It is estimated that almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than £3.50 a day, and that at least 80% of humanity lives on less than £15 a day.
Here in the UK, on the other hand, we are incredibly wealthy by comparison. I know that some of us may be weighed down by debt or struggling financially in this pandemic to make ends meet but we are, by comparison, the lucky ones when one considers the global picture.
Therefore, it is easy to forget that when Jesus originally spoke today’s Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) he was not speaking to people like us. He was speaking to peasants, the genuinely poor people of his day. And his peasant audience wouldn’t find ‘good ‘news in it. In the parable, the rich master gets richer, as do the two servants who make money for him. That’s why Our Lord finishes the parable with a popular saying of the time about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer:
For to everyone who has will be given more and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Sadly, the truth of that saying, despite the best efforts of some governments, is as real in our time as it was in the time of Jesus.
St Matthew’s recorded this parable for his church community about 50 years after Jesus originally delivered it. A talent was the largest single sum of money at the time, the equivalent of several hundred pounds. But while the parable might be popular among the well-off for its reference to money and investment, the use of ‘talent’ was really a metaphor used by Jesus to represent the moral and spiritual qualities he was advocating to his followers about how to love God and one’s neighbour.
By the time Matthew wrote recorded this story (around 80AD), the context had changed. He was using it to offer advice to his church community about how they were expected to live in the period after Jesus’ resurrection while they awaited his Second Coming. They were expected to develop what Jesus had taught them and not be lazy or playing safe like the third servant in the story who hid his talent. They should, as a community, imitate the cleverness and industriousness of the two other servants and take the risk of developing and spreading the gift of faith they had been given.
The same message holds true for our Church communities today. It is a requirement of our Christian faith to be missionary in spirit by developing our own faith and sharing it with others. This does not come easily to us – many, if not most, of us, are shy or reluctant about talking about our faith. But as Pope Francis reminds us, this is a challenge the Gospel of Jesus expects us to take up, and not leave it to clergy, religious or teachers to do it on our behalf. We are called to resist the all-too-easy temptation to be like the servant who hid the talent – playing safe and keeping our faith to ourselves.
President-elect Biden in his victory speech recounted how his grandfather used to encourage him to ‘keep the faith’ but his grandmother, he said, would always add; ‘no, Joey, spread it’. There was nothing ‘safe’ in the life of Jesus and he asks us to take the risk of spreading our understanding of God’s love better known.
So how do we ensure that the faith we hold in common might be spread rather than remain hidden in the ground and die?
I suspect this challenge will leave some of you cold or, if you are a parent, lead you to shrug your shoulders and say ‘I tried but my children have rejected the faith, and our grandchildren have not even been baptised’. I know many feel this way. But don’t forget that while they may have stopped going to Mass, most of them will be good people, good parents, loving and supportive, and living many if not most of the values of the Gospel. They will be living the social values of the faith you taught them – even if, just to please you, they go to church only once a year at Christmas. So don’t write them off – Christ does not – and do stop accusing yourself of having failed. They are the people they are – good, responsible and generous – because of what you taught them, and they are responding as best they can to what you gave them and what Christ asks of them
But when the pandemic is under control and we are allowed to fling open our church doors once more to all and sundry, it will have to be a priority for us, even from our armchairs, to think of ways of developing our communities and making them as welcoming and attractive as possible to those who may have given up on the Church but have not given up on Christ. What a challenge awaits us!
Holy Name, Jesmond
15 November 2020