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78. Talents in Trust (Matthew 25:14-30)

November 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“We preach not one coming only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the first. The first revealed the meaning of his patient endurance; the second brings with it the crown of the divine kingdom.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Matthew 25:14-30: ‘It is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third is one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. Sir, he said you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness. Next the man with the two talents came forward. Sir, he said you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness. Last came forward the man who had the one talent. Sir, said he I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back. But his master answered him, You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’

Christ the Lord  Christ is the king of the parable, and we are the servants. Do you think of yourself as a servant? God has given each of us a certain number of “talents.” (By a fortuitous linguistic quirk, the word that in the original language refers to a large sum of money refers in our language to a much broader category of skills and abilities.) Christ’s return in the context of this discourse means three things: when destruction comes upon Jerusalem sometime after Jesus’ ascension, when he comes again at the end of history – which could be tomorrow or could be in another thousand years – and when he comes individually to each of us at the end of our lives, another mysterious moment. And so, we have an unknown amount of time in which to invest those talents and to make them increase the wealth of the Kingdom – or not. Our eternal destiny depends directly upon how much our talents have contributed to the growth of the Kingdom. There will be no room for excuses: if we have tried to invest our talents, we will be welcomed into the Kingdom forever: if not, we will be thrown into the darkness.

Perhaps at first glance the most striking aspect of this parable is how definitive it is. Jesus speaks so unambiguously, even graphically, about heaven and hell. Since he is Lord of life, death, and history, nothing about them is hidden from him. Yet, another glance will show something even more striking: he desires all of us to come and be with him in heaven.

Christ the Teacher  Note first of all that our talents are to be invested on behalf of the king, since we will have to give them back to the king in the end. They must increase the wealth of Christ’s Kingdom. We are called to use our talents to extend and defend the Kingdom of God, to promote true human values (justice, life, beauty, and peace), to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, to bring as many people as possible into this Kingdom (which here on earth subsists in the Church), to overtake the remaining bastions of sin and greed, and dismantle every work of the devil. To the extent that I use my talents for these purposes, I will achieve the purpose of my life, please the king, and prove myself his worthy subject, one who has responsibly administered the great gifts I have received. And as a result, I will be rewarded accordingly; the reward will be proportionate to my diligence. (Christ was always talking about rewards.)

Note secondly what the Church has always understood by talents: every gift we have received from God, starting with the gift of existence, including all the capabilities of our bodies and minds, extending to education, culture, faith, the sacraments, vocation, and every opportunity and resource within our personal sphere of influence – from money to artistic sensibility, from creative genius to physical prowess, from freedom of speech to the elusive entity of time itself. In other words, we have received everything from God, and we are free either to take all our gifts and squander them, burying them in the hole of self-indulgence, fear, laziness, and greed (as did the prodigal son, for instance, in addition to the hapless fellow of the current parable), or to give them back to God by putting them to work for his Kingdom. Nothing escapes the eternal reckoning, so everything is a chance to build up or tear down our relationship with God. In this parable, Christ implores us: “Live for the things that last! Strive for true human and Christian values! Don’t be afraid to lay everything on the line for me and for the Church! For others, time is money; for you, time is Kingdom.”

Christ the Friend  How clearly Christ speaks to us in the Gospels! He does not disguise his saving truth in complicated theological costumes; he does not distort it for fear of offending our over-sensitive egocentrism; he does not greedily hoard it. God wants to save us and teach us the path of a fulfilling life; Christ is the generous agent of that salvation.

The lazy servant of the parable failed precisely because he had a different concept of the master. He feared him like a slave, maybe even resented him (for only giving him one talent and giving more to the other servants). He thought of his lord as a hard taskmaster; the mission with which he was entrusted seemed too demanding, too unreasonable. We can fall into the same deception. We are exceedingly vulnerable to it, because it gives us an easy excuse for wallowing in our laziness and self-pity. Jesus has proved that he is thoroughly trustworthy, but since trusting him means breaking out of our comfort zone, sometimes we prefer to stay suspicious. Few things pain his heart more.

Jesus: I created you to know me and love me, to live in my friendship now and for all eternity. I have limited my omnipotence in giving you this possibility, because friendship requires freedom, and freedom necessitates the possibility that you will reject my friendship. But you have nothing to fear from me, nothing to lose in following me. You gain everything by accepting my invitation. Enjoy the life and talents I have given you, invest them for eternity, and trust that I will never demand from you more than you are capable of giving.

