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Grace is both gift and demand

One talent at the time of Jesus was what a labourer would earn in half a life-time. So, for a master to entrust one, two or five talents to three of his slaves was a huge act of trust in each one of them. He knew their skills differed, so he was being respectful of them by giving them just what they could handle. His trust in them was a risk but he expected them to be grateful for his trust and in turn to take the risks they needed to take to trade and invest his capital and make it grow.

That trust paid off in the case of the slaves who were given five and two talents. The master’s trust in them motivated them and gave them the confidence to produce incredible fruits. The third slave, though, either could not see his master’s trust or did not want to. There’s no question the master was a demanding man – the very task he gave all three of them was pretty challenging. In some sense, it was precisely because he was so trusting that he expected a great deal of them. But the third slave had no eyes for the trust, only for fear. Or was his fear just an excuse to cover for his laziness? He buried the trust of his master in the hole in the ground along with the talent. The talent had not decayed when he took it out, but his master’s trust in him had gone.

The talents in the parable don’t so much represent our human skills. The slaves in the parable had natural skills of their own as their master had recognised. The talents represent rather the rich gifts of grace which the Lord has entrusted to each one of us. We are all given at least one talent, the grace of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Most are given more, according to the skills God knows we have.

At root, God trusts us, he values us, not as slaves but as sons and daughters, the ones who normally share in their Father’s inheritance. What he expects in return is an enthusiastic welcome and gratitude for his gifts of grace shown in dedicated effort and risk-taking to work with them to produce even more fruit. The Lord isa demanding God. He is not a sugar daddy figure. He has high expectations of each of us according to our abilities and he has high hopes for us, as is seen in the reward of sharing in his own happiness which he gives the two slaves who responded to his trust. They had shown themselves worthy in small things, says the master, so they will be given greater.

God expects more of us than being contented with the simple fact our baptism, confirmation, share in the Eucharist and other graces we have been given. He certainly looks very dimly on anyone who is somehow ashamed of these gifts by hiding them in a hole. We are not called merely to conserve grace, like some spice in a cupboard that we bought by mistake. Christian discipleship demands that we use that grace, that we take the risk to grow in grace. Christianity can’t be reduced to not doing anyone any harm. Our trust is pro-actively to engage with the grace we have been given, otherwise it will turn against us, as did the talent unearthed from its hole for the lazy servant. If we just hand back to Christ the grace he has given us, we will not share in his happiness because we will have produced nothing worthy of his Kingdom. Doing nothing with his grace is the same thing as losing it altogether.

This parable is a pressing call to us all, and to me first, not to stagnate in our life of faith or become complacent in our relationship of trust with Christ. Jesus intends it as a wake-up call to us to realise with fresh insight the immensity of the treasure Christ has entrusted to us. He calls us rather starkly to recover enthusiasm in working with it and in taking risks for his sake.

Our current Covid situation can actually help stir again, or stir further, our spiritual enthusiasm. By facing us with basic questions about life and death, it gives us a push in the direction of Christ. I invite you in Jesus’ name to seek ways, alone or with a friend or a group of friends, to examine closely the gifts of grace the Lord has given you. Be creative, be daring,  take risks of generosity in prayer or charity, or in penance and a reform of life. Physical lockdown can become a chance for unleashing the spiritual potential that is definitely there within you. Make one or a million talents for the Lord and you will share in his happiness!