Midweek Faith Lift
May 31, 2023
The Parable of the Talents
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
May 23, 2023
Water managers in Arizona, California, and Nevada have agreed on a plan to cut their water use by over a third to conserve large amounts of water from the drought-afflicted Colorado River. The breakthrough agreement aims to keep the river, which has been shrinking at an alarming rate, from falling to a level that could endanger the water and power supply for farmland and major cities in the West.
“I believe in a world where change might be hard but is always seen as possible. I believe in justice, in a world where actions have consequences. I believe in a world where we have wisdom to guide us and love to propel us, where people are held accountable even as we try to take care of one another. I believe in a world where the fluidity of water – like love – might seem weak, but lo and behold, it is indomitable.” - Sharon Salzberg, Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World
Affirmative prayer: Infinite Presence, I am grateful that we human beings live in a spiritual environment and we that are taking care of our home. I am in the flow of goodness, and I affirm that, with our stewardship, there is plenty of water, energy, and love to go around. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
This is the kind of story that gives me hope and it fits well with our parable for today, the Parable of the Talents. It is a long one, so let’s jump right in, shall we?
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. At once 16 the one who had received the five talents went off and traded with them and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents. His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (NRSV-UE)
Well, that is quite a story, isn’t it? The simplest understanding of this is to say, “Use it or lose it,” but it is more complex than that. Take a breath, pause and realize that we are all the characters in this story. We are the master, we are the three servants. And we also have numbers again, which help us make sense of this story. Pause and remember that Jesus starts the story with “It is as if….,” offering us an illustration of our choices and what unfolds from our choices.
We are all given “talents”, which Dr. Michael says are best translated as “challenges.” The first servant is given 5 challenges to resolve and realizes an increase of good to ten. So remember that 5 is our sense consciousness, our human understanding, which in responding to the challenge, the first servant is able to increase in spiritual understanding to 10, which represents oneness with the Divine nature. The second servant begins with two challenges, which represents an I-Thou relationship with the Divine, approaching a realization one’s inner divine nature. The result is an increase to 4, which is the number of human completion, 4 seasons, 4 directions. It is clearly moving in the right direction!
Then we have the servant who begins with 1 talent, or challenge. He does not realize the potential this one challenge has to bring him into wholeness and fuller realization of his true Divine nature. And what does he do? He ignores it, buries it, and tries to make it go away. He does not give it any energy or attention, which has rather dire consequences for him. And he gives as a reason that the master is a harsh man, explaining that he did not take action because he was afraid of the master. He goes even further and expresses the judgment that the master “reaps in fields where he does not sow,” which somehow justifies him taking no action at all.
Well, the master is quick to point out that it doesn’t quite work that way. He directly questions the perception of the 1-talent servant, suggesting that he did not have the full perspective and even so, he needed to at minimum take the talent or challenge to the bank so that some gain or progress could be made! The clear message is that the servant could have asked for help, he could have prayed, for sure! It is a powerful message that alerts us to the reality that to not act is in fact to act. Ouch! Being afraid is not a viable excuse….feel the fear and do it anyway! Blaming the other in this case, the authority figure, is also not a reasonable justification for doing nothing.
It is interesting to note that Jesus does not argue with the idea that sometimes we reap in fields where we don’t sow which describes the truth and reality of our experience. We face our fears, act in faith and in facing that one challenge that really has us by the throat we grow in consciousness in ways we cannot even begin to imagine! If we refuse, there are consequences—weeping and gnashing of teeth to be precise. I have certainly experienced this as a lived reality! We all have, for sure. We all have issues, challenges that we face readily and realize the reward, which bring us joy. We also have that ONE THING that is getting on our last nerve that we don’t want to deal with, for sure.
The master is not “harsh” in the sense of being cruel. Dr. Michael says a better translation from the Greek is that the master is “resilient” having lived and grown through many challenges! When we remember that we are also the master, we pause and realize all the challenges that we have met and grown through. There are many!
In preparing this talk, I came across a quotation from Iain McGilchrist, British psychiatrist in The Daily Good , May 23, 2023, an article “Attention as an Instrument of Love.” Dr. Mc Gilchrist writes this:
The choice we make of how we dispose our consciousness is the ultimate creative act: it renders the world what it is. It is, therefore, a moral act: it has consequences… The world we know cannot be wholly mind-independent, and it cannot be wholly mind-dependent… What is required is an attentive response to something real and other than ourselves, of which we have only inklings at first, but which comes more and more into being through our response to it — if we are truly responsive to it. We nurture it into being; or not. In this it has something of the structure of love. ~Iain McGilchrist, British psychiatrist
- Iris Murdoch had this in view when she observed that “love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real…”
In the opening story, the water managers in Arizona, California and Nevada have realized that something other than just the needs of their respective states are real. There is incredible power that is unleashed when we, as humans begin to realize that the Universe is more than we are and take action to love rather than just use it. When we wake up to pay attention to “something real and other than ourselves, ….if we are truly responsive to it. We nurture it into being, or not. In this it has something of the structure of love.” Let us love our world, our communities, ourselves and one another into wholeness. Let us act in faith to realize our joy and our common good.
Blessings on the Path,