Matthew 25: 14- 30
“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’
At the age of 6, my parents spotted that I was very interested in playing the drum on anything and everything that i got. I did not discriminate between a table, mother’s head, books, bible. So my optimistic parents thought they had discoverd a rare talent. So when I was in class 4 my parents took me to be enrolled to learn Tabla. The teacher said I was too small and I had to wait for a year. I started with great gusto. My parents bought a tabla. I became a phenomenon as there were few who knew how to go about it. I appeared the first exam and got decent marks. And then I found that my friends who played guitar and how better it was than tabla. Within months I abandoned it to great dismay of my parents and it took me 5 years for my parents to recover from that set back and finally after my 10th, they bought a guitar. I enrolled for a guitar class. I started out with great promise. For 3 months or so, I was at it. But I was interested in short cuts. Impress my friends and I was also an adolescent, so guitar did impress girls. Now tabla and guitar feature in my resumes of failed ventures. I tried convincing my mom that my actual calling was the keyboard and if you know my mom well, you could have guessed what was her reply. Today if you go to my home, The tabla and guitar is displayed with great honor which so well displays the squandered talent that I just did not invest enough. And my parents and my wife do not spare a moment to make me realize how silly I have been to squander it so. So this parable actually evokes a lot of guilt in me when I read it and therefore I keep avoiding it but as David said in Psalms 51 “My sin is always before me…”
Let us return to the text. One talent was equivalent to 15 years of a laborers salary. It was a huge amount and therefore the man in the parable is leaving a fortune with these servants of his. To one he gives 5. Another one gets 2 and the last one gets 1. Now we will concentrate on the servant who got 1 talent and how he responded to it. What are the 3 things that led to his attitude to maintain the status quo of 1 talent. He did not ACT upon it. Based on the word ACT, we will use it as an acronym for our meditation.
Appreciation– Now I am assuming that the first thing that made the servant to do nothing about the given talent is that he fell into the trap of comparison. He saw that others got 5 and 2 respectively and he just had to settle with 1. Mind you, that 1 itself is of much great value. We too live life like this comparing it with our siblings, friends, neighbours, never appreciating of what we have. We live in constant complain of the little that we have, the unattractive looks, the old fashioned mobile, the not so stylish bike. There is a story of a man who was very dissatisfied with his house and was looking out for better plots to build a far beeter house. He called his real estate agent or realtor and told him to put an advertisement for the house. The realtor prepared an ad for the local newspaper and before publishing it, read it out to the owner. It read as follows, “Beautiful house, scenic location, surrounded with trees, streams flowing by, birds chirping, peace and beauty intermingles. In short, your dream house.” The owner asked the ad to be read once again. He asked “Have you written this about my house?” He went out and looked around his house and came back and said “I have changed my mind. I will not sell as this is exactly the house that I was planning to buy.”
This is exactly how we live. We live in such deep sense of discontentment that we fail to appreciate or value what we have.
Commitment- We see the 3rd servant hid the talent in the ground. In the rabbinic law, hiding money in the ground is lawful and if the money is lost, the owner cannot accuse nor have a case against the servant. So the servant here was playing it safe. He did not want to take any risk. More and more I see, I feel I too have fallen into this trap of playing it safe. There is no deep commitment. You just want to wade off trouble and therefore are safe in our own made bubble. Investing the talent needed commitment and risk. As illustrated before in my case, I was interested in the adulation that music would bring but I had no commitment to invest in it. No way that I would suffer for it because I had no commitment. We all search for short cuts but as Nietzsche of all the things said one thing right. “If you want to master something you need to take a long walk of obedience in the same direction.” As the saying goes “Ships is safest at the port. But that is not what the ship is built for.” There is risk involved. There is pain. There are hours of boredom and loneliness. But commitment will take us to the promised land.
Thankfulness– The appropriate word here would be gratitude, but then in the scheme of the acronym ACT, it would make no sense. Look at the view the 3rd servant had about his master. ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow;so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ (Matthew 25: 24-25). We live in times where complaining and projecting our inadequacies onto others is a fad. The servant is projecting his shortcoming onto his master to have a reason for himself to wriggle out of the chance he squandered. We always are in search of a scapegoat. If anything goes wrong, the first thing we try to do is not to solve the problem, but to find whom to blame. Eugene Peterson says very well, “ As Christians we have a Saviour, we do not need scapegoats.” Gratitude is a way of seeing where other see impossible written all over, gratitude opens a small opportunity to look at things differently. Sometimes we view God as the servant. We feel he is unfair, does not care about us. But if we practice the art of gratitude, our attitude towards life will change.
Let me conclude. The man with one talent had an “I cannot attitude.” This affects a lot of us. Apart from my debacle in music there was another tragedy waiting to happen. I chose Arts as my field after 10th, not because I loved science less but because I hated maths more. My history teacher heard me speak in one of her class and asked me to join the debating team. So in 1999 I started to debate for my college. I kept going for one debate after another. In the beginning I was all sound and fury and no content. I thought public speaking is about shaking people up by top of the voice gestures. It took me 10 debates to realize, that this trick is a bad formula. I observed people, saw tv, invested my time. Kept going for one debate after the other, but to no avail. Every time I got over with one debate, the sheer disappointment of failing took a week to recover. I was like Ravindra Jadeja who was given chances without any merit. And also there were not many people vying for that spot. But honestly the story of Abraham Lincoln and his 29 losses played on my mind. I started becoming superstitious. I started wearing a shirt which I thought brought me luck. I used a particular illustration which I believed would help me get the awaited. People were charitable in letting me know that I was good. And once we had a competition with only 4 teams. This was my chance as I thought, with such less participation, this is mine. I was praying aloud doing all things I believed that would fetch me the award. But when the result was announced, it was the same old story. I did not make it to the podium. To top it all I met a judge who said “You were phenomenal.” I wanted to ask him, “Why dint I win?” I did not ask. So when I was appearing for my 29th debate I thought, I am Abraham Lincoln, but after the debate I knew I did not need to wait for the result as I had badly stuttered through the speech. I honestly had nothing better to do and therefore I tried. On 1st February 2002 when I heard my name for the first prize for another debate I was sure, there was some other Merin Mathew along. I had accepted the fact that I was never going to win. But it took me 32 debates and 3 years of frustration to get there. My parents hardly bothered about the losing and they encouraged me to keep trying. Mrs Vimala Menon, had some high hopes and perseverance. I am glad at least here I did not quit. When I became a trainer for debates, all I told my friends who struggled, if I can, anybody can. Appreciate what you have. Be committed to God and the purpose he has set before you. Be thankful for all the little and small that you have in life. God who took 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a multitude will use the little that you have for His glory.
PS: This was a Sermon delivered on 5th July 2015 at Bethel Mar Thoma Church, Bhopal for Students’ Dedication Day.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal