That afternoon, Rufina had gone to the market while her children played “horsey horsey” in the street. Grandmother Rufa was alone, taking care of Tatico, the youngest of her grandchildren, when Jesus entered Peter’s house.
Rufa: Go to sleep, my little baby, ro, ro, ro, rorrito….
Jesus: Hello, grandma!
Rufa: Sshh!….. Hush, Moreno, this creature has just gone to sleep…. Poor child, with so much noise around, he can’t even get a decent sleep….
Jesus: Okay, grandma, what’s new around here?
Rufa: I gave him an egg to eat, but he wouldn’t touch it. This little boy has lost his appetite…
Jesus: No, grandma, I mean, how are things going here….
Rufa: Oh, my son, speak louder, you know I’m hard of hearing!
Jesus: I said, how are things………
Rufa: All I can say is that this house is full of crazy men, the craziest of which is my son-in-law, Peter.
Jesus: Why do say that, grandma?
Rufa: You’re asking me? Oh, my son, don’t you know the kind of people you go with?…. Come….. Just between the two of us…. I believe you’ve got the wrong company….
Jesus: D’ya think so, grandma?
Rufa: Like Matthew, for example… it’s not because he’s a tax collector, but because he’s a jinx, a goner, Jesus…. Nathanael, the bald guy, is another one…. I don’t like him….. Thomas, the stutterer, is another….. Hmmm… It takes all kinds in your group!
Jesus: You think so, grandma?… But people can be surprising at times…
Rufa: I don’t want them to go to jail…. but…..
Jesus: I said people can do surprising things, grandma… A lot a people just need the chance to be able to do something worthwhile…. Listen…. There was once a wealthy man who had to go on a journey….
Master: Where are my stewards? I want the three of you to see me at sunset. There’s something we’ll talk about before I leave…
Jesus: So they went to see him…
Levi: What is it, master?
Master: Levi, you must have heard that I’ll be away for sometime… Here…. take these five thousand dinarii… Invest them in whatever business will be beneficial to you..
Levi: I don’t want to brag, master, but rest assured that the money will be in good hands…
Jesus: Then the second steward came in…
Master: Come over, Jehu…. Here, take these…. they are for you..
Jehu: What’s this, master?
Master: I’m leaving two thousand dinarii for you to figure out what to do with them. You’ll report to me upon my return. Is that all right?
Jehu: Yes, master.
Master: Invest the money in any business and ….
Jehu: Hold it, master! I know exactly what to do with the money…. ayayay! You’ll see how much I’ll earn with all this money…!
Jesus: It was the third steward’s turn…..
Master: Here, Mattathias…. take these thousand dinarii… they are all yours…
Mattathias: A thousand dinarii…. for me….. but why?
Master: Yes, for you….. who else?…. Aren’t you my third steward in the farm?
Mattathias: But, master, I….
Master: Aren’t they enough?
Mattathias: On the contrary, master… Pff… now, what’ll I do with so much money?
Master: Well, invest it! Buy whatever, sell whatever. Make use of the money! While I’m gone, I want you to manage part of my money, as Levi and Jehu will do… Is that clear enough?
Mattathias: Well, yes, master… I mean, it’s not so clear… but…. pff… I’ll try my best, master.
Jesus: In a few days, Levi, who received five thousand dinarii, became a shrewd and great businessman…
Levi: I bought horses from you for three hundred dinarii. That’s it. Then you returned fifty for the horseshoes I had sold you, but since I paid you one hundred seventy-five in advance, now I only have to pay you half of the excess, that is…
A Man: Wait a minute, wait a minute, Levi… You gave me twenty-five yesterday…
Levi: And another twenty-five today, fifty all in all. Plus the other fifty from the horseshoes , less one hundred seventy-five included in the payment of one hundred which you had discounted when I gave you five dinarii for the nails…
Jesus: Jehu, the second steward, who received two thousand dinarii, was posting a big sign at the door of his house…
Jehu: “Loans at ten percent”… Yeah, this is better… People know me well and soon they will all crowd here…. To be a good lender, I must be smart and strict. I can be both… Well, come to think of it, I can be in any business of my choice… Ha, ha…!
