor attitude of the third servant led to bad judgment and disastrous consequences, while the opposite was true of the other two servants. The casting out of the third servant only confirmed what their relationship was – or was not.
Psalm 111:10 says that the beginning of wisdom is fear of the lord. But scripture also says that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18). Eventually, one’s relationship with God is meant to grow into one of love, of trustworthiness leading to the fruitful investment of the abilities and talents the lord has given to us. Failure to capitalize on those gifts leads to loss of the gifts, and much more — it is a sober lesson.
Curiously, the Old Testament reading paired with this gospel is from Proverbs 31, the blessings of a really good wife. It is a wonderful list of what a good wife means to her husband, and how he should esteem her — I recommend the entire chapter. She is trustworthy, industrious, diligent, strong, loving, faithful, generous to the poor, virtuous in deed and reputation and praised by her husband. It shows how a marriage relationship can illustrate the parable of the talents when both husband and wife entrust themselves to God and to one another in love and respect.
It is an ideal truly worth striving for; they who accomplish this vision, find true freedom in serving and loving one another. This is freedom in the truest sense: that we were made to serve God and one another. When it works, it truly gives witness to the grace of God bursting into the world.