At Holy Mass this Sunday we read verses 14 to 30 of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents. Next Sunday, when we keep the Solemnity of Christ the King, we will hear the rest of the chapter. Matthew 25 enjoys great fame as a chapter. Next week we will hear: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…He will separate the _____ (sheep) from the _____(goat)s.”
When He does, the criteria for judgment will be: “I was hungry, and…(you fed me)” “I was thirty, and…(you gave me drink)” “A stranger, and…(you welcomed me)” “Naked, and…(you clothed me)” “Sick, and you…(cared for me)” “In prison, and you…(visited me)” The sheep will ask incredulously, When did we see you so, Lord? “Amen, whatever you did for…(the least of my brothers), you did for me.”
In other words, the divine King has not left us in the dark, when it comes to the Final Judgment.
He has painted a crystal-clear picture for us. Matthew 25. Goats don’t help the poor neighbor. Sheep help, without even thinking about it. Then, the sheep die, and wake up in heaven, and only then do they realize that the Lord Jesus Himself had visited them countless times, in His distressing disguise.
Now, I bring all this up not because I want to skip over our gospel reading for this Sunday. I simply feel that we need to take proper cognizance of this fact: the Parable of the Talents appears in the famous and crucially important chapter about the Final Judgment.
The Lord actually told two slightly different versions of this parable. Matthew’s gospel has a master giving talents to his servants; Luke has a king giving gold coins to his. A “talent” equaled the annual income of a skilled wage-earner. So the master of Matthew’s parable has as much money as the king in Luke’s.
Anyway, all the minor differences in detail aside, let me cut to the chase. These parables both contain the same decisive line, which is my own personal favorite sentence in the Bible.
After the other servants present the profits they have earned, the last servant pulls out his buried treasure and says, “Master, I knew you were a demanding person.”
I knew you were a demanding person.
The master hammers this man’s colossal, self-defeating obtuseness like this: “You wicked, lazy lout. I condemn you out of your own mouth. You knew I was a hard man!”
And He is. A hard man. He comes in His distressing disguise all the time. When we have grown weary and dissatisfied and impatient with life’s monotony, He suddenly shows up, in the form of an annoying individual, and demands kindness, demands understanding. He demands daring acts of generosity and love from us, even when our tanks feel empty.
Like I said, a talent was a lot of money, about $50,000 US. The master gave the first servant $250,000 to work with. The servant managed to hand the master a half million upon return. $250,000 became $500,000. Parable says the master had traveled “a long time.” Coupla years, maybe. Not overnight, exactly. But quick enough.
Let’s say I’m looking for an absolutely safe, insured investment. I have $250,000, and I go to the bank. What kind of interest will they offer me these days, for a no-risk investment? I’ll be lucky to get 2%. So, how long will it take to turn $250,000 into $500,000, with no risk? 35 years. And that doesn’t take inflation into account. If I adjust for inflation, it will take 70 years.
My point is: The first and second servants never played it safe. The only explanation for their huge profits is: They took colossal risks. They hustled. They stepped out into unknown territory, thinking: I might not survive this. But if I do…Wow.
What if the master came home after a year or two and discovered a completely different situation? The first servant says, “Master, I took some chances with your $250K, and I lost it.” The second says, “Master, I got into such-and-such business with your $100K. I overspent on inventory, the market dried up, and so here’s the $500 I recouped at the fire-sale I had to have.” Then the third one says, “Well, looky here, sir! Here’s your $50K that I buried safe and sound in the soil in the backyard.”
What would the master say, if he had come home to this, instead of what we read? Would he weep, and gnash his teeth, and moan, “That $400,000 I gave you guys—it’s all I had! Now we will, all four of us, have to live like this third wretched, lazy fool, on the $50,500 that we have left. Go, sell the horses, sell the tapestries, sell my wine collection! This is miserable. We are ruined.”
Now, what kind of obtuse numbskull do we think this master is? That he would leave his entire wad in the hands of these three? While he traveled in another country for two years? Hardly. The $400K he left in their hands was chicken feed to him. He keeps $400K in the pockets of his spare pants. After all, this is the same Master Who makes the sun rise every morning.
No, this Master would say: I’m proud of you first two fellas for having the courage, and trusting me enough. Take this do-nothing chump’s $50K and have another crack at your schemes. But first, bring me my slippers, and sit down, and let me tell you about my trip…”