When I was in high school, I knew almost nothing about basketball. My friends played. I didn’t. I played other high school sports, but not that. My friends were mystified.
“You should come out and play,” they said. “No, I couldn’t”, I’d answer. “You should try out for the squad!” they told me. You’re on the volleyball team already. Just come out. You’d have fun.
No, I can’t, I’d tell them.
I’m too busy. Too much homework. Too bored. Too tired. Too this, too that.
But really? Just too SCARED.
It looked like so much fun. But I was worried. Worried I’d get out there and look like an idiot. I don’t remember now, but probably I still remembered when I was in grade two, playing some kind of elementary school basketball. I’d been sent out on the floor when I was still a child and had been so mixed up I’d been passed the ball and had gone the wrong way. As a six year old I’d scored against my own team. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my childhood. Maybe it was the laughter still in my ears over a decade later in high school. It looked like too much. I was scared.
But my room-mate persevered.
“Okay,” he said to me. “Tell you what. You want to stay in shape, right?”
“It’s easier to stay in shape when you’re working out with others, right?”
“The basketballers are in training. Right?”
“THEN, just come out and run with us, and do the training. You don’t have to try out for the team. You don’t have to do anything. Just come out and run and maybe shoot some hoops, and then when the team is picked you leave. Okay?”
“Okay.” I was nervous. But I agreed. I didn’t say yes because my confidence level had gone up. I said yes for one reason, and one reason only. My friend had asked me. And I trusted him.
Once there was a propertyowner, says Jesus, who went away on a journey. And before he went he summoned his slaves, and to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one.
If you and I think about this story at all, which we probably don’t, usually, we think that this is a story about how we Christians DO or DON’T use whatever talents God has given us. And that’s true enough….as far as it goes. But maybe this parable is even more about how, with whatever talents we have in our hands, we do or don’t do what we do as disciples, precisely because of the way we’re already predisposed to see life, and love, and the God who gave us both.
In other words, maybe this parable isn’t so much about talent as about trust. Like me and the game of basketball. I didn’t have talent. But I had trust. Trust in my friends, who told me they’d help me out on the court.
Notice what the slaves say when the Master returns. The slave who had received five talents says: Master, you handed over to me five talents. See? I have made five more. And the Master answers: Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Master. The same happens with the slave who had been given two talents.
But interestingly, the slave who had been given one talent is the only one of the three who is listed as having an emotional reaction. Maybe that says something. Listen again: Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew – notice that word, because it implies judgement – I KNEW that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
Maybe what’s being judged here isn’t really the slaves’ success rate. That would be too easy. Maybe what’s being judged here are the relationships, that is, the fear or the lack of fear, and the trust or lack of trust of those three servants. In the end, this parable is not so much about our talents, as how much we trust ourselves to the One who calls us to use them, and the community in which we might use them. The slaves who feel confident, who feel secure in that relationship with their Master know they can go out there and invest, and risk, and possibly lose, but also possibly gain, for their Master. The slave who is afraid and insecure behaves exactly as you’d expect. What happens if you’re all nervous when you go to tee-off in golf? You duff the ball. What happens if you’re all nervous just before you sing? Your voice cracks. What happens if you’ve been given love and support and you trust yourself to the people around you, even if you have no lessons and no experience? You dance anyway.
As a result, perhaps before we ask the “what” question – what to do in life, maybe we need to ask ourselves the “why” question: why should we risk ourselves? Are we accepted, and encouraged, and loved unconditionally?
Someone could say that this is dangerously close to preaching a God who is really just a mirror to us – and I’m not saying that. But the bottom line, just about everywhere in the Bible, is love. So our Maker doesn’t just reflect our presuppositions. BUT. There’s still a huge truth to the fact that in faith, like in so much of life, we create some of our own realities.
I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Those who do not trust will not risk. That’s as true of our relationship with God as anywhere else.
There’s a group here in Montreal called the “I Can Dream” theatre and dance group. It’s made up of kids who have autism, or have Downs’ Syndrome, or are mentally challenged in one way or another. Yesterday they had one of their concerts here in Montreal and very nearly sold out the Oscar Peterson theatre. Kids who in many cases would normally be told they have no talent for anything, were up there singing and dancing and playing instruments and repeating lines from memory. The musical wasn’t all good. But it was all good, if you know what I mean. And some of it – one song in particular last night, an Italian operatic duet, was SO good in absolutely every sense of the word, so clear and so emotional and just so cleanly and well sung, so note-perfect and emotionally perfect that five hundred people stood up spontaneously and cheered. It was extraordinary. I wasn’t the only one wiping tears from my eyes at the beauty of what those so-called challenged kids could do, on anyone’s scale.
With love. That’s the key. And acceptance.
Once upon a time there was a young man who was afraid to risk playing basketball, but who trusted his friends, if not himself.
That invitation to play along happened thirty-seven years ago. I really was like that slave who had only one talent. I only really ever had one talent for basketball. Not two. Not five. Just one. But I made the team. And even as a not-very-talented player, for over thirty years I enjoyed that sport. I had the time of my life, even a few moments of beauty, until I finally snapped my Achilles tendon at the age of 52.
It’s a good thing for trust, which of course is otherwise called FAITH. Otherwise all that enjoyment, all those years, would have been lost to me.
The Master in this story is God. We are the slaves. And we are called, like in the parable, to be daring for our faith. No matter if we only have one talent. One talent can be enough. Because we will be loved, and accepted, whether we make it OR we fail, whether we do something beautiful in the eyes of the world, or something that’s just beautiful in the eyes of our Lord.
Once upon a time there was a Master who had servants with varying talents. May God help us to remember who we are, and whose we are. May we be as confident as the slaves who had two and five talents, or like the singers here in Montreal in the I Can Dream project. And then, confident that we are free – free to risk, free to learn, free to grow, and also, free to make mistakes, may we take OUR talents, as they have theirs, and go out there into the world. We’re not just here to BE blessed. May we go further – may we learn, in faith and hope, how, also, to BE a blessing.