When I was about four years old, my parents reminded me, my aunt once gave me a robot. Actually I do remember the robot. It could walk and had these little red missiles on its back. I remember it because it scared me. It must have been the robotic way it walked and the weird whirring sounds it made that were terrifying. And so I kicked it to smithereens when it first tried to approach me. So much for the gentle and geek in me.
There is a scary robot in the Gospel story today. In the story, three servants are given talents (read: big money) in varying amounts. Two of them multiply the sums that were given them. The third one, out of fear, buries the only one talent given to him.
“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.”
Before we judge the guy, we could cut him some slack. I mean the first two had more chances of multiplying the talents given them because they had some buffer and they could leverage what they had. But this third one? He could have been just as enterprising as the other two but what leverage could he possibly wield with just one talent?
Perhaps he did the risk calculation and arrived at the conclusion that the better and more prudent thing to do was to be conservative and bury the trust in the ground. If you don’t use it, you don’t lose it.
Well, actually (and this was where he was misguided), if you don’t use it, you do lose it. Inflation alone will depreciate the value of that talent over time. That was his miscalculation: he allowed himself to believe that value is static and that talents conserved in their original state do not lose their value. Perhaps in the short term, coins do not lose their sheen and money under the bed does not lose its value. But “after a long time” (as the Gospel story points out to us), one talent that is buried is one talent wasted.
And so the Master’s ire is understandable (“You wicked, lazy servant!”) and the servant’s fear is not unfounded. The rage of the Master and the fear of the servant are not however the central point of this story. At best, these are peripheral issues, which have been allowed to occupy center stage in our perverted preference to believe out of fear rather than out of love, to have a religion of complacency and inaction rather than a religion of risk and adventure.
We miss the central point of the story if we miss the first reading today from Proverbs, which to the undiscerning disciple appears only as a tribute to the worthy wife, whose “value is beyond pearls.” This passage from Proverbs prefigures an intimate portrait of who we are (as the bride of Christ) and what we do with what the husband (the groom who is Christ) entrusts to us.
In Proverbs we discover the meaning of the talents entrusted by the Master to his servants. Those talents have nothing to do with money or skills or charms that set us apart from others. The talents that are entrusted to us are his very heart, in other words, his very life and love.
“Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.”
And what do we do with what is entrusted to us? “She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.”
In other words, she does not bury that life and love out of fear. She takes risks with the life and the love that have been given her; she works and weaves something new, something more from what she has received; she multiplies his love, she grows his life that he has so generously entrusted to her care.
There may be a scary robot in the Gospel story today. But that heartless robot is not God. Because of Jesus Christ, we know that God has a heart. And because of this story, we know now the significance of what he has entrusted to us. Let us pray then to overcome whatever it is that scares us. Pray for love to be brave enough to take risks as Christ himself risked his very heart when he gave himself to us.
[by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]
About Jett Villarin, SJ
Fr. Jett is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.