16 November 2008 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prov 31, 10-31; Psalm 128, 1-5; 1 Thess 5, 1-6; Matthew 25, 14-21
The readings today deal with things of value. In the first reading, the skills of a good wife are to be proclaimed, praised and rewarded at the city gates. In the second reading, our vigilance and fear of the Lord become important in our preparation for the last days. And finally, the Gospel teaches us about talents.
During the time of Jesus, the talent was a monetary unit. One talent was a large sum of money, though we could not yet determine exactly the equivalent in modern times. They said that one talent was roughly the weight of one person, around 60 kilograms of gold or silver. Nevertheless, the smallest value of a talent was several thousands of denarii (singular: denarius). And a denarius was usually the amount of a day’s work. In other words, a talent had a value of many years of work by an ordinary person.
In the Parable of the Talents, the master left different amounts of talents to his servants before his journey. Upon his return, he demanded for a full account from his servants. The first servant to whom he gave five, was able to double the amount to ten. The second whom he gave two, produced four. The last servant, however, returned the same amount. The master called him, “wicked and lazy”. And so he ordered that the one talent he had be taken away from him and given to the servant who produced ten because everyone who had much, would be given more. And to those who had little, even the little would be taken away.
Let me explain. It is now safe to translate talents into modern and common usage: referring to our gifts, skills or abilities. We know many people who are gifted. They are such because they have discovered their talents and pursued them with diligence. Their interest in the fields of sports and the arts, for example, can be traced to their childhood. And from then on, they strive to learn more about their curiosity, eventually, mastering their abilities. For example, a musician’s excellent performance is a product of years of hard labor. A dancer’s superb artistic movement has been a result of regular practice. A basketball player does not become a professional overnight. We develop our talents incrementally and regularly, with or without the ‘inspiration’ — or whenever ‘I feel like it!’ From the definition of the monetary value of a talent: it takes years of hard work!
The multiplication of talents is easily understood from experience. When we pursue a skill that we have, we eventually discover more talents. All it takes is an open heart and a certain amount of risk-taking. A musician who begins playing classical pieces eventually ventures into other musical genres. A dancer who began ballet classes eventually finds jazz or ballroom dancing easy. A basketball fanatic often finds other sports as interesting. A person who finds cross-stitching a hobby may find other crafts just as engrossing. In other words, the Lord gives us innate gifts. Progress is up to us. And thus, to those who have more, more will be given. The good news is that the more we gain ground, progress gains speed.
But to the person who is lazy in developing their talents, they lose whatever they have initially. If they don’t practice, their skill eventually degrades. The quality of their performance becomes shabby. Their level regresses. They don’t gain ground nor move forward.
Therefore, the point of the readings today is this: Diligence in carrying out one’s responsibility is essential for more important tasks in the future. Persons who can double the amount of talents given to them can take greater responsibilities.
So take this advice: if you want to sing well, there is no other way than to sing and sing and sing. If you want to be gifted, begin with the little that you have. It is unfortunate that many of us wait for the right moment with the greatest inspiration before we embark on skills-building. I tell you: there are more days when there is none.