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  Turning Talents to Profit


 Saint Gregory the Great

For even as a man going into a far country called his servants and delivered to them his goods; and to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability... (Matt. 24:14-30)

The reading of this Gospel, dearly beloved, would have us consider that those of us who receive more gifts than others in this world, will be judged more strictly by its Creator. For, according as the gifts increase, the account demanded will be more exacting; therefore a man should be more humble and use his gift more diligently in God's service, the more heavily he sees himself indebted.. Here, then, is  a man about to set out on a journey. He calls his servants and distributes some talents among them, so that they may trade with them. After a long time he returns to ask those servants for an account of their doings. He rewards those who have worked well and gained profit but he condemns the slothful for ever.

Who is this man who sets out on a journey but our Redeemer, Who ascended into heaven in that same flesh which He had assumed? the earth is the proper home of the flesh, but it travels, as it were, to foreign lands, when our Redeemer ascends with it to heaven. This man, on the eve of his journey, entrusted his goods to his servants because he left spiritual gifts to the faithful who believed in him. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another only one. There are five senses of the body: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell: so the five talents represent the gift of the five senses: that is to say, external knowledge. the gifts of understanding and action are signified by the two talents, and the single talent represents the understanding alone. But he who received the five talents gained another five, for there are some people who, although they cannot understand interior and mystical things, nevertheless, by their desire for their heavenly home, teach sound doctrine to all whom they meet, doctrine concerning those exterior matters which they can understand. As they themselves refrain from the caprices of the flesh, they are freed from the fetters of earthly things and from the desire of visible delights, and by their counsel, they free others also. Likewise, there are some who as if endowed with two talents, have a good grasp of what refers to intellect and action: they understand the subtleties of the interior life, and outwardly they work wonders. When they teach others by their learning and example they derive, as it were, a double portion from their trading. But he who received only one talent, going his way, made a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. To hide one's talent in the earth is to occupy the intelligence God gives us in purely earthly matters, not to seek spiritual profit, never to lift our heart above worldly considerations. /.../

Listen to the sentence passed upon the idle servant: Take ye away therefore the talent from him and give it him that hath ten talents.

It would have seemed more natural to give the talent taken from the worthless servant to him who had received two talents rather than to him who had received five, that is, to him who had less rather than to him who had more. But, as we said before, by the five talents the five senses are signified, that is to say, the knowledge of exterior things, while the two talents represent understanding and action. Then he who had received the two talents had more than him who received five because the latter, who merited the praise of his master by his stewardship of the exterior things he had been given, was as yet without the interior gift of understanding. The one talent, then, representing intellect, was rightly give to him who looked well to his outward responsibilities. We see this occur every day in the Church: many who are faithful servants in external things, who put to profitable use the outward benefits which God's grave confers on them, attain a mystical understanding which produces also their inward enlightenment.

Immediately we hear that other sentence which is passed upon mankind in general: To every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but, from him that hath not that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away. It will be given to him who already has and he shall abound, for everyone who has the gift of charity receives other gifts besides. But he who has not the gift of charity will lose even those gifts which he seemed to have. So it is necessary, brethren, that charity should be the motive of all your actions. It is true charity to love your friend in God, and your enemy for God's sake. He who has not charity loses all the good he had; he is deprived of the talent he was given and, in the words of Christ Himself, he is cast into exterior darkness. The punishment of him who voluntarily lived in interior darkness is to be thrust into exterior darkness; there against his will he must suffer the darkness of punishment because here he willingly enjoyed the blindness of his passion.

We should observe that no idler is completely deprived of talent. There is no one who can say truly: I have received no talent and therefore I cannot be called to account for it. We have all received something, however small, for which we shall have to render an account. One received the gift of intelligence, and with it the duty of preaching. Another receives worldly wealth, and with it the obligation of using it well. Another received neither intelligence nor wealth but he learned the craft with which he earns his livelihood, and this same skill will be accounted to him as the talent given. A fourth possesses none of these things, but it chances that he enjoys the friendship of some rich man, and this familiarity is his talent. If he neglects to mediate with his friend on behalf of the poor, he is condemned for burying his talent.

...The judge, when he comes, will demand from each of us in accordance with the gifts he gave us. So that each one may be sure that his account will be an acceptable one he should think continually, and with fear, of the gifts he has received. For now the time is near when He who left us will return. For when He, having been born on this earth, went far away from it, it was as if He went on a journey. But soon He will return to call us to account. If we slacken in our good works, he will judge us all the more severely for those talents which he gave us. Think, then, of what you have received, and try to profit by its use. No earthly cares must distract us from spiritual works lest, if we hide the talent we have been given, we arouse the anger of the Lord to Whom it belongs.

Excerpted from Pope Saint Gregory the Great: Parables of the Gospel; 
Scepter, Dublin, 1960.


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