The Weight of Glory
Thirty-third Sunday of the Year. Fr Luke Doherty preaches on the parable of the talents.
This week’s Gospel raises the issue of servants being trusted with something of value. The reference to talents is perhaps lost in translation. Modern readers may think of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in reading this passage. However, this parable doesn’t really have anything to do with our personal talents (whether we are talented or otherwise). A talent in ancient times was a large sum of money, something of great value. It was also something quite heavy. I am not exactly sure what a talent was in terms of empirical weight, but it was most likely equivalent to a large case or rucksack full of a metal such as gold or silver. Say one talent was for argument’s sake worth around £1million in today’s money. That would be the equivalent value of the weight of one talent in gold. A talent would be equivalent to a heavy case or rucksack, something worth a lot. Then of course, there is the question of what to do with that sort of weight of valuable material if the master has gone abroad for a considerable length of time.
Ancient readers would make the connection with this parable of the talents and the kabod of the Lord. This Hebrew word means ‘heavy’, and also translates into gloria. The root meaning behind kabod (heavy) developed into being heavy with riches (in Isaiah 10:3 for instance). The term kabod also refers to the glory of God. In the temple of Jerusalem, the kabod was housed above the mercy seat. This was seen as the place where the Lord dwelled, and the place from where the Lord dispensed his mercy. And this was such a heavy, infinite mercy of God. The glory of the Lord would also fill the temple.
The talents in the Gospel passage refer to our share in the life of Grace. We have a huge share in the mercy of God. Even someone given one talent is given a large weight of valuable ‘stuff’. We are given a substantial share in the divine life, but there is also an expectation that it will increase in value (and, in this parable it would also increase in weight).
Another consideration is that even one talent would be of such a weight that it would be difficult to transport anywhere. It would be of course much easier to distribute the bars or ingots of gold or silver to others, and in some way invest the talents. The problem with the man who buried the talent in the ground is that he misunderstood what he was given. As pointed out, even investing it in a bank would have meant gaining interest on the talent’s value.
When we keep possession of the divine mercy, thinking it is our own – that is what we are told not to do. The message of Christ is that in relation to the thing of great value we have been given: much will be asked of those to whom much has been given – more will be expected of them, because they were entrusted with more.
One message to take from the parable is that burying a talent in the ground is not pleasing to the Lord. Yet, the other stewards managed to invest and generate more valuable gold. Having to haul five talents of heavy valuable metal around and make investments, would also entail some degree of suffering. In the context of the Gospel, this equates to not only taking our share in the Glory of God, but also accepting a fellowship in the sufferings of Christ. Investing the talents is a witness to the power of his resurrection. What is pleasing to the Lord is loving others in charity, fulfilling his commands, and increasing the gift of faith we have been given. The Lord’s gift of the Spirit can be squandered by corruption or irresponsible behaviour. But it can also be squandered by just not sharing or distributing the life of grace we have been given.