The Test of the Talents
Once there was a man, who had much property, money and influence. He had a grand house, full of well cared for servants. All had good reason to both love and dutifully serve their master, for he had done much for all of them.
Now it happened that the man had to take a journey, far far away and for an indeterminate length of time. Before he left, he called 6 of his servants. They were picked from various ranks and tasks, some seemingly very important and some more humble, the last being a simple stableboy.
To each servant the man entrusted one talent, safe within a bag. These bags were as varied as their recipients, but the matching of bag to person was sometimes surprising. The treasurer was given a simple leather bag, while the stable boy was given a bag made of shining purple silk.
‘I leave each of you with the same amount- your task is to do with it what you think wisest, and best. When I return, we will see how each has succeeded.’ With these words, the man swept a cloak over his shoulders, picked up his luggage and went out to enter his coach. The servants heard the clatter of hooves and wheels as their master began his journey, and each wondered when he would return. And they all began to ponder how to best use their talent in the meantime.
For some, the decision was swift, others were worried about their own ability to rightly use the money. The treasurer hurried away to his counting table, to begin thinking about the way to invest and make profit. The cook began to think about what it would provide for a great meal to prepare at the return of his master, mentally listing all his masters favorite foods. The stable boy was perplexed, as he returned to his simple room in the stable. He decided for the moment to think more and ask advice of others who might know better what to do with his talent. The housemaid decided that undoubtedly the best thing to do would be to update her own wardrobe- surely the master would think that a worthy endeavor? The gardener began to remember the longing he had once had to risk something really important, and thoughtfully handled the bag, wondering if his time had finally come. The butler began to wonder the same thing, he too thinking about what way he could use this one talent to increase it’s worth, maybe tenfold!
Time passed and the servants began to carry out their various plans.
The stable boy, after hearing each plan of the others, finally decided to use the talent to buy seed and plant a new garden. This soon proved to be a wise choice, for the gardener could no longer tend his duties. The others didn’t give much mind to the simple stable boy as he toiled at his garden after his normal duties, but they would have missed the fruit of his labor had it ceased.
The treasurer first began to think about a wise investment. But before long, the one talent of his own began to have a strange effect on him. He polished and fondled it, tossing away the masters leathern bag and fashioning a gaudy jeweled box to display his talent as it glittered uselessly on the shelf.
The cook, knowing that he lacked the skill or canniness to invest his talent outside, instead saved it carefully against the day the master returned, his magnificent feast already planned in his mind. In the meantime he continued faithfully carry out his duties in the kitchen, preparing the food that the stable boy brought in.
The housemaid went and bought a new wardrobe and soon her work began to suffer, for she dawdled before the mirror and flounced with her dresses when she ought to have been working. She began, with her new finery, to flirt and tease some of the menservants, and began to slowly lose her once good reputation even in the town. Many wondered at the master keeping such a loose and frivolous maid, and his name began to suffer through her careless, vain actions.
The gardener and the butler both researched the best options for investing their talents. Neither lacked in careful planning, but they avoided the foolishness of the treasurer in laying dormant for so long that the talent became an end in itself. Each invested their talent. Before long, the gardener gain was pouring back in, a great success. But the butler, through no fault of his own, lost even the one talent he had used. He was devastated and fearful, wondering what the master would do.
Eventually, the master arrived with no warning. The house went into a flurry, the maid trying futilely to catch up on her neglected work, the cook ordering ingredients and cooking madly, sending the stable boy out for his prize vegetables. The treasurer gave his talent a last polish, shining up even the box in which it sat. In the shadow of the masters return it seemed to have somehow lost its luster, and a strange nervousness sat in his heart. The gardener prepared a presentation of his earnings, while the butler, his lips dry and his spirit heavy, tried to think what he could say to his master. At last the meal was set, and the master called all 6 servants into the room. They waited, quietly, while he ate. At last, he cleared his throat and sat back.
‘Before I left, I entrusted you each with one talent, to use wisely. Now I have returned and the time is come to give an account of how you have done. Cook, you have outdone yourself with this wonderful meal- I have tasted all of my favorite things and your personal gift to me has given me much joy. How did you use your talent?’
“Well, master, you’ve been eating it. I couldn’t think of anything better I’d like to do than to cook you the best meal possible, one that you alone would enjoy more than anyone else could. So I’ve planned and planned, and now you’ve had it, and I’m truly happy if you liked it sir, that I am.’ And he gave a little bow, his round cheeks even more flushed than usual.
The master smiled. ‘Your gift thought only to give me pleasure. And yet, I see too that everyone here has been well fed in my absence. You were faithful in your task and that gives me as much pleasure as this-‘ he motioned to the table-‘ your labour of love. Well done, my faithful servant.’
Next came the house maid, her fancy dress swishing on the floor. She stood in a theatrical way, purposefully exaggerated. The master observed her with a critical eye, under which her brazenness faded. She looked down and began-
‘I- I bought myself new things, with my talent, sir. I- I thought, well, you know- it would look nicer, around the house and surely it’s no crime for a lass to want a few pretty things.’ She was growing defensive, though the master had said nothing. ‘Folks notice me, in town, and they know who I work for, that they do. Maybe my heads been turned a little, but my works not suffered, not much that is-‘
‘You have fooled yourself, child, if no one else. Yes, fooled yourself and made a fool of yourself, at once. I have heard in town of your new reputation, and it’s reflection on mine. Your vanity and selfish self-absorption have caused more damage than you know, to yourself and others. Those garments you bought can do nothing for you, and I want you to gather them up and burn them, then return to the duties you are meant to fulfill. The only garments suitable for my house are those I gave you.’
The maid stepped back and burst into tears. Next, the treasurer came, clutching his box with desperate pride.
