The Fourth Servant

In Bible Study this week, we were studying the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29). Before going away on a long journey, a master calls in three servants. To one he gives five talents; to another, two; to a third, one – to each according to his ability. Much later, the master returns and asks for an accounting. The one with five has managed to accrue ten. The one with two now has four, but the one with only one had gone and buried his talent. Therefore, it didn’t grow and he only had one to give to his master upon his return. The master was very pleased with the first two servants who had utilized their gifts and made more. The third servant he treated with contempt: “You wicked, lazy servant!” The master then took that one talent from him and gave it to the one who had ten.

The point of this parable is pretty obvious. Even a child would tell you that it means we are supposed to use the gifts that God gives us. He will hold us accountable for what we do with them. It seems rather straightforward. Use our gifts well and they will multiply. Ignore them and they will stagnate. What happens when this doesn’t go according to plan, however?

As one of my friends pointed out, the story needs a fourth servant. The fourth servant is given his talents and he (or in our case, she) goes out and tries to do all she can with her talents. And she fails, repeatedly. Nothing multiplies. Every effort comes up short. In an economic comparison, she invests all she has in the stock market and the stock market has crashed. When the master returns, she has little to show for her efforts, except a bucketload of tears of frustration. As my friend said this. I nodded enthusiastically. Yes, this is where I fall in this parable. I imagine many other people feel this way as well.

Sometimes, life is so hard. We pray to do God’s will and try to do it, and yet we seem to come up empty. The conventional wisdom is that if you are failing, you aren’t doing what God wants you to do – that if you are doing God’s will, you will meet with success. But what if you believe you actually are doing what God wants you to do? Where do we fall in the parable? We are not the servant who buried his gifts. We tried all we could. Did the servants who doubled their talents actually struggle in the process? Did they fall down repeatedly before achieving success? Does the parable just not tell that side of the story? That thought gives me some hope.

Our parable isn’t done being written yet. Maybe God has some plan we just can’t see. Maybe our work, our talents, is bearing some fruit we are unaware of. Maybe we are right where we are supposed to be. All we can do is keep trying. If we are truly doing God’s will, then we are where we belong. I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s statement: “We are not called to be successful, only faithful.” We are the fourth servant. I have to believe the Master will reward us in the end.

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