The Third Servant’s Story

Lucan van Doetechum (1559-1593)
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Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said
“Master, I knew you were a demanding person;

harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.”
”His master said to him in reply, “You wicked, lazy servant!
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him 
and give it to the one with ten. 

For to everyone who has,

more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
                                                                  
                                                                         Matthew 25:24–30

 

The parables of Christ, being works of divine genius, are always deceptively simple while in fact they are complex.  The lines above, quoted from the Parable of the Talents, presuppose two principles important to the life of the soul.   The first is that we live in a moral  world that is always in motion; our souls are always either growing in grace, closer day by day to Jesus, or they are diminishing in spiritual strength, falling  away, however subtly, from their divine destiny.  To him that hath, more will be added.  From those who lack, what little they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:2).   This is a rule of the life of the soul that every Christian will verify.  Christianity is a religion, a way that binds and forms, and as a religion it must be practiced day by day.  When Satan, ever active, manages to introduce the tiniest bit of spiritual lethargy, when our prayers seem dry and pointless, when he cajoles us into giving them up for just one day,  he inaugurates a process that if not with the help of grace arrested will lead to destruction.  On the other hand, when our hearts are full of the charity that binds us to Christ, prayer and good works seem easy and fulfilling and we long to be drawn closer to Jesus.   

The spiritual world we inhabit is always in motion; we are moving closer to the Presence and the Vision or away from that divinely appointed destiny.    There is no pleasant plateau: failure to grow, if not amended, means death to the soul.  This is illustrated by the story of the third servant.  The first two servants had taken custody of the master’s money and put it at interest, making increase for the Master.   The unfortunate who had received but one talent and who being fearful had hidden it, was called by his Lord, “You wicked, lazy servant,” and was bound and cast into prison. And when he tried to return the one talent  to his master, it was refused, with the command that it be given to the more provident first servant.   

The second great premise of the Parable of the Talents is the truth that the successful life is an adventure in all its aspects, spiritually fundamentally, but also in the other aspects of life on earth.  Spiritually, as a Christian one places his life in the hands of a Lord whose perfect divine sonship is often not affirmed, not only by secularists, but sometimes even within the Church; the believer hopes for the return of Jesus from the sky, like the lightning flashing from East to West (Matthew 24:27, Luke 17:24), to bring this age of grace to a perfection and a close even when great scholars such as Schweitzer proclaim this a false hope; you give your time, time that always seems in short supply, to liturgy, the worship and work of Christian people, prayer and good works.   On any grounds other than grace-given faith this is to adventure into an illusion.  

And this gift of self to the truth the world calls illusion has an analogy in the management of the goods of this world.  It was with good reason that Jesus chose the management of money as the activity illustrative of the adventure of faith.  In this adventure the third servant, the one given only one talent, failed miserably.  He should have invested his money at interest so that on the Master’s return the Master should have found an increase.  But the third servant buried the money he had been given in the ground because he was afraid, knowing that his Lord was a  hard master.  His fate was to lose even the one talent he had been given and to be cast into outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.   The good life, the Christian life, is an adventure, and to prescind from the adventure in favor of security either in things spiritual or things material and economic is to court ruin.  

In this regard the spiritual and the worldly are so closely interlinked that one will not flourish without the other.  The third servant having chosen security rather than the adventure of life is open to the political fact called socialism, the system in which the adventure of life, as well as its pains, are subsumed into a blanket of community security.  There is no mystery in the fact that, granting the necessity that the political community help those who cannot help themselves, where universal material security prevails, Christianity dies, for one cannot have the habit of choosing the security that guaranteed comfort encourages over the adventure of life without cutting the root of the spiritual life, itself rooted in wonder and faith,.   Where your treasure is, there your heart will be; where your security is, there your heart will be (Matthew 6:21).   

Finally the character of the good Lord as displayed in this parable should be noted.  He is a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not plant.  His justice is not the reciprocal justice between individuals, not what moral philosophers call commutative justice, not a reciprocal exchange of goods, but  justice that is as high, as holy, and as hidden as His mercy is unfathomably, to us unreasonably, great yet never disparaging of His just character.  This is a side of the divine nature as it is revealed to us that is now not often canvassed.   It illustrates the truth that life is a gift too great to be wasted without consequence, a morally dangerous game in which no provision is made for sitting it out on the sidelines.  Having given us one good life, the Lord wants it back not merely as it was received but with interest, the flaws with which it was necessarily born amended, its weaknesses turned into strengths, its moral ignorance turned into spiritual knowledge, our love of self transformed into love for Him and for those others He also loves with a deep and indefeasible love, our fellow pilgrims.   

 

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