USING OUR TALENTS
A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois July 23, 1995
“His lord said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'” (Matthew 25:21).
In New Testament times, a talent was a huge sum of money. Its origin as a monetary unit comes from the value of a heavy ingot of precious metal. A talent was approximately 75 pounds in weight. It is said to be equivalent to six thousand denarii or that it was equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages of a laborer. In today’s values it would be equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the man in the parable gave five talents, two talents and one talent to each of three servants, he was entrusting them with a major responsibility. Any of us would certainly feel the weight of this obligation if someone gave into our care a similar sum of money for an unspecified time.
As with most parables, that of the talents gives us few details. We are left to infer what happened in the hours and days that passed immediately after the master gave his servants the talents and then went right away on a journey. Do you think it is likely that the first two servants went right out and started using the money they had been given on the first opportunity that showed itself? Isn’t it more likely that they gave careful consideration to the most prudent way to make use of the huge sum of money the master had given each of them?
When the day of reckoning came, the first two servants had doubled the money they had been given, and the master spoke those gracious words of praise and reward: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).
The third servant miserably states that he was so afraid of the responsibility given him that he had buried the talent in the ground for safekeeping until the master returned. It is interesting to note that the master doesn’t refer to this fear in his condemnation of the man’s actions. Instead the servant is called “wicked and lazy.”
The meaning of this parable is not difficult to recognize. The Lord has given a significant capability to each of us. For example, most of us by the end of our stay in this world will have had at least forty or fifty years worth of adult life, each day of which we will have an influence on other people either by what we do and say or by what we don’t do and say. Just as a talent was equivalent to thousands of denarii, we have thousands of opportunities to be an influence for good or for ill on those around us.
We know quite well that the Lord doesn’t measure the success of our lives by crude materialistic results. He states so clearly: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20).
Not only are we given time and the physical capability of getting things done and of communicating with others by speech, tone and expression, but we also have been given minds that can learn. The Lord ensures that all people have the capability of learning the essential truths that allow them to see the value of caring for others.
It is our privilege not to have only a vague and poorly defined idea of what is true and good, but to have a source of Divine truth revealed by the Lord in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Writings of the New Church. Over and over again in the Word, truth is compared to wealth. Knowing the truth gives a person a tremendous capability. The question for each individual is, what am I doing with the knowledge, time and ability that I have?
A broad and clear knowledge of many things can be used by a person to be very critical of others. The more a person knows of what is right and wrong, the more he or she can use that knowledge to measure the actions and words of others. When looked at with a harshly critical eye, all of us fall so far short of the ideal that we can easily be condemned by others.
Knowing the truth is important only to the degree that it leads us to do what is good. The purpose of knowledge, its goal, is wisdom and intelligence or good itself (see AC 2967:3,7). Our lives in this world have the capability of showing this wisdom and of bringing good to others. We also can bring the opposite to others. A person can be destructively negative, quick to take offense and to point out the faults and flaws of others. Often this is done by a person in order to feel better about himself. A man or woman can convey directly and indirectly to others that they are unimportant and that their primary value is to benefit him or her.
We all have had experience with people whose presence tends to leave others feeling better about themselves and their day, and we have had experience with people whose presence tends to bring anger, fear, and sadness.
Why are some people so hard on others? If you asked them, they would have their reasons, just as the servant who hid the single talent in the ground had his reason for doing it. He said he was afraid. We know that there are good and healthy fears and destructive ones. The evil spirits present with us from hell love to inspire countless destructive fears in our mind. Perhaps you can think of a recent time in which a fear arose in your mind as a result of some event or something a person said to you, and as a result of that fear you did or said something hurtful to someone else. The hells would certainly like us all to believe that the best defense is a strong offense, and that we should attack those who threaten us and the things we love. The hells firmly believe that it is wise to get others before they get you.
The master did not condemn the servant for being fearful. He called him “wicked and lazy.” Being useful requires us to overcome the fears inspired by the evil spirits associated with us. We don’t have to be driven by the ideas and motivations that they inspire. We don’t have to act or speak from them. Whenever the fears that they inspire within us emerge in our words and deeds, we do evil to others. And to the degree that we are capable of rising above such destructive fears and don’t, we are being wicked and it has an influence on the nature of our eternal spiritual life.
Picture a husband who is worried that his wife will be disappointed with him. The evil spirits with him can use this fear and harness it to thoughts of all the faults and flaws of his wife. They can inspire rationalizations for his own weaknesses and poor choices. Given time, they can build up a tremendous anger within that man, ready to blow up at the slightest indication of displeasure by his wife, and out of his mouth can come a stream of accusations and put-downs.
