One-Talent Wonder

You all know the parable (Matthew 25:14-30).  There's this man, see, who was going on a journey, but before he left, he called three of his servants to him and entrusted them with his goods.  "And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability: and immediately he took his journey."  While he was away, the servant to whom he gave five talents used the money in trade and raised five more talents; and the servant to whom he gave two talents did likewise, raising two.  But the third took his one talent and buried it in the earth.  Guess who gets the kudos when the master returns?  Not the one who buried his talent to keep it safe, oh, no!  Rather, the other two who took the lord's money and made more of it.  And so the master took the one talent from the servant who buried it and gave it to the servant who had doubled his five, so that the one who had had five talents now had eleven, while the one who had only one was cast into the outer darkness where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth."  "For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away."  Read: "Life simply isn't fair and if you fail, it's your own fault."  So there.

I don't know about you, but I have lived in fear of this story pretty much my entire life.  It's one that you hear a lot when you're growing up, particularly from parents and grandparents who are trying to be encouraging ("You don't want to let your talents go to waste!"), but what, in the end, does the story really mean?  Why, after all, is it the servant who is given only one talent who is so scared of the master that he buries what he has been given rather than trying to make something of it, when the other two servants to whom more has been given seem to have no trouble risking their master's wealth?  Bob Sorge has a suggestion that I had never really considered, but which puts it all into a much clearer perspective for me: the story is not just about using your God-given talents well, it's about envy.  If it is simply a test of how well they will use what they've been given, why, after all, doesn't the master just give each of the servants the same number of talents?  Why give them, instead, different degrees of (to use the metaphor the way we usually do) "talent"?  On the one hand, Sorge suggests, because we aren't all capable of dealing with the same degree of giftedness; some of us simply couldn't handle being given the responsibility of five whole talents.   But, on the other, because it's a test of how well we handle having people with different levels of talent around us.

Sorge gives the example of running a music program or, rather, worship ministry.  When a church is new and just getting started, everyone is thrilled to have anybody of any talent-level whatsoever, even the 1s.  Then someone with a 2 shows up and suddenly he or she is in charge of the whole shebang.  The church grows from (say) 30 members to 75 to 130.  Everything is going swimmingly, the church is thriving and the 2-talent leader is feeling needed and loved. 
Then one Sunday morning it happens.  In the back door comes...5 talents!  You [being the 2-talent leader] think to yourself, Go back to the pit from which thou didst crawl!  You are shocked at the host of emotions that rise up within you as you stare at this 5-talent wonder.  You know that if that woman with the 5 talents joins the worship ministry, her giftings will naturally make a way for herself, she will eventually be placed in charge of the worship ministry, and she will become the new savior of the worship team.  You will be forgotten in the shadow of her exceptional giftings and wonderful spirit.  
Ah.  Wasn't it great while you were the one with more talents than everyone else?  What will you do, oh ye of 2-degrees of talent, when someone with 5 walks in that door--as he or she inevitably will--and no one seems to remember how much work you put into making the program what it was so that the 5-talent wonder would even be interested in serving?  Will you keep using your talents well--or will you bury them?  And what if you are the 5?  Will you be able to see the importance of having 1s and 2s in the ministry, too?  Or will you want to get rid of them as so much dead weight so that you can make your now 11 talents really shine?

Me, right now, after the week that I've had, I want to bury them, all of them, I don't even care how many degrees of talent I have (1, 2, or 5, although I'm pretty sure I'm a 1 even though Sorge insists that "most of us tend to fall into the 2-talent category...not as gifted as some, but...more gifted than others").  But thanks to Sorge's reading of the parable, I'm having a hard time sustaining the funk.  Okay, so what if I only have 1 degree of talent?  It's what God gave me, right?  Better to dig it up, brush it off, and actually use it than to let the 5-talent narcissists get their own way.  They need me being mediocre around them to keep themselves from vanishing up their own self-important posteriors, just as I need them (much as I hate to admit it) to spur me on by their example to the better use of my own meager talents. (Right, writing that sentence did it--I'm pissed off again.  Whew.)  But I don't want to anymore (want what?  I'm not sure).  I just don't.  I am sick of being the 1-talent wonder that they use to measure themselves against; I am sick of being the one who has to struggle with envy rather than simply swelling with pride.  Hell, I don't even have gluttony (read, bingeing on carbs) and sloth (read, procrastination) to keep me company anymore; are you telling me that I am going to be free of envy, too?  Next I'll have conquered wrath (read, overreacting) and greed (read, hoarding), which only leaves lust--nope, I've dealt with that one, too.  No wonder I've spent the week fighting the demons of Envy; it's all Satan has left.  (Ha.  Pull the other one, I know that isn't true.  The Enemy is endlessly resourceful, as I am sure you all know.  His principal resource here would seem to be confusion--am I feeling envious anymore or not?)

This is what Sorge says:
I believe there is an army that will arise on the earth in the last days that will confound the powers of darkness.  They will ask, "Where did this army come from?" The answer will be, "This is the army of 1-talent saints who chose to dig up their talent, clean it off and deploy it for the sake of the Kingdom."  The last days' battle will be won by a host of 1-talent warriors who will give their all for the sake of the King. 
Which makes all those of us with only 1 degree of talent just as important, perhaps even more so, than the 5-talent divas and stars to whom we are incessantly urged to compare ourselves and against whose accomplishments the Enemy tempts us to believe the fruits of our talent to be ultimately worthless (as this week, with me, he most certainly did).  It also, of course, makes cultivating our 1 degree of talent vital, perhaps even more so, than anything any 5-talent prodigy might be able to do--because it is those of us who have only 1 degree of talent whom the Enemy most fears.  That is why we are so often tempted to bury our talent rather than use it: the Enemy knows that without us, nothing works and nobody lives.

But it's hard.  It is so very, very hard to be content with just 1 degree of talent's worth of giftedness.  It would be so much easier just to bury it and be done with.  Don't you agree?


  1. Thank you for this post, and more importantly, your open honesty! Just a thought from "the other side" of the lens. Did you ever consider that the 5-talent prodigy can be paralyzed into inaction by indecision, regarding which talents to use, and in which talents to invest the oh-so-precious commodity of time? Perhaps the 5-talent individual envies others, believing that a life with fewer gifts and talents would carry less personal pressure of performance. Meanwhile, Luke 12:48b, like an unyielding specter, along with a host of "friends," continue to remind the 5-talent person of the responsibility they have before their Creator to use their talents well. If the 5-talent person lives in the West, the pressure is even greater, because freedoms, liberty, and prosperity seem offer no obvious and adequate barriers to success. If they fail to use any of their talents successfully, particularly in an environment of liberty, they can only blame themselves. (Oh! Let's not go into the culture of victimhood here). So, in the final accounting, are they not greater disappointments than individuals who were given (seemingly) fewer talents and opportunities? Maybe I am conflating Mtt 25:14-30 with Lk 12:48, but I see no dichotomy. I believe you are correct regarding the 1-talent people, whom the Enemy most fears, but the Enemy is also working on the weaknesses of the 5-talent people in other ways. We need to help each other use our gifts and talents, because non of us are exempt from negative and accusatory attacks. Just a little view from "the other side."

  2. Yes, all this makes sense. Whatever number of talents we have, it can be hard not to be envious.


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog post. I look forward to hearing what you think!


Popular posts from this blog

Wheel of Sevens

Lies, Damn Lies, and the Washington Square News’ Use of Evidence

Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men

An open letter to the faculty advisory board of the NYU student newspaper on the lies told about Milo Yiannopoulos in its reporting

Why Jordan Peterson Lost That Bout to Cathy Newman