The Second Sunday before Advent - Reflection

'After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”’ Matthew 25:19-21

Brothers and sisters, in my final year at primary school we did some ‘special tests’. Afterwards we learned these were the previous year’s 11+ exams. We were the first year which did not have selective education and the new Comprehensives wanted to stream their intake. Streaming by academic ability, that is. The reason I start with this is when the time came to move to our new school several us were placed in stream 1G1 the ‘Grammar’ stream We had ‘passed’ the 11 plus you might say. I tell you this not to show how clever I am - you can judge that for yourself. Many of you no doubt experienced selection in education. The system worked for me. I became a teacher. I enjoyed academic study and I flourished. Yet, this is not the case for many and only recently have we become more experienced in seeing that. Academic ability does not guarantee success. When I was a child our coal merchant was a regular visitor. He had built up a lucrative business, but I noticed he was always accompanied. He had, you see, never learned to read, or write, left school at 13 and built up the business. Nowadays, we would probably discover he was severely dyslexic, but it did not prevent him having good business sense. However, this story is the exception. Educational selection certainly at too young an age can rather map out our future in a way that is not helpful. 

So, to our gospel reading, which is known as the Parable of the Talents. It appears to be a story about ability, but I am going to suggest there is more than that, but first forgive me another story from education. By the time I came to teach the Comprehensive system was well established and, well, quite comprehensive. However, there has always been felt a need to categorise youngsters based on their academic ability and this is still the case today. At any rate, when I was training there were acknowledged to be a small percentage of children who were exceptionally able academically. They came to be known as ‘gifted and talented’ students. This meant they would be given extra tuition to prevent them being under-stimulated for they would often complete tasks that some students would labour over. Of course, there is nothing wrong in acknowledging that all have separate needs in their educational provision. As you might know or imagine, however, the title they were given gave rise to plenty of comment. They undoubtedly were gifted and talented in so many ways, but few were likely to become millionaire coal merchants!

Now to the gospel. Talent suggests ability. Britain’s Got Talent is, as many of you know, a popular show on TV. For those of us old enough to remember Hughie Green we know this is not a new format by which we often discover that someone who we did not know to be a great juggler as well as the bank manager displays their gift! However, this is not what talent in our gospel story means, is it? Yet, I suspect however much we know that we might be tempted to hear it that way. The talents were a unit of measurement to weigh gold or silver or something else precious. The slaves have the property of the master entrusted to them. This is no small matter. We all know or have read the account, so we see how the ones who have most given them make most. The one with one talent buries it away. I want to suggest this account gives being talented a new meaning. The story reflected the inheritance of the people Israel, who were thought to be in danger of not recognising what they had been given. Those who had, had drawn deeply on the gift and flourished. Yet, the story, as with all scripture, speaks directly to you and me today. We have been gifted with grace, mercy and love and the Holy Spirit as our guide. This is the most important thing once we have acknowledged Jesus to be the Saviour of all. What do we do with that realisation and gift? We have not earned it. It is gift. Yet, does this lead us to express with our lives and all our being the joy of the gospel so that people see the light of Christ alive in us?

We are living though a time that future generations will recognise as a key part of modern history. This may seem overwhelming and we wonder what we can do. I want to suggest that today we are challenged and encouraged by scripture. Challenged to take a good honest look at what we do with what God gives us. Encouraged because when we listen to news bulletins now, they are often quite dark, even with the hope of a vaccine. Yet, we have the best news the world will ever hear. Let us stop to ask ourselves what our response is. How might we respond to the current Pray and Give initiative. How might we witness to the joy we know in Jesus? Is there someone on our own doorstep who needs to be cared for because they have lost an income? May God bless us all as we reflect on our part in this generation bringing the good news afresh to our world. Amen (from Archdeacon David).