The parable of the talents bugs me, so I have spent some time wrestling with it, chomping on it, working some useful meaning from it into my bones.
I like that that the wealthy man gives the same reward to both servants who actually do something productive with what he’s given them:
Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Being a “ruler over many things” isn’t necessarily the future I want, but I just interpret that as “good stuff happens.” And I’m all over entering into the joy of the lord.
However, the poor third risk-averse guy recognizes that his boss has some markers of a personality disorder.
The servant knows the master is “hard.” (In fact the master admits he doesn’t have the most scrupulous business practices!) The boss doesn’t give him any instructions on what to do with the money; he just expects to collect it when he gets back. And heaven forbid the servant should lose the money in a venture gone wrong! So the servant does what he thinks safest to make sure nothing bad happens to it: he buries it. Can we really fault him?
Sure enough, the master returns and goes ballistic. Not only is the servant’s name Mud for not reading the master’s mind and earning some interest at least, but he’s cast into outer darkness.
I’m even more troubled by what I discover when I search for myself in this story. The truth is that I’m usually plagued by the fear that I’m not doing enough with what I’ve been given. I’m anxious that I won’t figure out the master’s mind about what to do with what I have. (And now I’m referring to the contemporary meaning of talents, not the ancient sum of money kind of talents; and I’m reading master as “Master”). I’m afraid that the Master is going to suss out my inner dumbness and whomp my backside for not recognizing just how much more I could have accomplished if I hadn’t been such a timid nincompoop.
(Where did I get such a skewed image of what the real Master is like? Hmm. Maybe from simplistic readings of multi-layered parables like this, from vast passages of the Old Testament, and from not asking enough questions?)
Wait a minute! Maybe I’m getting more out of this parable than I thought! The master – in his reasonable frame of mind – lauds those first two servants for being “good and faithful” and rewards them with abundance. Goodness. Faith. I think I’m on to something.
It’s the fretful, anxious, uptight servant whose mind is all focused on the possibility of calamity and loss who ends up with … calamity and loss.
I’m not saying that this resolves all my quibbles with the personality of the master portrayed in this story, but when I sit in this story, when I gnaw on its bones, I feel myself called to let go of my fears and experiment with the talents I’ve been given, have some fun, give ‘em a go! It’s not a comparison with the others around me who have five to my two or ten to my four. It’s a mind set of acceptance, gratitude, expansion, joy!
This is only an appetizer of what this story, what the scriptures, can reveal when I get in there and munch. I’ve got an appetite for more!