Gratitude for God's Gifts: The Parable of the Talents
September 2nd Readings Reflection: Saturday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel is the Parable of the Talents, a well-known parable that can be difficult to understand. Pope St. Gregory the Great, a fifth century Doctor of the Church, wrote a beautiful commentary on this parable. He explained that the five talents given to the first servant in the parable refer “to the gift of the five senses.” The servant in the parable who received two talents received the gifts of “understanding and action,” and the servant who received only one talent received the gift of “understanding.”
St. Gregory explained that the servant with five talents symbolizes those who do not understand deep, mystical truths, but who nonetheless share what theological knowledge they do possess, leading many souls to God through their instruction and example. These souls, St. Gregory wrote, live their lives for God, striving to resist temptation and avoiding attachment to earthly things. St. Gregory explained that the servant with two talents symbolizes those who gain souls for Christ by preaching through their words and actions.
The servant who buried his one talent, according to St. Gregory, symbolizes those who “devote the ability [they] have received to worldly business.” As St. Gregory further explained, this servant also symbolizes Christians “who set out on the path of a better life, and yet are not afraid to continue in carnal indolence.” These Christians recognize their own sinfulness and therefore fear God’s justice, yet nonetheless “fearlessly remain in their own iniquities.” Their hearts are too firmly fixed upon earthly things to truly belong to God.
This perspective on the parable allows us to reflect on which of the three servants we are most like. An honest examination of ourselves will likely discover that we share aspects of all three servants. Many of us—myself included—struggle to understand deep theological truths, like the first servant. We hopefully try to spread the Gospel through our words and/or actions, perhaps answering questions people ask us about God or Catholicism and practicing works of charity, similarities that both the first and second servants shared. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize the ways in which we also imitate the third servant. We are all attached to earthly things in various ways; we (hopefully) recognize our sinfulness, and yet so often we persist in our ways instead of actively working to replace our sins with virtue.
In summarizing today’s parable, St. Gregory wrote, “[T]he greater the gifts, the greater the reckoning for them.” In other words, the more gifts that God has given to us, the more responsibility we have to use those gifts for His glory and not waste them on earthly things. Everything that we possess—our lives, our Faith, our understanding and reason, our families, our homes, etc.—is a gift from God. May the parable in today’s Gospel fill us with profound gratitude for the many gifts God has given us and inspire us to use our talents for the glory of God, that we may merit eternal life.
“What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things [H]e hath rendered unto me? I will take the chalice of salvation; and I will call upon the name of the Lord” (Ps 115: 12-13 DRB).