Column: Has the master’s investment in you paid off?

by Father Mike Stubbs

People invest money for a variety of reasons. Some speculate in the stock market. They hope to make a lot of money quickly. Others invest without expecting instant results. They are in it for the long haul.

The current economic crisis has really hurt speculators, whether in the stock market or in real estate. On the other hand, long-term investors can wait the crisis out, until the market springs back. Then their holding should regain in value.

Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 25:14- 30, provides us with a parable in which investing money figures prominently. We usually call it the parable of the talents, from the unit of currency which eventually lent its name to any human ability or aptitude.

Since the parable deals with the subject of investing, we might try to mine it for insights into our own finances. If so, we will be sorely disappointed. It is a parable, a story which draws upon everyday activities in order to teach us something about the workings of the kingdom of God, how God interacts with human beings. It is not economic advice about the workings of capitalism.

In the parable, a master entrusts large amounts of money with three servants without giving them specific instructions on what to do with the money. He then goes off on a journey.

That raises the question: In leaving his money with his servants, does the master have making more money as his ultimate goal? Or instead, does he have as his principal goal the testing of their competence? Is he in it for the money, or something else?

The servant who digs a hole in the ground and buries the money takes the first approach. He explains his decision with the words: “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.” He repays the trust that the master placed in him with mistrust. That is why he loses the little he had to begin with: “Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.”

But notice how badly the mistrustful servant misread his master. Rather than demanding his money back with interest, the master lets the enterprising servants keep the money, and even gives the one talent to the servant with the ten.

The master does not appear to be in it for the money. He has bigger fish to fry: “Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.” Notice the term “small matters.” Scripture scholars have remarked that ten talents amounts to an astronomical sum of money, equal to the gross national product of a small Middle Eastern country.

The master does not appear to be in it for the money, not at any amount. He envisions responsibilities that go beyond the financial. If we think of the master as standing in the place of God, those responsibilities would extend to the spiritual. They would provide a lasting value, far beyond any material possessions.

That points to the master’s ultimate goal. By investing in his servants, he wants a return, but not a financial one. He wants a solid character, a generous heart, one not afraid to risk, a nobility of soul which bears fruit in deeds of wisdom. And the parable suggests that God also wants the same from us.

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