So, I’ve been having trouble writing. It has not been fun. In fact, the only thing I’ve finished writing in the last few months has been a post explaining that I wasn’t going to write anymore. I saved it away until I was ready to publish it, but I decided to give this thought a try instead.
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.- Matthew 25:14-17
What we have here is Jesus telling a story to teach us about life. A rich guy is taking off for a long time, so he gives huge chunks of his estate into the hands of his servants while he is gone. A talent was an enormous amount of money, roughly the same as what a common laborer could earn in twenty years of work. The servants of this story were expected to use that money to earn more money while the owner was away. It is analogous to the skills that God gives each person. We don’t all have the same skills, some of us are much more “talented” than others. But God expects us to use our skills to improve his estate until he comes back, (see Matthew 25:31-46 to get an idea of the kind of things we’re supposed to be doing).
I first read the book of Matthew as a teenager. When I came to this spot, I thought I must be the man given the five talents. I was good at just about anything I tried, I was well-liked, my teachers talked about my potential. I thought that all I needed was the proper stage, and I would change the world. As life went on, I came to understand that I was probably more like the guy with two talents. I had influence with a certain type of person, I could articulate myself well, I had a pretty solid grasp of the Bible.
However, in a recent re-reading of this parable, I found myself identifying with the man with one talent. People think I’m weird. I lose more often than I win. Rather than being good at most things, I see now that I’m actually mediocre at most things. Not many of my plans come to fruition. My good intentions and best efforts usually bring about a negative result.
Don’t correct me. I am not fishing for compliments. This is not pessimism speaking. The last year has simply given me a new perspective on myself. I don’t know how to put this any way except bluntly. Nine years of working as a church janitor and waiting for a promotion was pretty discouraging. Finally getting to work in youth ministry only to have it taken away after nine months was devastating. When I came back to this place in the Bible, it gave a new understanding for the reason behind my history of failures.
But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Matthew 25:18
I looked back over my life and decided that I had been wasting my time. I’ve been spending my days in the same market as those with five talents. I have bought and sold as well as I could. But while they had profit to show for what they’d done, I had nothing. I decided that this guy in the parable had it right. “Screw this talent,” I told myself, “I’m going to bury it.” And I went about the process of giving up.
But giving up is harder than you think. You see, God is faithful, even when we are not. And just when I was going through that darkness, people who had no idea what I was going through began to reach out to me. I started to get little “Thank You” messages. People from that same past that I had just determined as a waste of time started to tell me about how I had helped them. It wasn’t a flood of gratitude, this isn’t a movie. It was a trickle, exactly proportionate to the efforts of a man with one talent doing the best that he can.
And as I wondered about the meaning of all this, God showed me something. He has given some men five talents, and he has given some men two. They have more leverage than I do. It is easier for them to turn a profit for the Kingdom of God. It’s not like that for me, and it never will be. Every bit of good I have done has entailed difficulty, humiliation, and disappointment. And that’s just the way it’s going to be. That doesn’t mean that my efforts are wasted. It just means that the process is longer and harder than it is for others. My nights will be sleepless. My hands will get dirty. My back will be sore. If I am to serve God and do good for his people, it will be with my blood, sweat, and tears. So be it.