Matthew 25:14-30 tells the story of the master who gave five talents to one servant, two talents to another servant and only one talent to a third servant before the master left for a long journey. The talents were distributed to the servants “each according to his abilities.”
When the master returned, he called the servants to account for what they had done with their talents. The servants who were given multiple talents had prospered but the servant who was given only one talent was afraid of losing it. He hid his single talent, and when called to account returned it to his master. We are told that the master was outraged at this servant, took his only talent and gave it to the servant who made the most of his talents.
For years, I wrestled with what seemed to me to be the fundamental unfairness of this story. I suppose it is because growing up on Mosher Street in the shadows of St. Edward Roman Catholic Church, most of the black men, including fathers and sons that I knew, seemed to be the servant who was given only one talent. Yet, with that one talent (i.e. their low wages), the black men on Mosher Street were expected to accomplish the same things (i.e. feed, clothe, and educate their families) as other men who possessed multiple talents. There were no doctors, no lawyers, no bankers, i.e., men with multiple talents, among the black men raising black boys and girls on my Mosher Street.
Certainly a merciful and just master could forgive the occasional servant who, under such circumstances, decided on the basis of the fear of losing it, to hide his talent for safekeeping.
But no! The black men on Mosher Street took their one talent and invested it in their sons and daughters who in turn became doctors, lawyers, bankers, nurses and other servants with multiple talents.
These black men taught me the following lessons from Matthew’s Gospel. First, God calls us to get up each day expecting neither mercy nor justice but simply to go to work developing the talent that he has given us. Second, and this has taken a lifetime for me to grasp, the talent he gives us is not ours to keep. If it was, there would be no recrimination for hiding it or for losing it. Other people, however, need the talent that God has given us, and our failure to prosper out of fear of losing it may very well deprive some of God’s children of the food, shelter, clothing, education and the care he requires us to provide.
To further complicate the lessons of Mathew’s Gospel, is the fact that the black men on Mosher Street possessed no special vision of the future that would encourage them more than men who possessed multiple talents to invest their one talent so deftly into their sons and daughters. Clearly, if these black men relied on a future visible only to the naked eye as the reason they should risk investing their talent, then their fear of losing it would be understandable. But the men on Mosher Street got up each day and went to work developing their single talent based only on what St. Paul explains in chapter 11 of Hebrews is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
In summary, God calls us to get up each day and develop the talent he has given us so that we can invest that talent into caring for his children. We are called to do all this with our God given talent not because we can see what the future holds for us; but simply because God calls us to act in good faith. I learned all this from the black men on Mosher Street.
Dr. Maurice C. Taylor is vice president for University Operations at Morgan State University and attends Mass at both at St. Edward and St. Matthias in Lanham.