February 11, 2024

Homily on the Parable of the Talents (St. Nikolai Velimirovich)

Homily on the Parable of the Talents

On God-Created Inequality

(Matthew 25:14-30)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

God creates inequality; men grumble at it. Are men wiser than God? When God creates inequality, it means that inequality is wiser and better than equality. God creates inequality for man’s good, but men cannot see the good in their inequality. God creates inequality because of the beauty of inequality, but men can see no beauty in it. God creates inequality out of love, that is aroused and sustained by inequality, but man can see no love in it.

This is a primitive human revolt of blindness against perception, of folly against wisdom, of evil against good, of ugliness against beauty, of malice against love. Eve and Adam gave themselves into Satan’s power in order to become equal with God. Cain slew his brother Abel because their sacrifices were not equally righteous in God’s sight. From then till now, sinful men have waged war on inequality. Before then, though, God created inequality, and it is still with us. Before then, we say, because God created the angels unequal.

It is God’s desire that men be unequal in all externals: riches, power, status, learning, position and so forth, but He does not recommend any sort of competitiveness in this. "Sit not down in the highest room, commanded the Lord Jesus" (Lk 14:8). God desires that men compete in the multiplying of the inner virtues: faith, goodness, charity, love, meekness and gentleness, humility and obedience. God gave both inward and outward gifts, although He considers outward gifts as lower and of less significance than inward ones. He gave outward gifts for the pleasure of animals as well as of humans, but He has scattered the rich treasury of inward, spiritual gifts only in men’s souls. God has given to men something more than to the animals, and He therefore seeks more of men than of the animals. This extra that He has given consists in the spiritual gifts.

God does not regard what a man is in this world and what he has: how he is clad, fed, taught and respected by others; God looks on a man’s heart. In other words, God does not look on the external status and position of a man, but on his inner progress, growth and enrichment in spirit and in truth. The Parable of the Talents speaks of this, or of the spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on the souls of all men, and shows the great inner inequality of men in their very nature. However, it shows much more than this. In its eagle-like ascent, this parable flies over the whole length of the history of the human soul, from its beginning to its end. If a man were fully to understand just this one parable and its teaching, and fulfil it in his life, he would achieve eternal salvation in the Kingdom of God.

"The Kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one: to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey." The man must be understood as God omniscient, the Giver of all good gifts. The servants are angels and men. Going on a journey signifies God’s long-suffering. The talents are the spiritual gifts with which God endows all His rational creatures. That all these gifts are great is seen from their specifically being called “talents,” for a talent was a high-value coin, worth five hundred gold ducats. We reiterate that the Lord deliberately called God’s gifts “talents” to show their greatness, to show that the most gentle Creator has richly endowed His creatures. These gifts are so great that he who receives one talent receives quite enough. The man also signifies the Lord Christ Himself, as is seen from Saint Luke’s Gospel: "A certain nobleman" (Lk 19:12). This nobleman is the Lord Christ Himself, the only-begotten Son of God, the Son of the Highest.

This is also clearly seen from other words in the same Gospel: "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return." After His Ascension, the Lord Jesus went up to heaven to receive for Himself a Kingdom, promising the world that He would come back to earth as Judge. When we understand the man to be the Lord Jesus, then we see that His servants are the apostles, the bishops, the clergy and all the faithful. The Holy Spirit has poured out many good gifts (though differing and unequal) on each of them, so that the one should complement the other, and so that all together should come to moral perfection and spiritual growth. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal, and this same Spirit divides to every man severally as He will" (1 Cor 12:4-7, 11).

Through the mystery of baptism, all the faithful receive these gifts abundantly and, through the Church’s other sacraments, they are strengthened and multiplied by God. By the five talents, commentators understand the five senses, by the two talents the soul and the body, and by the one talent man’s unified being. The five bodily senses were given to man to serve his spirit and his salvation. It must be man’s concern to serve God in body and soul, and to enrich himself with the knowledge of God and with good works. The whole man, as a unity, must be placed at God’s disposal. In childhood, a man lives by his five senses, in a wholly sensual life; in greater maturity, a man is aware of a duality in himself and a battle between body and spirit; and in full spiritual maturity a man feels himself to be a united spirit, overcoming the division of himself into five or into two. But it is precisely in this full maturity, when a man thinks that he is the victor, that he is threatened by the greatest danger from pride in himself, denigration of others and disobedience to God. Reaching the greatest heights, he then falls to the deepest destruction, and buries his talent in the earth.

God gives to each according to his strength: as much as each can carry and use. Of course, God gives His gifts to men also according to the plan of His dispensation, as the members of a household neither all have the same capacities nor do the same job, but one has a particular capacity and one another, and each works according to his capacity.

"And straightway took his journey." These words signify the speed of God’s creating. When the Creator created the world, He did it quickly. And when the Lord Jesus came on earth for the sake of the New Creation, for the renewing of the world, He quickly carried out His work: He revealed and handed out His gifts, and at once went His way.

