Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of a rich landowner who entrusts his possessions to his slaves and then goes away. After a time, the landowner returns and asks that his possessions be returned to him, along with whatever “interest” the slaves have been able to add to what was given them. In Matthew, the parable of the ten talents portrays the reckoning brought upon the slaves at the master's return, and the misery of the one poor soul, so afraid to disappoint the master by losing his investment, that he buries it, returning the one meager talent untouched. The irony in Matthew is that the very thing this slave was afraid of actually took place, because of his timidity, and because the master was “a demanding man”.
Through each of these stories, a paradox becomes abundantly clear: the powers conferred only grow when used, and shrivel to nothing if unused.
I have not yet met a person who truly believes and feels that they have enough of what truly matters in life. There is always a sense that we need more patience, more compassion or love. We ask constantly for more forgiveness and an increase in the ability to extend forgiveness to another. Our lot as human beings seems to be that we are never satisfied, and even the most blessed and humble among us has at least one thing he or she would love to have. But I believe that our lot as human beings is also to always be surprised by what we are able to do when push comes to shove, when we find ourselves in situations where we are “forced” to use that of which we feel we have too little.
The demands of our lives can seem overwhelming. We worry and fret over the physical demands of providing for ourselves and our families, seeking not just the necessities, but at least a few of the “extras” that might indicate we are doing well. And then when the extras in life become the norm, they become part of the necessities. In this process we set ourselves up, and through us our children, to believe we need much more than we do. Our choice of foods and portion size, the brands of cloths that must be worn, the size of the TV and the literally hundreds of choices of TV stations necessary to satisfy us are all indications that we have been conditioned to expect too much in life. We take on a spirit of entitlement, and can become depressed and stressed when we cannot achieve our “normal” standard of living. We basically build up the expectations we have for our lives to such a degree, that we fear ever to be able to achieve them. Some of us will even stop trying to achieve our goals, knowing that the work may be too much for us. We can lose sight of the real value to what we already have. Like the slave who buries the talent in the ground, we do nothing with what is already ours, for fear that we may lose even that and never get what we want.
Spiritually we do the same. I know for a fact that I will never have enough patience, compassion, or forgiveness, but will that stop me from offering what I have? I fear that there will be opportunities presented in my life for which I will not have an answer, but should that stop me from still moving forward? There may very well be times when I run out of energy and feel like cashing it all in, but can I quit working at what my life is today for fear of what life might be like tomorrow? Certainly not! That in itself would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, the irony of all ironies, and the betrayal of the paradox of our faith. To do any of this is to be like that slave again, who, fearing that what he had was inadequate in meeting the demands of the master, hides it and thereby denies its very existence until the day of reckoning. What “little” he had was taken away: what “little” I have will shrivel unless used to its full capacity.
The demands of our Master are simple, and fully attainable. He does not ask me, or you, to serve him to the same level, but to serve him to the fullest of our capabilities. What gifts God has entrusted to us, physically and spiritually, are given in the amount which God knows we will use and need in our lives. We must trust that they are indeed enough - at least to get us started - and will only grow as we use them.
Not enough patience then, or compassion, forgiveness or whatever, you think? Then use what you have, and give completely to the point of emptiness, holding absolutely nothing back. This, after all, is the demand placed upon every Christian by our God. Only then will we see how much can be done with so little, and be surprised, again, at the true level of God's gifts to us.