Jesus: Meanwhile, Mattathias, who received a thousand dinarii, spent seven sleepless nights…
Mattathias: What if I invest in Don Celio’s business?… Yeah, but I don’t like this fat man. No, I’d rather not ask him… Pff…. What if I buy something…. but what?… Olives….? If they get spoiled…? No, no, forget it, Mattathias. If I buy, then, I’ve got to sell, and I need the charm to do it, which I don’t have…… Ahuummm….!
Jesus: Time went by….. and after many moons had passed, the master returned from his trip…
Master: Where are you, my servants? Come, come, I want to see you right away!
Jesus: Levi, was the first to see him…
Levi: Master, how was your journey?
Master: Very well, Levi, very well. How did your business go?
Levi: Here it is, master. Count it, count it…. you gave me five thousand…. I earned another five thousand dinarii…
Master: Good work, man!
Levi: I told you everything would be fine, mmmm!…. Just like honey that passes through the throat. I knew exactly what was in my hands….. I’m like a cat, you know, who can leap through any wall!
Jesus: Then, Jehu went inside….
Master: What have you got, Jehu?
Jehu: Something better than I had imagined, master! Believe me, I’ve been very lucky… Look… you gave me two thousand dinarii, didn’t you? Here are your two thousand dinarii… I was able to earn the same amount…
Master: Good work, man!
Jesus: Finally, Mattathias appeared….
Mattathias: Here is your money, master…
Master: Let’s see… eight hundred… nine hundred… one thousand… But, how much I did give you, Mattathias?
Mattathias: One thousand dinarii, master. That’s everything, up to the last centavo. No more, no less….
Master: Didn’t we agree that you were supposed to invest it in something that you might gain from it?
Mattathias: That’s right, master, we had agreed on that. But, knowing how stupid I am, if I put this in business I knew I would lose it in just two weeks. So I decided to keep it and… well, I dug a hole in the ground and there I kept it until now.
Jesus: His ears were red on account of his embarrassment, and he was trembling all over. Once again, he experienced the bitter pain of being a failure….
Mattathias: I am a worthless servant, master. The children in school used to ridicule me because I was always the last… My mother also said: “You were born dumb, Mattathias, and there’s nothing we can do…. You know better than anyone else, master….. I’m a good for nothing servant….
Rufa: That’s exactly what I meant to tell you. That guy was a worthless one, irresponsible, a weakling and a bum!
Jesus: That’s all right, grandma, that’s all right. Mattathias was a worthless man. The master was not. He was the generous type, he had a big heart. That’s why the story didn’t end there….
Master: I’m good for nothing! I’m good for nothing. And the more you say it, the more you believe it and the more it puts you down! Damn it, Mattathias! Listen to me very well: next time, I’ll have your ears pulled if you don’t come up with something….
Mattathias: Yes, next time…. but… will you give me another chance, master?
Master: Sure, because I know you can do it, you can do something worthwhile. Of course….
Jesus: Later, at one time, the master had to undertake another journey… He called for his three stewards again. To Levi, the shrewd businessman, he entrusted five thousand dinarii again, and another two thousand to the able lender, Jehu. He gave poor Mattathias a thousand dinarii…
Master: Invest this money until my return. Work hard and cheer up! Good-bye!
Jesus: The master’s journey was shorter this time. After a couple of moons had passed, he was back to the farm. He summoned his three stewards at once….
Master: What did you say, Levi?
Levi: You see, master, this time I had wanted to take things easy…. there is no hurry, I told myself….. anyway, I’m a very clever man….. and so….
Master: ….you did not do anything. You were too confident, weren’t you? Levi, I can’t believe that with a lot of things that you could have done…… you didn’t accomplish anything.
Jesus: Then, Jehu, the second steward entered…
Jehu: Ahuuummm…! Here are the earnings…
Master: What’s this? Only three cents?…. What’s happened?
Jehu: Well, master, life is so difficult, you know…. Ahuuumm…! Things are not like before…
Master: You’re not like before. You also got tired of it… You slept on your glory…
Jesus: Finally, Mattathias arrived, running, his hair in disarray….
Mattathias: Master, look, count this… You gave me a thousand dinarii, and I’ve got another thousand! I earned it, look! I did it, master!
Master: I knew you would do it, Mattathias. I was sure of it.
