Although I am a big fan of Jesus’ stories, I have to admit that this has always been my least favorite parable. In fact, if I had been His editor at the time, I might have suggested He cut this one from the book. (Either that or asked Matthew to rework the ending.) It’s not that I don’t understand the overall message Jesus was trying to send, but I’ve always believed that some people have no business gambling with their talent and that they are better off leaving well enough alone.
Throughout the course of my life, I have been a “sure thing” kind of girl. I do not buy lottery tickets. I do not play Texas Hold ‘Em. I have never been to a Bingo hall, a riverboat casino and I have never had the desire to go on one of those reality competition shows in hopes of landing a multi-million dollar record deal. I’m not judging those who do, but I can’t see the point of getting my hopes up over a potential pay off when I’m more likely to be left with feelings of regret when I lose. Sure, I understand that my talent is a gift from God and what I do with it is my gift to Him…but I can think of a hundred ways that could end badly, so what’s wrong with simply keeping it safe and sound while letting no harm come to it?
Jesus never explains what exactly a “talent” is as it pertains to this parable, but based on the context of the story, it’s not something to be showcased in front of Simon Cowell and Company in hopes of landing a spot on next week’s show. Rather, it is some kind of tangible currency that can be invested into another entity in hopes of earning a future profit.
So in a plotline that somewhat reminds me of The Three Little Pigs, the first two guys, who are savvy businessmen, put their talents into a portfolio that causes their investments to double fairly quickly. However the third guy, who is not as confident, chooses to bury his talent rather than risk losing it. But when the master comes back, he calls the guy lazy and berates him for not putting the money in the bank where it could have at least earned a bit of interest.
As someone who took forever to select an IRA account that would meet my long-term goals without giving me short-term palpitations, I sympathize with guy number three. I wouldn’t want to risk losing everything I worked so hard for so why shouldn’t I be conservative with my talents? I always thought that was an admirable quality. Slow and steady wins the race. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. A penny saved is a penny earned. An ounce of prevention is worth…you get where I’m going with this.
It always seemed to me that the master would have been upset if guy number three had done something completely reckless with his talent and came back with nothing, and personally, that’s how I would have changed the story. However, I now understand that I would have been wrong. After all, a gift from “The Master” cannot lose its value. Its stock does not rise and fall with the Dow Jones. It can only grow or stay put. You can choose to develop your talent and let it take you farther than you ever dreamed possible. You can take a chance with it and learn a life lesson along the way. You can even be conservative with it and let it earn a small return as you figure out where the best investment is, but the worst thing you can do is bury it. To bury it is to pretend it isn’t there. And to deny the part of God that’s inside of you is truly the greatest gambling loss of all.
Today’s Mass readings: 1COR 1:26-31; PS 33:12-13,18-19, 20-21; MT 25: 14-30