What did the servants do with the gifts they had received? "Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them another five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained another two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money." All the application and commerce that exist among men is an image of that which exists, or should exist, in the kingdom of human souls. Of anyone who inherits lands it is expected that he extend them; of anyone who has acquired fields it is expected that he work them; of anyone who has learned a skill it is expected that he use it, both for his own profit and that of his neighbor; of anyone who has a craft it is expected that he pass it on to others; of anyone who has invested money in commerce it is expected that he increase it. Men move, work, beautify things, collect, exchange, buy and sell. Each strives to acquire what is necessary for bodily life, and each strives to improve his health, to take care of his daily needs and to ensure his physical well-being in the longer term. And this is only a rough sketch of what a man must do for his soul, for the soul is the more important. All our external needs are an image of our spiritual needs, and a reminder and teaching that we must exert ourselves on behalf of the hungry and thirsty, the naked and sick, the impure and the miserable, both in body and soul.

Every one of us who has received from God five measures, or two, or one, of faith, wisdom, benevolence, fear of God, yearning for spiritual purity and strength, or meekness, or obedience to God; we must strive at least to double the measure, as the first and second servants did, and as men generally do when engaged in commerce or some craft. He who does not multiply the talent given him—whatever and however great this talent may be—will be cut down like a barren tree and burned. That which is done by a house-holder to every barren fruit tree, that he has vainly dug-about, grafted and fenced around, the great Householder of the universe, to whom men are most precious fruit-trees, will do.

"After a long time, the lord of these servants cometh, and reckoneth with them." God is never for a moment far away from men, let alone for a long time. His aid to men flows from day to day, like a river in flood, but His Judgment, His settling of His accounts with men, comes after a long time. Swift with aid to all who seek His help, God is slow to take revenge on those who anger Him, and who aimlessly squander His gifts. Here it is the Last Judgment that is in question, when time shall come to an end and all the workers will be summoned to receive their pay.

"And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying: 'Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.” His lord said unto him: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” He also that had received two talents came and said: “Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.'” His lord said unto him: “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” One by one the stewards came before the Lord and presented their account of what they had received and what use they had made of it. We shall have to come, one by one before the Lord of heaven and earth, and present our accounts of what we have received and what we have made of it, before millions of witnesses. At that moment, nothing will be able to be hidden or set right. For the Lord will, with His light, illumine all who are present so that they will all know the truth about one another. If we have, in this life, succeeded in doubling our talent, we shall come before the Lord with bright faces and free hearts, like these two first good and faithful servants. We shall be illumined by the light of the Lord’s countenance, and shall be made eternally alive by His words: "Thou good and faithful servant!" But woe to us if we come empty-handed before the Lord and His holy angels like this third, wicked and slothful servant.

What is the meaning of the words: "Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things"? It means that all the gifts that we receive from God in this world, however many they may be, are little compared with those blessings that await the faithful in the world to come. For it is written: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (I Cor 2:9). The least effort, stemming from love for God, is rewarded by Him with rich and royal gifts. For that little that the faithful endure in this life out of obedience to God, and as a small effort for their souls, God will crown them with glory such as the kings of this world have neither known nor imagined.

What happens now to the wicked and unfaithful servant? "Then he which had received the one talent came and said: 'Lord, I knew thee, that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth. Lo, there thou hast that is thine.'” This is the justification for his wickedness and sloth that this third servant produced for his Lord! He was not, though, alone in this. How very many such are there among us, who impute the blame for their wickedness, carelessness, sloth and selfishness to God? Not acknowledging their own sinfulness, and being unaware of God’s loving ways with man, they rail against God from their own weakness, sickness, poverty and failure.

Every word that the slothful servant addresses to his Lord is essentially false. Where does God reap where He has not sown? Where does He gather where He has not strawed? Is there any good seed in this world that is not of God’s sowing? Are there any goodly fruits in the whole universe that are not the result of God’s labors?

The wicked and faithless complain, for example, when God takes their children from them: “See,” they cry, “how He mercilessly takes our children before their time!” On what basis are they yours? Were they not His before you called them yours? And how before their time? Does not He who created time know when their right time has come? Not a single householder on earth waits until his entire forest has grown to maturity, and only then cuts it down, but he cuts it, old or young, as he needs it—both that which has been growing a long time and that which has just sprouted—to put to use in his house. Instead of railing against God and cursing Him on whom depends every breath they take, they would have done better to say with righteous Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Then also the wicked and faithless rail against God when hail destroys their grain; or when their ships, laden with merchandise, are lost at sea; or when they fall into sickness or helplessness. They rail and cry out that God is harsh. However, they say this only because they do not remember their sins, or cannot draw teaching from this for the salvation of their souls.

