This Sunday, the Church focuses our attention on the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that concludes the earthly ministerial teachings of Jesus. In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus will deliver himself up for our salvation. You may recall last week the parable of the ten bridesmaids, five of whom were “foolish.” Foolishness implies how unprepared individuals are when they face the moment of death because of their inattention to living holy by procrastination, relativism, and presumption. Succinctly, the prerequisite of discipleship is not to be foolish and fall into these traps.
Today’s parable will also focus on discipleship by concentrating on the measure of a faithful follower of Christ. The parable is about three servants entrusted with the master’s possessions, each according to their abilities. To one, he gave five talents, to the other two and the third one talent. The first servant invested the master’s money and received 100% payback, as did the second servant. The third servant, entrusted with only one talent, buried it with no return on the money.
When questioned by the master upon his return, the third servant, out of fear, responded, “Master, I knew you are 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.” In response to the servant’s inactivity, the Master harshly criticized him, saying, “You wicked, lazy servant!”
The third servant didn’t even put the one talent in the bank where he would have received a small return, but a return nonetheless. We are told that his motivation for doing what he did was out of ‘fear.’ The word fear insinuates the relationship between the master and the servant was limited to a master-slave dynamic where the slave acts only with the motivation of not being punished by the more powerful partner. There is no real relationship between the master and the slave, at least according to the lazy servant’s account.
Fear is a real thing, and enemies of Christianity use it to shape the motivations of Christians who have a poor or nonexistent relationship with God. Their fear of what others may think or be canceled by the mob drives them to keep the talents and gifts God has given them from influencing those around them for the glory of God. How often are Christians embarrassed to pray at a restaurant before the meal? They fear what others may think about them when they show an outward sign of faith.
How often do Christians fail to support the Pro-life movement or be present at library and school board meetings speaking out against the pornography and gender lunacy foisted upon innocent children? Indeed, fear is a big motivation for inaction. That is precisely what the evil one counts on by diminishing the number of those who could fight against him. The measure of a disciple who, out of fear, does not use his gifts and talents to promote the Kingdom of God, is relatively low.
The other two servants in the parable act quite differently by doubling the master’s money as if it were theirs. From that fact alone, the two prosperous servants had a relationship with the master, for if that wasn’t the case, they would have acted as lazy servants, producing no return on their master’s money. Even though the amount of financial responsibility differed from the first servant to the second, each worked with what they had and did their best. Their actions exhibited a relationship with the master devoid of fearful intentions.
The measure of discipleship starts first with a robust relationship with God, who tells us not to fear. Jesus reminds his disciples “not to be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
Just as the first two servants received different amounts from their master, we also have been given specific capabilities and talents meant to contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God. For some, it is the ability to communicate. For others, it is serving when all others are fixated upon themselves. Whatever the gifts, the proclamation of the truth of God comes at a risk.
The good Christians who lost their jobs in conscientious objections to taking an untested vaccination took a risk and are paying the price right now. Those Christians who risked going to jail to promote life believe in Jesus’ words of not being fearful. Many parents defied the FBI investigations by speaking up at school board meetings and putting their necks on the line. The Bishop in Texas who spoke the truth, knowing he might pay the price, was removed from his diocese by the Vatican.
The measure of a disciple is a person who has a strong relationship with Jesus and accepts the risk that his life might change drastically and become quite uncomfortable. But just as Peter told Jesus he had given up everything for him, Jesus replied, “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.”