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Antonia Goddard Bible Faith Formation Ink Slingers

In Defence of the Man with One Talent

In Defence of the Man with One Talent

The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1637), oil on panel, The Hermitage, St Petersburg.

I have always had a particular dislike for the parable of the talents. This is mostly because however much I try to twist my brain around it, I fail to understand it, and usually end up sympathising greatly with the Man with One Talent.

It is hard not to feel sorry for him. After all, the Master has entrusted a slave with a talent (a vast sum of money, especially to give to a man with little to no experience in banking) and instructed him to look after it. The slave solemnly promises to do so, and keeps the talent in the safest place he knows, hidden from thieves and looters and prying eyes. When the Master returns he joyfully presents the talent back to him, presumably delighted that he has succeeded in his duties, perhaps even expecting a reward or word of thanks for his prudence. And yet the Master responds by punishing him.

(Don’t even get me started on giving his talent to the man who has ten. That’s just blatantly unfair.)

Of what happened in the years while the Master was away, the Gospels are curiously (irritatingly) silent. Perhaps the slave – a poor man of economics but a kind husband and father – spent the years with his family, bringing up his children in love and respect. And yet the Master focusses only on the slave’s failure to earn him more money, comparing him unfavourably to the two successful slaves.

I have always felt a certain affinity for the Man with One Talent. I am fortunate to have been blessed with decent brains and a gift for writing; at school and university I worked hard and achieved good grades. I had to work hard for them, of course, but I had hoped – and indeed, was led to believe – that my hard work combined with the God-given talents for which I was exceptionally grateful, would be rewarded with success and employment, and an opportunity to serve God.

Of course, things are never so simple. Try as I might, I seem to be failing at every opportunity to achieve what I have worked towards for so many years. Every day I feel more like the Man with One Talent, letting the gifts that God has given me rot because I have failed to achieve what He wants of me.

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The most common takeaway from the talents parable is the idea that success is the product of hard work and talent. It reminds me of a quote that used to hang in my ballet studio, famously attributed to Anna Pavlova:

God gives talent. Work transforms talent into genius.

Yet sometimes it doesn’t pay off. Sometimes we can work really hard with every talent God has given us, and it doesn’t work out. My failure to land a career as a ballerina was not, as I have believed for so many years, because I didn’t work hard enough. My failure to find a career where I can use my talents to make a difference in the world is not because I don’t want it enough, or because I didn’t try hard enough.

If we teach that success is a combination of hard work and God-given talent, it runs a real risk that when we fail, we are tempted to either blame God or ourselves. Neither is a helpful or healthy viewpoint.

Turning back to the talents parable, I wonder if English’s clunky double-meaning of the word talent has led us to tie it too literally to the idea of our own abilities and success. Perhaps instead of success, we owe God a return on His investment, giving him back everything that He has given us, and more. A couple of chapters before this, Jesus tells us to render unto God what belongs to God. Maybe that’s all God is asking of us: our devotion and our love.

I still don’t quite understand the parable. But devotion and love, that’s manageable for today.

 

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Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

The Magnificent Tree: A Transformation Fable

The Magnificent Tree

There once was a magnificent tree standing tall and strong in the middle of the forest. Its trunk was wide and sturdy and reached toward the sky with branches heavy with large leaves that soaked up the sunshine. Throughout the summer they provided much needed shade for anyone who wished to stay a moment beneath them. In the fall, those same leaves turned scarlet and adorned the landscape with their fiery beauty. In all the forest there was nothing more grandiose or nobler than the majestic tree.

The tree could not imagine a more splendid life.

It happened one day that a man visited the forest. Surveying the trees before him, he chose the mighty oak that stood tall and proud. Marking it, he left. The tree wondered what the man had wanted. He supposed that the man had seen its beauty and had been in awe. It stood proudly, thankful it was so glorious.

The man returned the next day with other men. He pointed to the tree and then approached it. They each looked over the tree with awe and approval. The tree was pleased with their reactions to its splendor.

Without warning they began cutting down the tree with sharp axes. Oh the pain the tree felt! It couldn’t understand why the men were doing this to it; why they were causing this pain.

It was tiring work for the men. They took turns delivering blow after blow, often pausing to sharpen their blades. Each impact reverberated through the tree. Soon their blades found their way straight through the trunk of the tree.

Once the most majestic hardwood in the entire forest, the tree fell upon the woodland floor; no longer regal or imposing. Instead, it was broken.

When the men took it from the forest they began to dispatch it further. Soon it was in pieces- it no longer resembled what it had before. Its splendor, its glory, its pride were all gone. It could not make sense of what had happened. It felt despair.

house in the woodsIt wasn’t long until the man began to take the pieces of the tree and fashion them into something else. The work was slow and tedious. But still, the man labored. Soon the tree could see that the man was fashioning a house out of its parts. As the walls were constructed, it could see how sturdy they would be. Just as its trunk had supported the branches, the walls would support the house. As the roof was built it could see how they would protect the man from the elements. Its branches and leaves had done the same for those who stopped underneath them in the forest.

Finally the man was done. He stood back and looked at the home he had built out of the majestic oak. The man knew it would serve his family well. As he moved his family into the house suddenly the tree also understood the importance of its transformation.

Once the most majestic and imposing figure in the forest, now the tree was a simple and practical home for the man and his family. It would provide safety and warmth as well as a place for the family to grow in love and happiness. The tree had to endure a dramatic and painful transformation to become more than it was before.

We are often like the tree. We stay firmly rooted where we are, complacent with who we are and what we are doing. We are proud of our accomplishments and who we’ve become. We are thankful that others see our beauty, our grace, and our worth. We stand like the oak, majestic and proud, not realizing that we can be something more.

Many times God is like the man who came and chopped down the tree. He looks us over, sees our true worth, marks us, and then begins His work on us.

Oh it can be painful! We may even be caught off guard at the intensity of the pain we go through. We are brought to our knees just as the magnificent tree was toppled. But the work and the pain don’t stop there.

While we can’t see the full picture, God has a blueprint laid out in front of Him. He knows what plans He has in store for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and why this transformation is so important. He wants what is best for us. He knows what it will take for us to become the best version of ourselves.

We may look around and not understand a single thing. We may cry out asking for mercy. We may even doubt that God’s plans are the best ones. We may long for the person we were before. It is not until God is done molding us during this time that we can see how much better we’ve become.

God looks at us and sees our worth. He sees what we can become and He initiates life changing moments that will help us transform into something more than we are. There are times this is painful and we don’t understand. But if we trust Him, He will transform us into something more than we ever could imagine.

Often we must first become broken, a mere shell of what we were previously, before we can understand how God is calling us to become better… to become more.

jeremiah 29:11