Embracing the present

Pentecost 23
Matthew 25:14-30
Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us out of fear and timidity into a life that is full, fulfilling and rich. Amen.

During the week Gail Kelly resigned from her position as CEO of the Westpac Bank. This event not only made the newspapers, but was a matter of some discussion in the wider community. Kelly’s career has been of interest since she was appointed to the position in 2008. She broke the glass ceiling in the corporate world, but more than that, during her time with the bank, she achieved what many of her peers had not. That is, she successfully steered the bank through the global financial crisis and, in what was a critical time for many financial institutions, she significantly strengthened the bank’s position.

In August, at the launch of the St George Foundation, Kelly outlined seven lessons that she had learned along the way. I think that they are worth sharing. In brief, she said: “Choose to be positive; do what you love, love what you do; be bold, dig deep; right people on the bus, wrong people off; have a vision of what you’d like to achieve; practice generosity of spirit (desire to see others flourish) and live a full (whole) life.” Two things caught my attention. First of all, Kelly’s words were not those of a cut-throat, aggressive power-hungry person, but of a pragmatic, sensible, balanced person who has taken risks. Secondly, I was intrigued by Kelly’s advice to be bold and courageous. It is easy for us to imagine that successful people are confident and self-assured at all times. Kelly says that for all her life she has had a sense of: “Gosh, I’m not good enough, I’m not adequate, I’m not going to do this well. I might fail, what happens if I fail?”

A great many of us would relate to these feelings of self-doubt and of the anxiety that doing something new and challenging can cause. Kelly suggests that in such cases we should: “pause, dig deep, take our courage into our hands and actively say: ‘I’m going to back myself.'” Self doubt hasn’t prevented Kelly from taking risks. At such times she has actively said: “there are others out there who are going to support me, there are others out there who want me to win.”

As I reflected on these words, it seemed to me that they helped to make sense of today’s parable about the talents.

It has been usual to confuse the expression ‘talenta’ which refers to a sum of money, with a person’s ability. More often than not, the parable is interpreted as meaning that we have to make the best use of our talents (abilities/gifts). However, if we understand that a “talent” represents something like fifteen years wages of an ordinary worker, we begin to see the huge responsibility that has been given even to the slave who receives only one talent. It is a responsibility that the master expects will be taken seriously. That is he believes that the money will be put to good use.

According to the parable, the first two slaves invest the money. When the man returns, they are able to return to him double what he gave them. The third slave however does not have any confidence in himself. He is afraid of his master and doesn’t fully grasp the master’s confidence in him. (He might only have been given one talent compared to the other’s five and two), but even one talent (fifteen year’s wages) is indicative of the master’s confidence in his ability to manage a huge sum of money. The responsibility paralyses the third slave such that he is too afraid to do anything. He is so fearful of taking a risk that he doesn’t even give the money to the money-lenders which would ensure some form of return. Burying money was regarded as the best form of security against theft. What is more, according to the customs of the time, it was also a way of ensuring that the slave would not be held liable if the money was stolen. The slave presumably believes that he has done what is necessary to protect himself – the money will be safe until the master’s return and even if it is not, he cannot be held responsible for its disappearance.

Unfortunately, he has misread his master’s intention in entrusting him with the money. The master was expecting boldness not timidity. By giving the slave the money, he had demonstrated his trust and his belief in each of the slaves by only giving them only what he believed they could manage. Only one slave has not lived up to that trust. It is his failure to recognise and respond to that trust that earns him the master’s wrath.

The parable of the talents confronts those who, in the present are lazy or fearful who do not understand God’s confidence in them and who do not embrace life to the full, use every opportunity that is put before them and take risks. God does not want us to live in fear of the future, but to live in and be fully engaged in the present.

God has placed His trust in us. Do we honour that trust by being fearful or by stepping out in faith confident in God’s confidence in us?

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