Great Expectations

Talents of Grace

By Fr. Gregory, February 06, 2021

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. 17 So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

St. Seraphim of Sarov, On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit

“Yes, Father, but what about other good deeds done for Christ's sake in order to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit? You have only been speaking of prayer!” "Acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit also by practicing all the other virtues for Christ's sake. Trade spiritually with them; trade with those which give you the greatest profit. Accumulate capital from the superabundance of God's grace, deposit it in God's eternal bank which will bring you immaterial interest, not four or six percent, but one hundred percent for one spiritual ruble, and even infinitely more than that. For example, if prayer and watching give you more of God's grace, watch and pray; if fasting gives you much of the Spirit of God, fast; if almsgiving gives you more, give alms. Weigh every virtue done for Christ's sake in this manner. "Now I will tell you about myself, poor Seraphim. I come of a merchant family in Kursk. So when I was not yet in the Monastery we used to trade with the goods which brought us the greatest profit. Act like that, my son. And just as in business the main point is not merely to trade, but to get as much profit as possible, so in the business of the Christian life the main point is not merely to pray or to do some other good deed. Though the Apostle says: Pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17), yet, as you remember, he adds: I would rather speak five words with my understanding than ten thousand words with the tongue (I Cor. 14:13). And the Lord says: Not everyone that says unto Me: Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he who does the will of My Father, that is he who does the work of God and, moreover, does it with reverence, for cursed is he who does the work of God negligently (Jer. 48:10). And the work of God is: Believe in God and in Him Whom He has sent, Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:1;6:29). If we understand the commandments of Christ and of the Apostles aright, our business as Christians consists not in increasing the number of our good deeds which are only the means of furthering the purpose of our Christian life, but in deriving from them the utmost profit, that is in acquiring the most abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

2 Cor. 6:1-10: Brethren, working together [συνεργοῦντες] with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain [εἰς κενὸν].

St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, writes: “Let us contribute alike money, eagerness in helping, care for others, and all things for our neighbor's benefit. For the talents in this parable are each person's ability and power, whether by caring for others, or by giving money, or by teaching, or by any other such means. Let no one say, ‘I have but one talent, and I can do nothing.’ For you can bring about fruit even with one talent. You are not poorer than the widow of the Gospels. You are not more unlearned than Peter and John who ‘were uneducated, common men' (Acts 4:13); but nevertheless, because they showed zeal and did all things for the common good, they attained to heaven. For nothing is so pleasing to God, and makes one His friend, as to live for the common benefit.”

YOU OUGHT TO HAVE INVESTED MY MONEY. CHRYSOSTOM: What then does the Master say? “You ought to have invested my money with the banker.” You ought to have spoken to someone and received his advice and been admonished. Are the bankers bad people? That is not for you to say. What could be more gentle than this? Those who give money at interest keep close accounts on its repayment. But you have not done anything with it. You ought to have given it to someone else to work with and required them to report to you. I require it back with increase, that is, with some good works to boot. You ought to have done the easy part and left with someone else the part that is more difficult. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 78.2–3.38

One commentator describes one talent as “the wage of an ordinary worker for fifteen years.” At any rate, the point is not the precise amount but rather that it was a large sum (like a “million dollars” or a “huge amount” in modern speech).

according to his own capability: The master calibrated the amount according to ability to each servant. This motif coupled with the use of “talent” in the story line led to the use of the term “talent” to describe one’s natural ability to do something.

25:16–17. Those with sufficient capital could invest it at a profit; for instance, they could lend it to moneychangers who would use it to turn a profit and give them a substantial share. Lending money at interest directly was also profitable, given the exorbitant interest rates of the period. The normal Roman rate for private loans was twelve percent, though one patron is reported to have lent to an entire city at roughly fifty percent interest! Because most people did not have capital available for investment, those who did could reap large profits.

25:24–25. The smallest possible investment, providing some interest on a savings deposit, could not have endangered the deposit; it would have been as safe as burying the money. The third slave should have known better; he simply did not care what happened to his master’s property (see comment on 25:15–17). The phrase “You have what is yours” was used in Jewish transactions to say, “I am not responsible for this any further.”