As we move towards winter, carried by the dying of the year, it may be useful to take some time to "check-in" with ourselves to see how well we are doing emotionally. What with the pandemic surging globally and the political storm here in the U.S., few people are experiencing "life as usual." My friends, clients and students describe feeling as if they are under a "cloud"; though most of my connections are jubilant over the results of the presidential election, they are horrified that America is so divided and that racism is still so prevalent. Unsettling dreams, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, exhaustion and world-weariness are all manifesting right now; moreover, some people are finding they are more prone to rage, frustration, irritability, impatience and even depression. Fear is another factor to consider: How many more deaths will this pandemic claim? Where is the safety net for those who lose their jobs or who can no longer file for unemployment benefits? What about those who are on the streets, newly homeless because they couldn't pay their mortgages? Tent cities are springing up everywhere as the "newly poor" default on their rents or mortgages.
At the present time, self-care is essential. This means knowing what drags us down and what boosts our immunity to the chaos. When we learn to identify the "triggers" that set off spiraling negative emotions, we can consciously avoid those triggers -- perhaps a heavy dose of the news before bed, or too many Zoom conferences back to back, or using food to numb our loneliness... Conversely, we can embrace those activities that are life-giving: jogging for some, creative projects for others, meditating for still others. Whatever it is that allows us to be "centered" is what we need to embrace right now. We have a long, hard winter ahead -- let us not only be in "survival mode" but also in "thriving mode," finding purpose and meaning despite mask-mandates and social distancing.
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--
to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money.
Reflecting on The Parable of the Talents, I found myself wondering how much money the servant actually buried. Finding "Google estimates" that ranged from $1,500-$400,000, I visited a coin dealer's website and learned the following: one talent= 6,000 drachmas; one drachma= a day's wages. One talent was therefore worth the equivalent of 6,000 days' labor, and anyone who owned a talent would therefore be considered wealthy. Why, then, did the servant dig a hole and bury it? Though his master entrusted him with less than the other two servants had received, he nevertheless had a vast sum of money with which to work.
His motivations intrigue me. Was he offended that he had received less? Did he feel "hard done by" or that his employer had discriminated against him? Was burying the talent an act of passive aggression-- a form of non-cooperation? Or was he simply clueless as to the wealth-potential of the one talent? Did he understand that money, when invested wisely, increases and multiplies? Was he so personally-insecure that he was terrified of losing money rather than making a profit? The act of burying a talent in a hole in the ground is on a par with placing bank notes in a shoebox under one's bed. Whether hoarded or buried, both coins and banknotes lose their growth potential.
As far as the employer was concerned, the servant not only failed to invest the wealth in his care, but treated the talent with disrespect. Dogs bury bones, the living bury the dead, garbage ends up in landfills -- but money? By extension, the money in the hole represented the servant's attitude towards his master. Lacking the energy and enthusiasm of his co-workers, this servant was completely indifferent to his master's wellbeing. Worse still, instead of apologizing, he shifted the blame by claiming his employer was "demanding."
Traditionally, homilists and commentators have translated the monetary talent in this parable into the talents we associate with God-given skills and abilities. This interpretation suggests that when we fail to use our gifts, we are doing the equivalent of burying them in the ground. For example, "born musicians" who never play an instrument, compose or sing have buried their talent for music; or students who drop out of school because they are lazy, have buried the opportunity to make something more of themselves. But the master's extreme reaction suggests that Jesus intended a deeper meaning.
Like the servants in the parable, we have each been entrusted with incredible wealth -- the fire of God's life within. We can either carefully tend to this flame, increasing our faith and our love, or we can neglect it. Without attention, the flame flickers, then dies. It as as useless as the talent buried in the ground. When this happens, we join the biblical characters who prove unworthy of their calling -- the wedding guest who lacks appropriate attire (Mt 22:1-14), the 5 virgins whose oil runs out (Mt 25:1-13), the servant who is a drunkard (Lk 12:42-48 ). What these characters share in common is that they are unprepared for the Bridegroom's return. Caught unawares, they are cast into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The moral, of course, is that we must stay awake no matter how tempting it is to slack off and bury that which we have received.
When all is said and done, perhaps it is not just a coin that we bury in the ground but our very selves.