The parable of the talents
In one of the Sunday Gospel readings we hear the Lord’s parable of the talents. A certain man, going off on a long journey, summoned his servants and gave his estate into their keeping, in order that they invest it and make greater profit on it for their master. Two of the servants did as their sense of duty bid them, while the third did not wish to do anything with what the master had given him. After his return, the master commended the first two servants for their diligence, and condemned the third one in his own words and his own judgment. The Lord ended the parable with the words: “Whosoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Let us piously accept the Lord’s invitation and let us ponder the meaning of this divine parable, in order to gain spiritual profit and avoid the fate of the lazy servant. The master in this parable is God, the Creator and Provider, while the servants are all of us, human beings. The Lord gives all of us various gifts – both innate and through grace. Each person receives these gifts-talents according to his capabilities. There is not a single person who has no talents! And so we must use these gifts for our spiritual perfection. What are these talents?
Talents are different endowments, so-called innate, and sometimes material, such as: a good memory, physical endurance, excellent abilities, ancestry, education, sometimes wealth, etc.
Often we use many, if not all, of these talents only for ourselves, and not for God or others. Moreover, it often happens that highly-talented people use these talents least of all for their spiritual life, and vice versa – less talented people work more diligently to make use of their talents. We often hear the following comments: “We are not apostles, nor saints, nor righteous people, we do not possess their grace…,” and with such words people try to excuse themselves for their shortage of virtues and good deeds. But do not these words of self-justification remind us of the wretched servant in the Gospel parable?
Also noteworthy is the joy with which the faithful servants report to their master. Their conscience is clear; they have fulfilled their duty to the best of their ability. They ascribe their success to their master, saying: “You have given, and I have acquired…” Righteous men regard their efforts in the same manner: “Not I, but the grace of God has done this…,” says Apostle Paul.
It often happens in life that people who have been greatly endowed by the Lord with diverse talents and earthly goods do not want to use them for the glory of God. But in His parable the Lord points out the servant who had only one talent and shows that it is not a high or noble position in life that is important, but whether or not a person has fulfilled his duty faithfully. Only that point will serve to justify us at the Lord’s Judgment, and prior to that our conscience can serve as our barometer, provided we are ready to heed it.
“Some people soothe themselves with the following thoughts,” says Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, “ ‘Oh, I am not like that wretched servant who buried the talent he was given and did not do anything else; I, on the other hand, am doing at least something, so it does not matter that I have not fulfilled some of the commandments, have not dedicated to God some of the requisite hours or days, have used up good resources exclusively for my personal pleasure’… But you do not judge in the same way that our righteous Lord judges… It is not quantity that matters, but quality, and in your case the quality is poor. Consequently, allowing unfaithfulness in small things, you deprive yourself of the right to great things…”
The main idea of this parable is that every true believer in Christ must serve Him with all his will, all his effort. Do not volunteer for spiritual labors, but if the Lord should summon you, i.e. should provide you with such an opportunity – do not refuse it.
“Whosoever has ears to hear, let him hear,” i.e. whoever wishes to be attentive – heed these words and apply them to yourself.
In the history of Orthodox monasticism of the 6th and 7th centuries there is the name of the venerable Dorotheus, who had a disciple named Dositheus.
Dositheus was assigned to Dorotheus for the purpose of spiritual instruction. Dositheus remained under his Abba’s guidance for about six years, and then he reposed, being 26 years of age.
The Lord revealed to one of the ascetics Dositheus’ fate and life after death. The ascetic was shown an assembly of elders and great fathers of monasticism, and the young Dositheus was among them. When the vision ended, the ascetic began asking Abba Dorotheus and the other monastics about how and in what Dositheus had spiritually labored, to merit such a blissful fate after death.
It transpired that Dositheus was not distinguished by any special abstention or by any great feats of fasting. There were times when he was late for services and exhibited other small daily deficiencies.
How then did Dositheus become worthy of being among the greatest fathers of monasticism?
It turned out that throughout his entire life at the monastery Dositheus never took offense at anyone, willingly performed all the obediences that were placed upon him, repented immediately after doing something he should not have done. In other words, he possessed the spirit of humility. Everything that he had to suffer through, he regarded as having been sent to him by the will of God.
Humility is the sign of obedience to God’s will! By subjecting himself to God’s will, man places himself in a correct position before the Creator of “all that is visible and invisible,” and thus strictly observes the so-called “hierarchy of values.”
In the Gospel story of the woman of Canaan we see a woman who also showed in deed that a humble acceptance of God’s will is a sure method of supplicating the heavens, for which her request was granted. The Lord Jesus Christ extols such a model of faith!
And if we do not receive a response to our request, we must understand that it is either because the time is not ripe for our request to be fulfilled, or because it goes against God’s Providence.
Thus, let us be attentive. Let us ponder instructive examples from the Holy Scriptures and the lives of venerable ascetics, and may the Lord help us apply them to our own lives.
Protopriest Igor Hrebinka