She was new in town and famous in her own way. As an author, professor, and a leader in compassion ministries, this gifted woman was well known. But I wondered if she could use a friend. I knew from experience the loneliness of relocating, so I invited her to join me for lunch. “You don’t know me, but I would like to treat you to a meal and welcome you to our community,” I e-mailed. We had mutual acquaintances, so I must have seemed safe. She accepted.

On the way to the restaurant I made a mental list of questions and topics that would put this stranger at ease. Even though her expertise was in my ministry field, and lately I had been confused and discouraged about my own involvement in the church, I reminded myself to keep the conversation off of me.  With a quick prayer that God would lead our time, I pushed open the doors, and there she was, looking exactly like her website photo. After a cordial greeting, we were seated and had just ordered two iced herbal teas when this impressive woman looked me in the eye and took control. “Tell me about you,” she invited.

My prepared list of topics didn’t include me. I stammered through a brief synopsis of my life and she calmly nudged me deeper. I was appalled to hear my unfiltered angst seep into my babbling. I don’t know what God expects, he should have made me different, and if only I were anyone but the person I am. My temperament prevents me, my upbringing hurts me, I would choose a new path, but I fear it’s too late. I’m too old, I’m too young, I’m in the wrong setting, it’s clear God’s confused me with somebody else!

After listening for a while, she held up her hand. I shut my mouth, and looked with longing at the door. But my lunch companion nodded and smiled as if to say, “I know.”

She leaned across the table and dealt a kind but decisive blow. “I always think the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 is especially pertinent to women.”

That one innocent statement turned my day upside down. Later, in the quiet of my empty home, I opened the Bible to Matthew 25:14: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money”(ESV).

When the master returned, the first and second servants were each commended. “Well-done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

In light of my recent lament, still fresh in my mind, the third servant’s story made my heart sink. Why did he choose to dig a hole and hide the talent instead of doing what the master told him to do? Was it fear of failure? Did he compare his one talent to the fistful given to others? The servant met the master at the door not with a return on his investment, but with excuses and blame. “You wicked and slothful servant!” was the master’s outraged reply.

I stared for a moment out the window, bewildered and close to tears. Why is Jesus so hard on the one who merely played it safe? I turned back a page and read the parable again, determined to understand. Parables use language intended to shock, to blow away the fog of self-delusion from our eyes. Jesus is not saying we are judged by our performance. The rest of the Bible makes it clear we don’t earn God’s acceptance by our works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).

How do we invest our lives?

The parable of the talents doesn’t teach us how to be saved, but reminds us, with salvation comes the privilege and responsibility to invest the precious life we’ve been given to bring God’s love and light to the world.

Am I faithful to that trust, or do I live as if nothing matters? The word “talent” used in the parable refers to money—in the time of Jesus even one talent had enormous value, worth about twenty years worth of wages. The last servant had no good reason to complain about the master or compare his amount with the others. Neither do I.

I closed my Bible, sat in silence before God, and mentally tore up my excuses. “Whatever you ask, I will do. Wherever you lead, I will follow,” I promised.

I look back on that lunch and know God was with us at the table. He was preparing me for new adventures he had already planned, if only I would stop digging holes. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

What excuses have you used, what fears block the way, what past mistakes keep you hiding your talents?


Janet writes devotionals for the Narrow Way every week. Sign up here and read more from her each week.