The parable of the Talents appears in different forms in each of the three Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew, the amount is a silver talent, each worth more than a thousand dollars. In Luke it’s just a pound, or ‘mina’, worth only thirty. Matthew has the lord distribute unequal amounts to his three servants; Luke has many servants receive just one pound each.
But these are details. They should not distract from the point of the parable, which is: how do we use the gifts God has entrusted us with?
The word ‘talent’ has passed into common use as a natural ability given at birth, which when used brings fame, fortune and a sense of one’s resourcefulness. We are encouraged to ‘develop our talents’, not to ‘hide them’ – expressions which originate from this parable, one of the better known in the Gospel and often quoted.
First, the setting: a nobleman about to set out on a journey, entrusts his ten slaves with a pound each. “Trade with these until I return”, he commands. On his return, he demands an accounting. He praises those servants who have multiplied his wealth and rewards them generously. One of the ten, however, afraid of the risks of losing what he has been given, has hidden his talent in a safe place and returns it intact to his master. He receives the greatest censure.
The story is a metaphor for the Endtime. The point is not when the master will return, but that he will surely return and demand an accounting. Is this parable addressed therefore to those with responsibilities in the Church, as a challenge to them not to fail through inertia and diffidence? Do not be nervous and afraid, the story says, but be bold and enterprising.
In recent years, the charismatic renewal has brought to a common awareness the numerous gifts – or ‘charisms’ – which so many ordinary people have been blessed with. These are not meant to lie dormant, but used; used for the benefit of the community, to encourage it, to build it up, to witness to the world. If over the centuries, ‘talent’ has come to have a somewhat self-centred meaning, then surely today ‘charism’ is a better translation. It stands for a gift from God, which truly enhances the powers of the individual, but which is meant for service in the community.