That same husband could recognize this pattern and acknowledge that it comes from hell. He could honestly look at himself and what he is capable of doing. He could say a prayer to the Lord asking that the destructive fears and evil thoughts inspired by the hells can be withdrawn from him. He can ask for the wisdom and strength he needs to be a good husband. If he does this, when his wife expresses or appears to express displeasure, the man can reflect on its meaning, perhaps calmly asking for clarification. Perhaps there is something he needs to attend to and perhaps there isn’t. Through shunning the fears and evils of the hells, he can become a more wisely loving husband.
The Lord has given us minds that can think and the spiritual freedom to choose between the influence of heaven and hell on our thoughts and motivations. We have a huge wealth of choices to make using this freedom. The following words from the book The Divine Providence speak of this possibility: “If therefore you wish to be led by the Divine Providence, use prudence as a servant and steward does who faithfully dispenses the goods of his master. This prudence is the talent which was given to the servants to trade with, of which they must render an account (Luke 19:13-25; Matt. 25:14-31). Prudence itself appears to a person as his own; and it is believed to be his own so long as he keeps shut up within him the deadliest enemy of God and the Divine Providence, the love of self. This dwells in the interiors of every person from birth; if you do not recognize it, for it does not wish to be recognized, it dwells securely, and guards the door lest the person should open it, and it should thus be cast out by the Lord. A person opens this door by shunning evils as sins, as of himself, with the acknowledgment that he does so from the Lord. This is the prudence with which the Divine Providence acts as one” (210:2, emphasis added).
May each of us consider how we are using the talents that the Lord has given us. It matters little to the Lord what occupation we have. He does not call all of us to intentionally have an obvious effect on huge numbers of people or to profoundly change the quality of this world. There are many people who have held jobs that others considered lowly or who have worked patiently and lovingly with the apparently small number of people who contact them each day. Some of these people are nevertheless among the greatest in heaven and their influence for good is huge in the light of heaven. May we dedicate ourselves to learning from the Lord and to using that knowledge in making our daily choices. May the Lord protect us from the fears that would have us destroy rather than build. May each of us some day be able to hear the Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21). Amen.
Lessons: Matthew 25:14-30; AC 2967 (portions)
Arcana Coelestia 2967
 That a “merchant” signifies those who have the knowledges of good and truth, and that “merchandise” signifies the knowledges themselves, is evident from the passages that have just been quoted from Matthew and Luke, and also from … Ezek. 27:3, 12, 13, 15-24. … The “traffickings” and “merchandise” and the “wares” that are here mentioned are nothing else than these knowledges; … That “Judah and the land of Israel” are “traders in wheat, minnith and pannag, honey, oil, balm” signifies celestial and spiritual things from the Word. The other nations and their merchandise which are mentioned are the various genera and species of truth and good, thus the knowledges which are with those who are signified by “Tyre.” That they are knowledges from which come wisdom and intelligence is plainly evident in the same prophet, where it is thus said: “Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyre, `By thy wisdom and by thine intelligence thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures; by the multitude of thy wisdom, by thy trading, thou hast multiplied thy riches, and thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches; therefore behold I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations” (Ezek. 28:2, 4-7), where it is manifestly evident that the wares with which they traded are the knowledges of good and truth; for from these and from no other source come wisdom and intelligence; and it is therefore said, “by thy wisdom and by thine intelligence thou hast gotten thee riches, and thou hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures.” But when knowledges are for the sake of self, for gaining eminence and reputation or wealth, then they have no life, and those who acquire them are altogether deprived of them; they are deprived of them in the life of the body by embracing falsities for truths and evils for goods; and in the other life they are wholly deprived even of those which are true; and from this it is said, “because thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches, therefore behold I will bring strangers upon thee” (that is, falsities) and “the terrible of the nations” (that is, evils). …
 That a “merchant” is one who procures for himself knowledges of truth and good, and thence intelligence and wisdom, is evident from the Lord’s words in Matthew: “The kingdom of the heavens is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45, 46)”; the “goodly pearl” is charity, or the good of faith …
 From all this it may now be seen what is meant by “trading,” that is, buying and selling, namely, that it is procuring for one’s self the knowledges of good and truth, and by means of them good itself. That this is from the Lord alone is taught in the same prophet: “Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no silver, come ye, buy and eat; yea come, buy wine and milk without silver and without price” (Isaiah 55:1, 2), where “buying” denotes procuring for one’s self; “wine” denotes spiritual truth (n. 1071, 1798); “milk,” spiritual good (n. 2184). Anyone may see that “coming to the waters” here is not coming to the waters, that “buying” is not buying, that “silver” is not silver, and that “wine and milk” are not wine and milk, but are that which is said to correspond to them in the internal sense; for the Word is Divine, and to its several expressions which are from the natural world and man’s sensuous things correspond Divine spiritual and celestial things. In this way and in no other is the Word Divinely inspired.