This morning’s parable features four characters – three slaves and a master. The master was going overseas and the story begins by telling us that he chose to hand over his possessions to the slaves. He entrusted them, he didn’t gift them or even loan them to be used in his absence, he handed them over conditionally. And by the end of the story it’s absolutely clear that he most certainly wasn’t giving them away – he came and reclaimed what was still his. So the talents were handed over for a time; they were left in the care of the slaves, who, we are told, had been chosen according to their abilities.
Let’s begin by thinking about those slaves and the message that they were receiving when the talents were distributed. Slave number one receives five talents. He’s being entrusted with something substantial. That’s quite a responsibility. I imagine it might feel like an honour, quite special, affirming perhaps of previous actions, but at the same time potentially something of a burden. The talents came to him with a clear expectation that he would use them well.
Slave number two wasn’t deemed to be quite so able and he was given two talents. Deemed to be capable but not outstanding. Trusted, but not over burdened. Special but not too special. Perhaps feeling a need to prove that he was capable of fulfilling the expectations of his master.
Slave number three perhaps knew that he was a more risky prospect. He was only entrusted with one talent. What did that say about the perception of his abilities? Did he feel undervalued? He admitted to being frightened of his master, perhaps he lacked the confidence to do anything with the talent that had been entrusted to him. Maybe he didn’t have the skills to work out where it would be best to invest. Perhaps he was someone who knew he could be easily influenced by other people, and so he took the safe option and kept his one talent safe. Imagine what would have happened if he’d gambled and lost it.
We might suggest that the talents could be seen as analogous to the ways that God resources us. Those resources might be of time, money, specific gifts or a particular disposition. God’s gift, God’s grace, God’s challenge to us. There are some resources we have which we readily recognize, there are some that other people recognize in us and may encourage us to nurture and there are opportunities that we find it harder to see for ourselves or to find ways of responding to.
Some interpretations might suggest that we are bestowed a package of giftedness that we carry with us through our lives and use – or not – in different ways. I’m not convinced that God’s engagement with us is static in that way. I don’t have an understanding of God that suggests we engage with God once at the beginning of our lives and then not again until we are judged at the end of our lives. Rather, I would suggest that the movement and engagement of and through the Holy Spirit is dynamic and ongoing.
I want to suggest that this morning’s Gospel has something significant to say about God’s engagement with each one of us and the responsibility that comes with that engagement.
In the Gospel story, the master handed out the talents, went away for a while and then came back to see what had happened. Could we imagine a model for engagement with God that suggests that opportunities are offered to us at a particular time in our lives and we are left to do something with them – or not. That the resourcing we are given changes according to our time and season and the situation we’re in.
In order to respond, we need to recognize and accept God’s intervention with us. To do that, we need to be a bit reflective, to be honest about who we are and what we are able to do at this stage and time in our lives. That might not be what we could do 20 years ago or what we will be able to do in 20 years time. This is about the here and now, living and reflecting in the moment in as honest a way as we can.
We might recognize that this is a time in our lives when we seem to have been given one very specific opportunity or challenge or a time when we appear to have several resources to manage and use.
Each of those situations brings its own demands. Remember how difficult it was for the slave who was only given one talent. He became almost disabled in his response to that and in the end he was unable to do anything with it. The responsibility of recognising a single opportunity might be more challenging than the responsibility that comes to someone who realizes that there are many openings in their life at this time. We’re not being called to analyse the substance, we are simply asked to do something with what we are offered – whether that feels to us like much or little.
One lesson from this morning’s Gospel is that the situation will not be static. The master returns and looks at what has happened. Can we assume that God comes back to us and reflects with us on how we have managed and what we have done with the resources and opportunities that were bestowed upon us? Did we do something with what we were offered or did we park it somewhere, perhaps with an intention to return that never materialized.
This is a live question for us at St Mary’s. We have a new Provost and we are moving into a new phase of our community life. We’re working out what it means to be this community in this place at this time. You will have seen from the AGM material that we are being asked to consider what we might offer, where our resources might be used – not just for the benefit of this place and this community but for the Body of Christ, both in this place and in our wider community.
If we take this seriously, there may be an element of risk involved. There is a risk associated with engaging deeply with God and recognizing what is being offered to us. They may not be the resources we were hoping for; they may not be opportunities that fit with our self image; they may be invitations that are new and challenging. But they may well be the resources that are ours for the moment. The God whom we welcome into our midst seeks to engage with each one of us and to offer something that is ours for now. Our task is simply to recognize that offer and to take seriously God’s desire for us to respond.