The Lord replies to this false self-justification on the part of his servant: "Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed. Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury." Usurers are money-changers. They are those who change one currency for another, and in so doing gain their usury. But all this also has its figurative meaning. We must, by the usurers, understand benefactors; by the money, we must understand God’s gifts; and by the usury the salvation of men’s souls. The Lord desires in this way to say to the slothful servant: "You have received a gift from God. You were not willing to use it for your salvation; why, though, did you at least not give it to some benefactor, some man of sensitivity, who would both wish and be able to hand this gift over to others who have need of it to aid in their own salvation? And I, when I come, would find more men on earth among the saved: more who are faithful, ennobled, compassionate and meek. Instead of this, you have buried your talent in the earth of your body, that has rotted in the grave (for the Lord will say this at the Last Judgment) and that is now of no use to you."

Oh, how clear and terrible a teaching this is for those who have great wealth and do not give to the poor; or great wisdom and keep it locked within themselves as in the grave; or any sort of goods and skills and show them to no one; or great power and do not protect the poor and miserable; or a great name or renown and will shed no ray of light on those in darkness! The best that could be said for them is that they are thieves; for they count God’s gift as their own, taking what belongs to others and concealing what is given to them. They are not just thieves but also murderers, for they do not help those they could to salvation. Their sin is no less than that of the man who stood on a river bank with a rope and saw someone drowning, but did not throw him the rope to save himself. The Lord will indeed say to such men what He said in this parable about the wicked servant: "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

It often happens in this life that the little that one man has is taken and given to a man who has much, and this is simply an image of what happens in the spiritual realm. Does not a father take money from a loose-living son and give it to a wise one who will know how to make use of it? Is not a gun taken from an unreliable soldier and given to a reliable one? God takes His gifts away from unfaithful servants even in this life; hard-hearted rich men generally become bankrupt and die in want; selfish sages end in imbecility or madness; saints puffed up with pride fall into sin and end as great sinners; violent rulers suffer ridicule, shame and loss of power; priests who have not taught others by word or example fall deeper and deeper into sin until, in great torment, they take leave of this life; hands that have not been willing to do what they were capable of doing begin to tremble or stiffen; tongues that would not speak the truth of which they are capable become swollen or dead; and all who conceal God’s gifts end as empty-handed beggars.

This parable gives us clear teaching that not only will he that does evil be condemned but also he that does not do good. The Apostle James teaches: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (Jas 4:17). All of Christ’s teaching, like His example, urges us to do good. Keeping ourselves from evil is the starting point; but the whole of a Christian’s life-path must be strewn with good works like flowers. The doing of good works is of immeasurable help in keeping ourselves from evil works. It is hard for anyone to keep himself from evil if he does not, at the same time, do good, and to keep himself from sin without practicing benevolence.

This parable further confirms that God is impartially merciful to all, for some gift is given to every created man. It is true that some are given more and some less, but this in no way changes the situation, because God seeks more from him to whom much has been given, and less of him to whom little has been given. Enough, though, is given to everyone for his or her salvation, and to help in the salvation of others.

It would be a mistake to think that, in this parable, the Lord is speaking only about the rich—of one kind or another— in this world. No; He is speaking about all men without distinction. All are, without exception, sent into this world with some gift. The widow who, in the Temple in Jerusalem, gave her two last coins was very poor in terms of money, but was not poor in the gifts of sacrifice and fear of God. On the contrary; for her good use of these gifts—yes, for her gift of two poor pence—she was praised by the Lord Jesus Himself: "Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury" (Mk 12:43).

Let us take an instance that is the most difficult and the most puzzling. Think of a blind man who is deaf and dumb, who has spent all his earthly life in this state, from birth to death. Someone will ask you: “What sort of gift has this man received from God? How can he be saved?” He has a gift, and that a great one. If he does not see others, others see him. If he does not give alms, he awakens almsgiving in others. If he cannot use words to speak of God, he serves as a living reminder to men. If he does not preach with words, he serves as a proof of preaching about God. He can indeed bring many to salvation, and through this himself be saved.

Thus inequality is placed in the very foundations of the created world. We must rejoice at this inequality, and not rebel against it, for it is placed there by Love, not by hatred, by Understanding, not by folly. Human life is not made ugly by the absence of equality, but by the absence of love and spiritual understanding in men. Let us have more divine love and spiritual understanding of life, and we shall see that twice as much inequality would in no way lessen the blessedness given to men.

This Parable of the Talents brings light, understanding and peace to our souls. It also urges us not to be tardy in carrying out the work for which we are sent by the Lord into the market place of this world. Time passes more quickly than the most swiftly-flowing river, and soon, I repeat, soon, the end of time will be upon us. No one will be able to come back from eternity to take what he has forgotten and do what he has left undone. Let us therefore hasten to make use of the gift we have been given, the talent lent to us by the Lord of lords. May glory and praise for this divine teaching, and for everything, be to the Lord Jesus, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity consubstantial and undivided, now and forever, through all time and all eternity. Amen.

- From "Homilies, vol. 2: Sundays after Pentecost,” Lazarica Press, Birmingham (1998).

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