34th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Parable of the Talents

Today’s Gospel challenges us with the parable of the five talents, a lesson with great application for how we live out our faith and life in Christ.  There are three aspects of the parable of the talents that I’d like to focus on today: First, we’ve all received “talents,” resources, blessings that are purely a gift of God’s mercy and love.  These gifts are entrusted to us with the expectation that we’ll be faithful stewards of these blessings from God.  Second, we’ll all give an account for how we’ve made use of those talents or how we’ve neglected them.  Third, it is not just the outward use of our talents by which we’ll be judged, but also by the attitude of our hearts.  

The talents represent all that the Lord has entrusted to us—spiritually as well as physically.  We’re meant to use our talents to further our participation and that of othersin His Heavenly Kingdom.  The use of our talents is never, never meant to be just about serving ourselves. That is burying our talents. We are judged by how we use our talents to further Christ’s Kingdom.  The entire chapter of Matthew 25 is geared toward this point, beginning with this parable and culminating in the parable of the sheep and the goats as they face Christ’s Judgment Seat.  

Ask yourself, What talents (resources, blessings, abilities, gifts) has God entrusted to me? Have you been using them to God’s glory?  Are you continuing to learn how to use them to glorify God and give a return on His ‘investment’ in you, or, have you been keeping them to yourself, “hiding them in the ground,” in the words of the parable?  These are the two options: we either are generous toward God, realizing that what we have, 1,2, or 5 talents, is a gift of His mercy and love, entrusted to us by God.  Alternatively, we live as if everything we have is our own and find ourselves miserly toward God, His Church, and those around us.  Everything, everything we have, is a gift from God. Psalm 24:1 reminds us of this truth: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.”  . 

Do you serve, worship once a week, witness, pray daily, tithe to the church, sing?  You do well, but are you holding anything back? God isn’t satisfied just with the outward use of those talents, but the attitude of our heart as well.  Do we desire to love and serve God more? Do we strive to come outside our comfort zone to serve God where He has us, cultivating a grateful heart for such opportunities  to grow in love of God and neighbor or do we see them as tiring drudgery? 

Now, to the second point: We’ll all give an account to God for how we’ve used that which He’s entrusted to us of our gifts, talents, resources, blessings.  This truth, this glimpse into the Judgment at Christ’s Second Coming, is clearly seen in this Gospel Parable Christ teaches us. Each of the three servants gives an account. So here is another truth revealed: God does not show partiality—all receive the same reward, His Kingdom, no matter how much has been entrusted.  

The servant with the five talents is faithful with what’s been entrusted to him, which is much. He enters into “the  joy of the Lord,” that is, paradise, the Kingdom of God, life eternal in God’s near presence.  But the servant with the two talents receives the same reward: he’s faithful with the two talents he has and makes two more and so, he hears the same blessed words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord….”

But then we have to confront the unfaithfulness of the servant with the one talent.  Note that he too receives a talent.  God is faithful.  God gives to all.  Had the servant with the one talent been faithful with what was entrusted to him, he would have surely received the same reward as the other two, but he chooses instead to “bury” his talent.  To bury your talent means to use it only for earthly purposes, for yourself, for this world and this life, wasting the opportunities that hearing the Gospel and acting on it affords each of us.  In the end, the one who’s buried his treasure will be found wanting, having disregarded God’s love and mercy.

Notice the difference in attitude between the servants with the five and the two talents versus the servant who received the one talent, who says, “‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. ’And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’”

There’s no gratitude here and, therefore, no love, but only a sense of judgment. Ironic isn’t it: the servant with the one talent accuses his Master of being a harsh judge, but look at how he judges him to begin with.  It reminds me of the people we’ve all met who judge God and judge His people as hypocrites for leading less than perfect lives but still going to church. Exactly!  The first step toward healing from sin-sickness and growth is recognizing that you need healing and growth to begin with.  Someone who’s going to church and stiving to live the Christian life—however imperfectly but humbly—has the attitude of the first two servants.  But the attitude of the third servant—the one with a single talent—is already self-condemned because of his own self-righteous judgment and idleness toward the good gift entrusted to Him: that is, the opportunity to inherit eternal life.  The Orthodox Study Bibleputs it this way, “Idleness is as much a rejection of God as wickedness.”  

Now to our second point: How will you respond to our Lord at His Second Coming?  That response is formed each day by how you relate to God, what you return to Him in a spirit of thanksgiving from what He’s already abundantly given and entrusted to you in His love and mercy.  I challenge you every night after you say your evening prayers to ask yourself what you want to thank God for today.  I encourage you as you prepare your self-examination for Holy Confession, that you ask yourself how faithful you have been with your talents. If we cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving toward God, we’ll be less self-focused and self-pitied, ego-driven, and more able to be the faithful stewards God has created and called us to be. 

The third point is the question of the attitude of the heart.  This is what we each one needs to ask himself.  Psalm 50 reminds us of the truth: “A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”  Humility and contrition through repentance, which is at the heart of Psalm 50 and the Orthodox life in Christ, is a virtue we can cultivate and which will not disappoint; it will spur us on to live our lives as faithful stewards, keeping the Kingdom of God and the prize of life with God before us and Christ in us.  

St. John Chrysostom says on this point, “Let us, therefore, refrain from craving after the things of this life, neither after the luxury of the table or costliness of raiment (clothing).  For you have the most excellent of raiment, you have a spiritual table, you have the glory from on high, and Christ has become to you all things, your table, your raiment, your home, your head, your stem.  ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’”

Being part of a Mission is an opportunity to use your talents to help build up a new vine of Christ’s Holy Church.  It is also a responsibility.  Why do we plant the flag of the Church here?  We do so because in love of God and neighbor we want to see others come to the knowledge and love of Him. We do so to follow Christ’s commandment to disciple others and grow the Church.  Mission life is outreach and community service personified. Using our talents here helps further Christ’s Kingdom, to share the truth and light of Christ with those who do not yet know Him in His fulness in His Church.  It also helps those already Orthodox to be stretched to grow in their faith as they use their talents.  In a big church, there are always others to step in to keep things going.  In a Mission, there are more opportunities and needs to come outside yourself and your own priorities to grow in faith and love in service to others, to build up the whole through your use of your talents.  In a Mission, everyone’s important, everyone’s needed, everyone has an opportunity to serve and give of themselves to see a return on their talents. Many have sacrificed much for this Mission, which began with and continues in this missionary vision. 

God sees every sacrifice, every aspect of our striving to live for Him and use our talents to His glory.  He will not return them to us empty, but as He teaches us in this parable, will reward those who step forward in faith to grow His Church, to reach out in witness that others too may come to the fulness of the life in Him in His holy Church.  In many respects, Mission life is the most akin to the images we see of the Early Orthodox Church as we study the Fathers and their writings from the first two centuries of the Church.  Thank God, they sacrificed all and used their talents to draw so many others to Christ with their fervent witness even in the face of so much persecution.  Look how they multiplied their talents: the Church grew rapidly in spirit and in numbers in their faithfulness and selflessness in cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, you and I now have Christ for our raiment.  We’ve been sealed by the Holy Spirit.  We’ve been entrusted with many talents.  God desires to give us paradise.  Serve God, use your talents, fan the flames of love toward God and the people around you.  Do not be indifferent to their needs, build Christ’s Church, grow the Body as you yourself grow in faith and hear the words of the Master: “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord….”

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

27 January 2019

Epistle: Colossians 3:12-16                

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30               The Parable of the Five Talents