Lately, I’ve been giving some serious thought to this old story I’ve heard since I was a kid. You’ve probably heard of it: “The parable of the talents.” Whether or not you are a Bible-believing person, this lesson on maximizing what you’ve got is timeless. No matter what you believe, we all could benefit from the wisdom in this profound ancient passage. If you are so inclined, it comes from Matthew 25:14-30. It could be seen as a lesson in financial stewardship, or maybe even more than that. In case your Bible is dusty, here’s a quick summary (the paraphrase is completely mine):
One day, a real estate master gave out talents, or bags of gold (each bag was worth a large amount of money–we’re talking enough to buy property). To his top employee, he gave five bags of gold; to another, he gave two bags; and to the third guy, one bag. Their job was simply to invest the boss’s money and make it grow. Remember, the boss entrusted his own money with them, expecting a return on his investment.
After a year or so, the master called a meeting with each of his minions. The first employee said, “Here, boss. You gave me five bags; I’ve doubled your investment.” Proudly, the boss says, “Good job. You have been faithful with this. I will increase your job title and responsibility.” The second guy said, “Here, boss. You gave me two bags; I’ve come with four. Another 100% ROI, and the master is equally proud of him as stated in his identical response: “Good job. You have been faithful with this. I will increase your job title and responsibility.” The third guy is embarrassed. Out of his issue with risk aversion and fear of failing, he hid the money in the ground and did not make any money. Clearly upset, the master says to him, “You idiot and lazy ass. You had my money the whole time and didn’t do anything with it. You didn’t even put it in the bank where you could have at least made some interest on it! You’re fired. Get out of here!”
Although my paraphrase isn’t exactly how it’s written, I tried to capture its original voice as accurately as I could. Note the vastly different reaction of the boss between the first two guys and the last guy. Further, the boss didn’t consider the employee #2 any less in his success. His overall yield was less than the first guy, but the master was equally proud of him. Then, I think about what it must be like to be “that” guy–to get a Donald Trump-style firing, and how awful that must feel. He must have struggled with that ugly fear of failure that is familiar to some of us, and what did he do? Nothing.
Does either fear of failure or laziness stop you from moving forward with something you think you’re supposed to do? In my experience, fear and laziness are intertwined. I find myself entangled in this cycle quite often, and even as I write this.
God has given all of us something to work with. It could be a good brain, ability with numbers (I think I got passed over on that one), money, a good network, musical talents, ability to fix things, just to name a few. Some of us are not even sure what our talents are. That’s okay. Join the masses still searching for “their thing.” No matter what, we can do something that empowers someone in our community, society, or maybe even the world. You need to recognize what that “something” is and give it an identity. Name it and claim it to share.
We moved our family of four to Seattle from Southern California almost a year ago this month. My husband John and I have found an amazing group that resembles a book club, but it’s more like a “life” group, where we take a couple of hours to get away from the shallow part of ourselves and try to be there for each other. We’ve been reading “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, a well-known organization that gives aid to children who are dying by the thousands. An eye-opening and challenging read. I highly recommend it, unless you’re the type that would rather live in ignorance (I know it’s simpler, but not better). This book has made all of us realize how self absorbed we can be, even in the things that are not necessarily bad in and of themselves: our jobs, managing our families, trying to gain upward mobility, storing for our future.
In the U.S., the average salary is $25,000/year. In most parts of our world, the average person lives on $1/day or less. The spread between these two is ridiculous, and yet the problem seems so out of reach that we choose to do… nothing. Stearns’ point is that you don’t have to solve all of the world’s problems. Just do something.
Giving is also good for the health of your soul. Try thinking about someone who’s in need, even if you don’t know him/her, and do something about it–even if it’s just a meal or a few dollars, or maybe even a few hundred dollars. Let’s learn our lesson from the moron in the story. Don’t fail to do something just because you can’t do everything. If you’re the type that’s overprotective of your stuff, start small and grow in the practice of giving or take the opportunity to do something outside of yourself. As a bonus, you just might get an “atta boy” later from God when it counts.