Christ in My Life  My life is a mission. You have given me real responsibility; what I do matters, for me and for others. Sometimes this makes me feel pressured – but that’s not what you want. You want me to launch out into the deep with utter confidence in you. Enlarge my heart! Increase my faith! You are worthy of all trust, of all love, of any sacrifice. Thank you for giving me a few talents. Help me to put them to work…

How many people squander their lives, Lord! Just as I was doing before you came to my rescue…. You are so patient with me. You give me plenty of time. And all you ask is that I try my best to serve you, please you, and glorify you by fulfilling my potential and helping as many others as I can fulfill theirs. Through me, may your Kingdom come…


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at and questions and answers on the spiritual life at FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", Inside the Passion--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

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  • M.

    Thanks for this wonderful post Father! We just studied this gospel in our prayer group last night and some of what you talk here we addressed as well. To me this gospel has always been a call to action! I surely do not want to be called “lazy and wicked servant” And so then commenced my journey to try and figure out what I needed to be doing in relation to where my life was at the time.

  • Ptrw333nnc

    Thank you.  It seems so few actually understand this parable.  It is so convenient for most to think that it’s ok to be a workaholic,  work minded, or  have the money first mentality.     Thank you for printing this so eloquently. pw

  • Judeen Harthun

     when our life is given to God .. our whole life becomes a gift.. our expereinces especially the hard parts are used by God to help others love God , be healed by God and for coversions of hearts lives and souls to God… by our forgiveness and our healing so we lead others to God for this forgiveness and healing.. and blessings and gifts shared humbly.. so too others receive these gifts… (I have expereinced this , by the glory of God)  prisons are a good place to share great sorrows for they also have been there , and where we are weak so God is stronge.. when we show our wounds and mistakes and share how God is needed in our lives so God heals others as well as our own lives.. our whole life everything we have learned and expereinced become a GIFT

  • Steve

    Oh my goodness. I am horrified at the misguided theology in this writing. No we will not be thrown into the darkness. We each do the best that we can with what we have and leave the rest to God — as St. Theresa said, “Jesus required nothing more than surrender and gratitude.” I wonder why we named her Doc. of the Church, yet we do not follow this…..My concern is that people read this and end up feeling guilty, scared and condemned. In stead we should come to jesus offering ourselves in surrender and gratitude, doing whatever little we can with great love.

  • jack g.

     Thank you Father John, we also had Bible study on Tuesday and Sunday’s readings are usually our topic. We are all given many talents, but to me my life is a talent and no matter how rich it is always designed for my fullness. Just as St. Therese would say about being filled to the brim and it does not matter how big of a pot or how great of a talent. We shall always strive to give all to God therefore multiply our gifts,
    because in giving we receive the most. I live for the Lord and every day is His, and many time it is not all I can give, but He is patient Master and if I try every day I will be rewarded.
    Trust is the key word, so the third servant refused and said I will not serve”, just like in Genesis, original sin, the fall. Many are too proud and do not accept even the Mercy of God, or are so selfish that think that they do not need God or Savior. I was like that for many years, at the bottom of my misery I by the grace of God
    was able to ask for His opinion on my life, right before the divorce, He showed me the pain and fear of my  little daughter and I understood, woke up, repented and told Him to now lead, for I submit myself.
    He gave me this need to share the journey, even with details, and so I do. It might as well be one of the talents and today I teach my little daughter, now 7 about the love of God in our lives.
    I ask her who is your best daddy?, and she says, God, and who is your King?, and she says, Jesus.
    No matter how many talent we get and no need to be jealous of others, important is to receive them with gratitude and use them according to the Will of God. May God Bless you all.

  • Anonymous

    Steve – thanks for your note. Would you mind quoting the specific section of this post that you feel is misguided?

  • jack g.

    I also love St. Teresa or both of them and I surrender not always easily, but make no mistake that hell exists and being idle is not a ticket to heaven. Jesus said it plainly many times and He wasn’t delicate when He was using hell word. He talkes about hell more than about heaven in Gospells, there is nothing misleading in father’s theology, with love of Jesus Jack g.