How do I use my God-given talents?
In our education system, the term “gifted” takes on a rather narrow meaning. For when we say a child is “gifted”, what we mean is that the child is academically gifted. And to determine whether a child is academically gifted, our education system devises “gifted exams” to test them. A child is declared “gifted” if he or she does well in these exams. However, just because a child is not declared “gifted” by our education system does not mean the child is not gifted on other non-academic areas. In fact, every child is gifted. Some are academically gifted; others are gifted in languages, in arts, in spirituality, in human interaction and in their intellectual capabilities, etc. Indeed, there is a difference between being academically and being intellectually gifted. Some highly intelligent children are simply not academically inclined – hence they do not perform well in regimented assessments.
My brothers and sisters, what about you? Are you gifted? Like our children, we are all gifted – each in our own way. For our God grants each of us special gifts so that we may use them to build up His Kingdom: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor 12:8-10). In this way, each of us are needed in the Lord’s vineyard, each contributing in his/her own way. As St Paul said, “If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (1 Cor 12:15-18) We are each given different gifts so that we can complement each other as we build up the Kingdom of God. It is for this reason that we need to be humble. For example, in my faith community, I may be the most capable one in organising events, but this is no reason for me to be proud and look down on others. For even the best general needs foot soldiers. Indeed, St Paul said, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12) It is also for this same reason that we need to be humble enough to let others who are more gifted than us do what they do best. In a faith community, there are always work that more glamorous in nature; there are also work that required to be done in the background, without any fanfare. As long as each of us is using our God-given gifts, it does not matter what role we play as all are building the same kingdom of God. In particular, not everyone is gifted for the glamourous roles. It would be detrimental to the faith community if everyone clamours for the glamorous roles. For “if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” For any given role, we ought to have the humility to step aside for those who are more capable than us to assume that role.
The Gospel in the previous week gave us the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. The parable urges us to be like the sensible bridesmaids, to light up our lamps, to bring warmth and light to the world (Mt 25:7). As Jesus addresses us, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14-16) God granted each of us special gifts so that we may serve our family, our community and humanity at large, to be the light for the world. Our gifts and talents are never meant for us to serve only ourselves, they are not solely for us to attain personal glory and personal wealth.
The Parable of the Three Servants in this week’s Gospel provides a vivid imagery to further explain the point. “Talent” is the largest unit of currency in Jesus’ time. In the Gospel, “talents” takes on the double meaning to also mean our God-given talents. Through we are given different amount (and types) of talents, we are obliged to make use of whatever we are given to work for the kingdom of God. The first servant was given five talents by the master. He put them to good use and made five more. The second servant were given two talents. He did not complain that he was given less than the first servant. Instead, like the first servant, he put the two talents to good use and made two more. The first two servants are just like many in our faith community. Some are more gifted than others. But it does not matter, as long as each are contented and thankful of each has been given, and each uses his/her God-given talents to serve Him to the fullest. But not so for the third servant. In the parable, the third servant was only given one talent. Instead of using the talent to the best of his ability, he hid it in the ground. And not only that, the servant became suspicious of the master’s intention, accusing the master of reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed (verse 24).
In truth, the third servant did not do anything dishonest. He simply hid the money and returned it intact to the master. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, am I like the third servant? What do I do with my God-given talents? I may think that I am not like him. I am gainfully employed, I apply my talents in my job, earning an honest living to bring security and comfort to my family. Like the servant, perhaps I am not a dishonest person. I do not use my talents to commit any illegal deeds. I use my talents in legitimate ways and apply them for my personal gains. However, is that all required of me? Am I thankful for God’s gifts? Does my service extend beyond those closest to me? Do I love as Jesus does? Have I returned something back to God, since He is the source of all my talents? Yes, if we are honest about it, many of us are like the third servant. In our faith community, we are happy to let others who are more enthusiastic and more talented do the heavy lifting. We are contented to hid our talents in the ground. But outside our faith community, we do not hesitate to apply our talents to the fullest for our personal gain. While there is nothing wrong with applying our talents to secured a comfortable life for ourselves and our families, this is not the only reason God gifted us with talents.
The First Reading describes the desirable quality of a wife. This passage takes on special significance when we consider what prophet Isaiah said, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit” (Isa 54:5-6) That is right, my dear brothers and sisters, we are collectively the beloved wife of God. And like any loving husband, God showered us with gifts. In return, we are invited to use these gifts, to work productively for the kingdom of God (verse 13, 19). Even while some of these works would inevitably be for our personal gain, we would still be serving the Lord as we open our hand to the poor and needy (verse 20). Otherwise, to use our talents only for our personal gains is like a wife who only work for her own charm and beauty: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain” (verse 30) Fame and fortune may make us look good, but like charm and beauty, they are but vanity.
Let us pause for a moment to reflect on our lives. Have I made productive use of my God-given talents? Have I been generous to the needy? Or am I more concern about my superficial beauty? Am I overindulging in my personal enjoyment of life? Even while I serve in church ministries, am I serving God in name only but is in fact clamouring for superficial honour and earthly accolades? Earthly enjoyment and accolades do not transcend beyond this earthly life. When our sojourn on earth is over, all these will come to an end. The Gospel in the previous week urges us to keep awake, for we neither know the day nor the hour our bridegroom may come (Mt 25:13). The Second Reading this week echoes the same message: that that day will come unexpectedly like a thief (verse 4). However, as faithful Christians, we ought not to be surprised. God has revealed a great truth to us in this week Scripture passage – that we are communal beings. We are not made to be inward looking. We are only truly happy when we are part of a community – living, loving, sacrificing and serving. That is why God gifted us with talents; and places us in communities where we may use our talents to serve. And we are not referring to just earthly communities either, but communities that transcend heaven and earth – we call these the Communion of Saints. In today’s materialistic world, this Christian value system is counter-cultural.
God has revealed the truth to our inner happiness to us. Let us not hide our lamps under the bushel but to go forth to love and to serve. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (verse 29) Let us go forth to love and to serve. Amen.