[I know…it’s been a long time…and even this is something I wrote a month ago…]
I know that because I am feeling lost and disconnected here that everything will whisper of authenticity, intimacy, and relationship: things that I think I am either missing, failing at, or absent in potentiality here.
And so the parable of the talents has new meaning for me.
I was instantly focused — while praying in a group that I find very difficult to pray with — and struck by the line about the master giving talents to his servants:
“…each according to his ability.”
This suggests a relationship. That these were not simply slaves. That the master would have to have known at least a little something — and really probably more like a lot — about each servant to be able to assess his/her abilities by which to assign such large sums of money.
This would be unique to Jesus’ time. Servants were slaves. Property. Bought and sold. A relationship (a proper reciprocal relationship, suggesting some authentic understanding of dignity and intimacy) would have been unheard of.
This master seems to know something about them. I want to believe this means he gives some thought to how he assigns their responsibilities. I want to believe the master desires certainly to make a profit and to have his precious money properly stewarded while he is away — but that would also suggest that in order for that to be true he would also seek to set up those servants for success. He doesn’t want them to fail: failure for them means less yield for him. Again — I could be off the reservation here, but I think there is more proof (at least in this translation) as we go on.
When the master returns after a long time, I can hear my own voice in that of the first 2 servants as well as the third servant.
If you read it out loud (and once more, with feeling), it feels like servants #1 and #2 are excited to show their master what they have done! I feel this way when I am in right relationship with authority: my boss, my family, friends, my parish community, my diocese, and God. I am so excited and proud to do a good job at something that makes an impact, that pleases my boss or whoever is a steward of me, and not because I know I will receive more in return — although that happens — but because I desire to be in authentic intimate relationship with those who are in authority over me. I desire to make someone proud of me, pleased that they asked the right person, affirmed in their own stewardship and leadership, confident that God is the driving force of the team, excited to be Catholic, and willing to trust me or others with more. My role as the subject of another’s stewardship is just as important to their continuing affirmation and understanding of their own authority. It doesn’t make me a slave, or less than, or subservient. It doesn’t make me someone who bows and scrapes for attention or recognition. It makes me authentically submissive: under the same mission of my master or leader. A sharer in the big picture. A real worker in the vineyard. That I may merit to be a coheir to eternal life. I cannot imagine a better way to spend my life. Seriously.
I recognize the talents in this parable — also because of my own life right now — to be charisms. I completed the Catherine of Siena Called and Gifted Worship and interview recently and I feel certain that this is — for me right now — about precious gifts — given only to me — to be shared for the good of the world for God’s glory. They are worth more than millions. They are not to be buried. They are to be placed at the service of the world. They are to be not just given away, but traded with, as this gospel suggests. They will double and grow in yield only when we encounter the person of Jesus through others. God, my master, knows me intimately and authentically. He has given me charisms with me in mind. He and I and the world. To better bring people and myself to Him.
Historically, when I am in communion, in right relationship, and properly ordered towards service, I seem to be offered and asked to take on tasks that are clearly beyond my abilities. Almost without exception. And being willing and conscious about saying yes to such roles, tasks, work brings me great joy because I know that God will help me and I also know and feel certain that the taskmaster wants to bring out the best in me for the glory of God. Because he/she knows me. And knows God.
When I am not in communion with others however, even if my relationship with God seems to be okay…I seem to not be able to perform even simple tasks. Tasks I should be able to do. Tasks I have been successful at before. It frustrates me and those around me and this is evident.
This also happens more frequently when the taskmaster or person(s) stewarding me and my God-given gifts are not in authentic communion. This has been very true for me here.
And so I need to pay attention.
That 3rd servant has intimate knowledge of his master, and his master of him. He knows what he is supposed to do, I think.
But the relationship isn’t strong. Servant #3 is afraid. Authentic intimacy carries with it dignity and trust. It feels like the master has this — in current-day money — even 1 talent would be worth about 1.25 MILLION DOLLARS. This is still a precious and unique gift. So I don’t know what’s up with Servant #3.
Maybe he is too busy watching the other 2 servants and what they received and is jealous or nervous.
Maybe his relationship with the master is not authentic. Incomplete. Unclear. Maybe he is confusing the master’s demand for greatness — for anger or judgement or selfishness.
Maybe he doesn’t feel like there is authentic relationship. Intimacy. Love. Trust. I know that makes me nervous and less likely to take risks. I wonder how much work he has put into that relationship…because it doesn’t seem like he has been treated any differently than the other 2 servants. He has received a different talent, but still significant and precious.
Like Solanus Casey’s gifts. He had an authentic, intimate, and trusting relationship with God. And I will assume his superiors and those in authority over him had the same relationship with God. And therefore his authentic love and trust in his superiors who were placed in authority over him and to steward his gifts flowed out of that.
That’s how he was able to conquer pride and pain and do what he was being asked. And look at what God did with him. So if we apply this to the servants…
This suggests an intimate trust, love, and understanding on the part of the master. And if that’s true — then servant #3 is missing something. Is holding back. Is not seeing his gifts/charism/job clearly — or through the correct lens.
And I think that’s how he winds up in the darkness. The master has done his job; servant #3 has not.
One could go even further with this and suggest that the master has been affirmed in his relational ministry with the other servants by their excited show of success. Maybe that’s why his assessment of failure and consequences is so swift. He knows he is right. And he knows letting servant #3 off the hook is not in the best interest of servant #3 or the whole community.
And as one of my colleagues suggests from the chronicles of Narnia — some choose to go — and even to stay — in the darkness.
This also suggests something about what we are capable or disposed to in authentic and intimate relationships with God, Jesus, and others around us.
I’m struggling, Jesus. Help me know what to do. I am good at being Servant #1 and #2. I know that’s how You use me. I don’t want to be Servant #3. But I know I am not in right relationship with the person in authority over me. I’m not sure if that points to my own relationship with God or his. Or both.