Oftentimes, especially during hard economic times, a question is raised by some about inequality of material possessions between people, and whether wealth should be redistributed in some fair fashion. On the other hand, some are wondering whether able but idle people already get more than they deserve. The Parable of the Talents gives us a perspective that helps us to put us on the right side of those issues.
As I was growing up with my two other siblings, that were born 1 and 2 years apart, I had to learn to share. We did not get money allowances; nevertheless, when our parents, or relatives, or other good folks gave us treats, these were to be divided equally among us. As I remember, it seemed unfair to me that my younger brother should receive the same part as I. Similarly my older sister might have thought the same about us, her younger brothers, and our equal shares.
A little later, when I got older and could really comprehend the Scripture read in the church and the sermon preached by the priest, I was relieved to learn from the Parable of the Talents that the Lord is only concerned with how wisely His gifts are used and not at all with how equally they are apportioned. After all, God possesses limitless abundance, and how does one equally divide that which cannot be even counted? No wonder then, that the master in the parable distributed talents to his servants not by some principle of equality, and not even according to the servants’ needs, but according to their abilities.
As I mentioned earlier, in our parents' home in Ukraine kids did not get an allowance. When we needed (or wanted) something, we either had to present our case to the father as to why we should get it, or just asked our mother, and she interceded on our behalf. I suppose, for those who grew up in America, in homes where getting allowance was common, a more relevant illustration would be where siblings received equal amount of allowance. For the most part (except possibly the youngest), kids would not consider it to be fair. Of course, most parents attach some requirements to getting an allowance, like good grades at school, good behavior, having the chores done, and possibly some other criteria which affect the amount of allowance. Yet even if children got equal amounts every week, it would hardly guarantee that at the end of the month they would have the same sum of money. The difference would be even more drastic by the end of the year. Why? Because they used what they were given differently: one mostly spent the money, another mostly saved, yet another bought some gadgets and sold them at a profit to his schoolmates.
Unlike kids who generally are free to use their parents' treats and allowances as they wish, our heavenly Father always expects us to manage the given talents wisely. He neither gives out His talents to everyone equally, nor does He expect results to be equal. According to the parable no matter what the initially received amount was we are to invest and grow, and multiply it, so that we are rewarded, when the Master returns.
Now let’s consider the moral of the parable, "To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away." This quote sums up the meaning of the parable and seems to have turned into a proverbial expression. How do we to understand this passage?
Profitable servants in the parable were praised and called "good and faithful." They were good as persons and faithful in relation to their master and towards what he entrusted to them. The unprofitable servant was called "wicked and lazy." Considering his moral inadequacy he should have felt lucky to even get that one talent. He should have used this opportunity to prove to his master that he is able to grow with goodness as a person, and as a result to increase the talent given to him. Instead, he approached it with laziness, he buried the talent, and then in justification of himself he blamed it on his master being a hard, unfair and greedy man. That's how a wicked, unproductive person tried to justify his laziness ... as if accusing your employer of greed should relieve you from the responsibility to work diligently and to make a profit for him.
This parable motivates us to consider how we use what we are gifted with. Do we bury our talent because of laziness and wicked life? Do we try to justify our unprofitability by blaming it on someone's greed? Or perhaps, we are dissatisfied with the amount of talents we received, and are obsessed about it being not equal or fair, rather than doing the best with what we got?
Beloved, please remember, the Master surely will return and will require us all to give Him an account. Let us be good servants, work diligently, use wisely and increase his talents. Let's be faithful even over "few things," so that He can make us rulers over many, and most importantly allow us to enter into His eternal joy. Amen.
Fr. Ivan Petrouchtchak
St. John the Baptist, Portland, OR