Mattathias: That was what pushed me to do it, master. You had so much trust in me, I felt I had two wings at my back. I was afraid, yes, but I remembered what you had told me: you can do it, Mattathias, you can do it.
Master: And you did.
Mattathias: Yeah, I did!… Pff!! With my eyes closed, I went to purchase some tomatoes. Then I traded them for wool. I put up a shop. It was not that bad, after all, as you can see… I earned a thousand dinarii, master!
Master: You have worked very hard, Mattathias. With so little, you were enterprising. Now, I’ll give you more dinarii, and more responsibility. I know you will succeed. Because he who can be trusted with little things, can also be trusted with big things….
Jesus: So, you see, grandma, people can be amazing…. Did you like my story?
Rufa: Sure, I did. But the story, I suppose does not end there.
Jesus: What d’ya mean, grandma?
Rufa: Of course, because if this master gave Mattathias a second chance, then he should also give the two sleepyheads a third chance, don’t you think so?
Jesus: You’re right, grandma. God always gives us another chance. Not only a third one…. He always does.
The parable of the “talents” is, together with that of the bridesmaids, that of the thief who arrives in the night and that of the master who returns unexpectedly, a parable “of crisis.” That is, these were parables told by Jesus basically to awaken the conscience of the leaders and the priests from whom God was to ask for a rigid accounting of what they had done, or better, what they had stopped doing for the people. After these series of stories, the first Christian communities sounded catechetical calls for Christian responsibility, that they would stay alert and “negotiate” their time, their life and their potentials, in preparation for the forthcoming judgment.
That’s how the parable of the talents is generally understood: It is like a call to responsibility. Nevertheless, the society of technology and efficiency in which we live or that which the means of communication are insistently trying to show us gives us, at present, a literal, yet dangerous presentation of this parable. It would appear as if God had a preference for the smart people, the most intrepid, the most daring businessmen. In fact, that image of a prosperous businessman who can accumulate as much wealth is the one favored by the capitalistic society, and this could totally discredit the authentic message of the gospel. In the face of such literal translation, this could also mean that the ones who have less, the indecisive, the inferior, may not seem acceptable to God. It is clear enough that a number of the poor, because they are the most exploited, find it difficult to face responsibilities, to be creative. Because of this, the one who is called to a task of responsibility, as the parable describes – to be active in negotiating – is given another important dimension of responsibility: not to rest in one’s own security, nor to be satisfied with previous success. The talents, commonly referring to the total amount entrusted by the master to his stewards, are a measure of the weight of each talent which ranges from 26 to 36 kilos, whether gold or silver. In general, a talent is equivalent to a thousand dinarii. To be able to appreciate the approximate amount of money that a talent represents, one must take into account that the ordinary wage of a farmer or laborer is equivalent to one dinarius for a whole day’s work.
As regards Christian behavior, this parable is a call to responsibility. In relation to God, the story aims to highlight the infinite trust God puts in humans and likewise, God’s infinite patience with our failures and limitations. It is the trust shown by parents to their children which makes children believe, the affection/love given which teaches a child to live. Some orphans grow without the security of parental affection and love. Children grow and become mature and becomes adult one day, they then live independently of their parents with the trust parents have put in them. They will someday acquire their own freedom. A similar things happens with God. God empathizes with human weakness; God never condemns, but always opens a door, always gives us a chance. God wants us to live. If we can discover the profundity of this endless trust, then we shall keep on growing and we shall become free even before God.
Only the trust born out of love can discover the sometimes hidden qualities of a person. This occurs not within the personal level only, but also structurally, within society. Only in a society organized in justice, in cooperation, can one discover one’s worth, the mission he or she must undertake. This can be achieved in the same manner as the master has done in the parable, by giving opportunities to all. One of the major forms of injustice of the social organization in our countries is the tremendous inequality of opportunities among human beings. From the time of conception, and in all aspects – medical, nutritional, cultural, housing, recreational, labor – only a few enjoy everything, while the great majority are barely given the opportunity to surpass subhuman levels of existence. All this is contrary to God’s plan, who wants equality for all humans. If there is a plan where equality among men and women can be and ought to be a reality, then it is precisely this: the equality of opportunities.
(Mt 25:14-30; Lk 19:11-27)