What talents do we have that will bring about the Kingdom of God? It is challenging and thoughtful question. A question Jesus places squarely in our lives. Yet, it is a question that is difficult and one we have to wrestle with.
What are these talents that Jesus is talking about? Are they money, ability, or an exceptional singing voice. Maybe none of the above. The question was answered for me a few weeks back in a cold parking lot of a homeless shelter. I glimpsed what I believe are talents. I witnessed the love of Christ in ways I did not expect.
I was at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center on a chilly Monday morning. I noticed a lady sitting on one of the hard stone benches outside of the door. It was breakfast and the line was forming, yet she seemed unconcerned. She wanted to move inside into the warmth. Next to her was a stroller and a 8 or 10 month old child was in the stroller sleeping.
The lady and her baby were homeless. The small thin cloth was covering the opening of the stroller was so thin that it could not keep out the sun nor the cold. The mom was young but the lines in her face, and her premature gray betrayed her age. She had one hand on the stroller, slowly moving it in a rocking motion. and she was staring at the ground. She had that dismayed look on her face as if attempting to grasp all the pain and suffering that was enveloping her life.
I thought of where they had slept the previous night. My heart was broken because i kept focusing on the conditions that caused this mom and child to be on the streets. I truly could not imagine the fear she encounters each night as she pushes the stroller forward on the streets. Watching and listening. Seeking warmth, safety and acceptance.
Just then, from the corner of my eye, I could see an elderly homeless man move away from the breakfast line.
He was weak, a bit wobbly and moving backward holding a cup in his hand. He stumbled and fell toward the woman and her child. He hit the stroller and spilled his drink all over the woman. He was on the ground, her simple clothes were soaked and the baby was awake, crying. For each of them, their worlds came shattering down.
In reading this Gospel, I thought of that moment and what talents truly mean. Some may point to money and the need to give, invest and grow the profit. Maybe talents are abilities. The capacity to pull strings across strings and create music. Or using your hands to hold a brush against canvas and create art. The physical prowess to sink a 30 foot jump shot.
I do not believe these are the talents that Jesus was talking about. Let’s dream greatly and look at this Gospel through a different lens. Talents not as the English word that is difficult to correlate with Aramaic or Greek. Talents not as abilities but rather gifts, placed inside us that reflect the Divine.
Gifts like compassion, empathy, goodness, humility and joy. Even such things like sadness and longing. Divine talents of hope, laughter, humanity and most importantly, love. I have read fashionable articles, felt the pull of seductive advertising that traps me into thinking that I should double power and status, triple the checkbook, and that my appearance is a simple formula for worldly success.
Yet, all are external and temporal. Rarely do find that empathy, goodness, humanity and hope are to be emphasized. It seems we are encouraged to hold it in, maybe even bury those talents. They are buried so deep they become difficult to uncover. It is said that for many in society the only way they can express emotion is through anger or violence. It is the only way they can feel.
Yet Jesus in his beautiful way of teaching and encouraging is pointing to something radically different. Jesus is pointing to the Kingdom and not the expectations of this world. God has given you a personal treasure that was never meant to be buried or wasted. The divine talents of kindness, compassion, hope, acceptance, love are meant to be daringly shared and given freely. They are sacred, a gift from God.
Inherently we feel, we know there is a beauty, a goodness, when we share laughter, when show humanity toward one another. It is the same beauty we see in nature - the colors, the talents of a flower, of a sunset, of the glimpse of fall. Talents of nature joining to praise God, just as our talents within reflect the beauty of God.
These talents are not meant to be put aside. They have to been invested, doubled tripled and shared. We just need the courage to give them life, to bring them out of our buried darkness. It has been said that when the Lord returns, I do not believe he wants us to say, "Look, everything is just as you left it!”
Each on of us has the talents to be the creators of God’s Kingdom. To expand it and grow the edges. Because the Kingdom of God is about reclaiming what has been ruined and making beautiful again. You have talents. I read that the writer Vaclav Havel, imprisoned by the communist, spent years in confinement.
After he was released and elected President of the new Czech Republic, he was invited to address the US Congress. In part, he said, ”The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart . . . in human responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my time, my country, my success.” I believe when he was speaking of the heart, he was speaking of talents.
You say that is unbelievable and extraordinary. How can compassion, love and humanity change things. People will not believe it. Yet isn’t that what God does constantly? The unbelievable and extraordinary - through us, through our lives. That day in the parking lot, three lives came shattering down together on a cold morning. The elderly homeless man was face first on the ground. His nose was cut and bleeding. In a soft and despondent way, he said “I am so sorry.” The woman, stepped forward with clenched fists. Her only clothes soaked, baby crying, their collective worlds collapsing further. I prepared for the outburst.
She stood over him, reached down and helped him up. She then asked him “are you OK?” They both struggled up and the two leaned on one another for one instant. In that moment, despite her pain, despite her condition, her suffering. Her talents reflected the divine gifts of God - kindness, compassion, hope, love, humanity.
What will awaken, what will be uncovered in our lives that was buried. For example, all the media coverage of ebola. The fears sets in and we talk of isolation, quarantine and bans on certain countries. All to protect ourselves. Yet what talents will awaken when we think not of the disease, but of the orphans in Africa, some as young as 2 or 3 who wander the streets alone because of HIV and Ebola. Not sick people but brothers and sisters - our children in God.
We hear of the terrorists who perpetuate the hate of ISIS so we lump all Syrians together. What talents will increase when we hear of 500 Palestinian and Syrian refugees murdered attempting to flee violence and poverty. Human traffickers rammed their boat in the Mediterranean and all drowned. Most suffered extreme exposure before death forced to sit on the deck in the glaring sun. Over those who drowned over 150 were under the age of 10. Not terrorist, not Syrians, but brothers and sisters, our children in God.
My dear ones, pay attention the heart, that divine gift, your talents. If they are buried, abandon yourself and give them life. If they are working in your lives, double, triple, quadruple the investment.
Those talents are sacred, given to you by God. I pray you never lose to ability to remember, to uncover that sacred gift. It is in you. Because tonight, there is a lady walking the cold streets of Albuquerque with a baby in a stroller. There is a person in your life seeking acceptance and hope. There is someone you will encounter that will need to see the face of Christ. Each day, each moment you will have a chance to increase your talents.
Risk daringly, astonish completely and use your talents to radically bring about the Kingdom of God. That is where our treasure is truly found.