The parable we just heard can be a bit misleading.
A “talent” was a quantity of silver – in New Testament times, approximately 130 pounds.
Based on the current price of silver,
one talent would be about $34,000.
So one servant received about $170,000,
another $78,000, and the last one, $34,000.
While this passage is so often taken to refer to our God-given abilities –
and it certainly applies there –
I think the parable is primarily talking about faith.
And so the question becomes: how do you and I invest our faith?
Do we put anything at risk?
Notice it says, they immediately went out
and “traded” with their funds, and doubled their investment.
If I told you our parish funds were being handled this way,
you should call the Archbishop as soon as Mass is over!
So what does it even mean to say we put our “faith” at risk?
Blessed Cardinal John Newman made the point this way.
He spoke of the “venture” of faith—
and his point was not that our faith would be lost;
but rather, in what way might we be less well off – in this life –
if it turns out our hope in Jesus Christ is false?
If we drive close to the speed limit, do we do that because of God –
or because of the state patrol?
If we were atheists, would we have chosen a different vocation in life?
I guess I would have, and perhaps many of us would.
But in all honesty, wouldn’t many of us be where we are now?
How much does our faith affect our purchasing decisions?
Our business decisions?
One of the ways we do indeed put something at risk
is when we are generous to others, particularly in helping the poor.
The Lord Jesus said many times, when we give to those in need,
our repayment will come from God.
Do our actions show that we really believe that?
If we really believe in life after death, heaven and hell,
how does that change our actions in this life?
To use the dinner analogy:
if you or I are invited to a nice dinner later,
then if someone offers us a sandwich, what do we say?
“No thanks, I’m going to dinner later.”
But if we don’t trust that dinner will happen?
We take the sandwich.
One of the things you will see in so many of the lives of the saints
is that they lived in this life as if they were waiting for that banquet.
They denied themselves many of the good things of this life –
not because there is anything wrong with any of them –
but precisely like someone who says,
“No thanks; I’m going to a banquet later!”
This is the meaning of celibacy
embraced by priests and religious brothers and sisters.
Many people think the practice of celibacy
means the Church thinks badly of marriage.
On the contrary; it’s only makes sense
precisely because we believe marriage is such a great good
that giving it up becomes such a powerful sign
of our hope in the Kingdom to come.
If I told you that, in becoming a priest,
I gave up poking myself in the eye, you’d say,
“hmm, well, that’s good Father…” – but where’s the merit in that?
What’s the sacrifice?
But if I said, I gave up a million dollars; or, a promising career…
then someone might ask: why would you do that?
And the answer is, because the Kingdom I look forward to
is that much better!
And in case it wasn’t clear, let me spell something out.
Sometimes young people will say to me,
I don’t know about being a priest or a sister or brother,
because I want to be a husband or a wife, a mother or a father.
And while I’m not saying you aren’t called to that – most people are.
But what I want to make clear is that the sort of people we need
as brothers, sisters, deacons and priests
are precisely those who do want those things.
You don’t enter the priesthood
to run away from being a husband and father;
instead, you are a husband and father in a different way.
I won’t even claim that it’s a more sacrificial way;
because if there’s one thing that’s blindingly obvious to me
is that married couples and parents make tremendous sacrifices.
That leads to a related point about chastity.
When I was a young man, I figured chastity
was just something I had to put up with until I got married!
It doesn’t take many candid conversations with married folks
to discover how silly that notion is.
The truth is that chastity is about a lot more than saying no to desire.
It’s about true self-possession.
And you can’t really give away what you don’t possess.
And it’s about the ability to choose the good of another
at the expense of what you, yourself, really, really want.
That’s what two people, dating each other,
do when they wait until marriage.
But it’s also what our parents do when they get out of bed,
every morning, sick or well, and do the thousand things they do
to make a home and family – and then have to wait decades
before we really wake up to what they did for us.
So I return to my main theme:
what do we really put on the line – at risk – in our venture of faith?
The last words of the Gospel give sober meaning to the saying,
“nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
If we put nothing on the line,
how are we different from that worthless servant?
And it really is true that if we do not exercise our faith,
we can see it weaken like unused muscles.
It is not for me to tell you how to “invest” your faith.
Ask the Lord. Ask him what he wants you to leave behind;
ask him what deeper waters he calls you to;
what unknown future to bet on.
And pray for me that I will find courage to do the same.