Using Our Gifts
Let's take a few minutes to review today's Gospel reading. Jesus tells us a parable about a master who, before setting out on a journey, gives coins to three of his servants. The first servant, who receives five coins, makes good use of his gift. He earns five more. The second servant, who receives two coins, also puts the money to good use and earns two more. The third servant receives only one coin. He does nothing at all with his gift; he merely buries it in a hole in the ground.
When the master returns, he calls his servants to him and asks to see what they have accomplished with the coins he had given them. He is pleased with the first two servants, compliments them on their faithfulness, and promises to give them greater responsibilities (i.e., a higher status). But when the third servant shows up with just his single coin, the master is furious. “You wicked, lazy servant!” he exclaims.
This might seem a little extreme to us. The servant doesn't lose his money. He doesn't waste it foolishly or throw it away. He just buries it. So why is his master so upset?
He's upset because gifts are meant to be used. They are designed to bring about some good in the life of the receiver. The master wants his gifts to be fruitful for his servants, but that requires some effort on their part. The first two servants make the effort and reap the rewards. The third does nothing.
The master really doesn't even expect that much out of his servants. He asks the third servant, “Should you not then have put my money in the bank?” At least it would have earned some interest that way, and the lazy servant wouldn't have had to do much at all.
In the end, because he refuses to use his gift, the “useless servant” is deprived of that gift and tossed into the darkness outside his master's house.
This parable can give us some insight into the Catholic doctrine that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation. God gives us the great gift of faith in His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ. This faith can indeed save us but only if we actively accept it and use it. Like the master in today's Gospel, God expects His gift to bear fruit. He expects us to use our faith, to live it, and to bring it to bear on the world around us. If we merely bury our faith somewhere deep in a hole inside us and leave it there, we will end up living like we don't have it at all. Our faith will do no good to us or to anyone else, just like the lazy servant's coin does no good to him or his master.
The Letter of James emphasizes this point: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:14-17).
Questions for reflection:
1. How am I living my Christian faith? Am I making God's gift of faith fruitful in my life? How? Am I more like the two active servants or the lazy one?
2. What other gifts has God given me? How am I using those?
3. Am I neglecting any of God's gifts? Have I buried them away? How might I dig them up, dust them off, and put them to use?