‘I thought about many things I could do with this talent, sir… I counted up many sums that could have worked well to invest, and thought of many things I could purchase. But then I began to realize sir, how lovely the talent really was. I think I’ve never seen such a talent as this one, in all the years of counting and keeping I’ve done. So I used my own time and money to produce this box to display it in, and I’ve polished and cared for it so. See, how it shines?’ His voice, though still loving and almost furtive as he gazed into the box, had a disillusioned ring to the edge. The master looked sad.
‘This talent was not given to you, for you. It was not given as an end, but as a means. And yet you have turned it into an idol, and worse yet an utterly useless one. I would far rather you had lost the talent at the bottom of the sea than see you so given over to it, as though it were a living thing. I have been told of how little you now provide for the needs of the poor, and though I wondered at the telling at first it is now made plain to me. You have devoted your time to something that in the end is nothing. The only course that can help you now is to destroy the box and the talent within. But the box is yours and you cannot rid yourself of one without the other. This choice is yours- but if you refuse you will no longer be able to retain your post. ‘
The treasurer stared for a long moment from his master to the box. But it was too late. Though the sight of the glittering thing jarred his eyes now, and he almost hated it, it had too thoroughly stolen his heart. His feet as heavy as lead, he left the room. His master watched him go with deep sorrow etched on his face, almost as though his very heart ached.
“Perhaps someday his fate will change and he will be restored once more. Until he is willing to give it up, I can do no more. And you, stable boy. You were awed by the riches of the bag I gave you as much as the value of the money inside. What have you done with your talent?’
The stable boy shifted from foot to foot, embarrassed at being called on.
‘Well, begging you pardon, I didn’t rightly know what to do at first. I heard all the others plans and, begging all your pardons, none of them seemed quite right for me, if you know what I mean sir. I did think about doing something grand, but I didn’t know just what. And then I said to myself, ‘you’re nothing but a little fellow, and simple at that. Do something as you can handle, my lad, or you’ll just look a fool.’ So I looked about and don’t you know, I’ve always hankered to grow a garden of my own, much as I love the horses and critters. So I bought seeds, and a book or two, and I started work. And wouldn’t you know, I wasn’t half bad, begging your pardon sir, and yours Mr. Gardener. But things just grew and grew, the more I worked at them the better it seemed. And then, you know, Mr. Gardener couldn’t keep up with his work on account he had to tend to other things, so since I was already doing my own I just stepped in, as it it were. Just as handy! So, sir, that’s what I done, begging your pardon. I hope it was well, though I can hardly hope it was as wise as it ought to have been, and I daresay I should have chosen different. I did do my best, though, sir.’ Abashed at the length of his own speech, the stable boy stepped back into line without waiting for his masters reply. His master was smiling.
‘Blessed are the humble, for they shall be exalted’ He said. ‘You have done wisely, and rightly, my boy. Not only did you remember your own shortcomings, you have used them to bring great gain. Not only did you do well yourself, you were there to help another. Your contribution aided the whole household, although you didn’t boast, nor many even thank or notice. Yet I see all, and I commend you. Well done, my good, faithful, humble servant!’
The masted turned last to the two remaining. The gardener looked eager, but the butler didn’t raise his eyes, licking his lips and wringing his hands. The master looked concerned, but graciously called the gardener first. He stepped out confidently, holding out a folder filled with papers. This his master took, and perused it while the gardener spoke.
‘ You know, sir, I’ve long wanted to really DO something, something big and risky. Not foolhardy, but something that really counted, that could cost me something. Something that could tear you up by the roots- not to go all garden talk on you. But I did my research- some of which you can see in that folder- and I went for it. I invested the money you gave me and it’s payed back 10 times more than I even hoped. And what is more, it’s now firmly rooted so it should keep bearing fruit for years to come. I’m proud, sir, I won’t deny it. But I’m also thankful, thankful I dared to try it and be able to stand here with my head high-‘
He paused, suddenly remembering the butler, whose set face had paled a little. ‘But I certainly can take no credit beyond doing my research and trying to do right. A man can’t do more than that. The rest’s just luck, or providence, I guess.’ He finished quietly, glancing at the butler.
These last words seemed to bolster the butler a little and without waiting, he stepped forward.
‘It was the same for me, as what he described.’ His voice trembled. ‘I looked at all the information and chose what I thought would be best, but- I failed, sir. I failed, I lost the talent, and disgraced your house. If you see fit I would not think it wrong of you to send me away, sir.’ A tear slipped down his cheek despite his efforts to be calm. At last his strength failed and he put a hand to his face, quiet sobs shaking his shoulders. The gardener put a comforting hand on his shoulder. What would the master say?
He said nothing for a long moment. Then, the sound of the chair being pushed back across the floor startlingly loud in the silence, he rose.
‘You say you failed.’ He began, his eyes distant. ‘How do we define failure? You did the same as this man- but the outcome was different. Can we judge your actions by their purpose? Or must we judge them solely by their consequence? You set out to do right- you did do right. Your intention was to do what was best with your talent. You think you failed, because what happened was not what you thought should happen. But you, yourself, have not failed. You did well. ‘ He reached into his pocket and held out a new talent, glinting in the evening sunlight that poured through the window. ‘Not only did you do your best, you came to me honestly when you had failed, if failure you call it. Here is a second chance. But never forget that what we see as failure can in fact be the gateway to something even better.’
The change that came over the butlers face was astonishing. It seemed to radiate with a reflection of the sunlight that already had begun to fade. He bowed low.
‘Thank you, master.’ His voice shook, but gained strength as he went on. ‘I see now that your test of our wisdom was in fact a display of your own. You wished us not only to do, but to learn. To learn of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses. But also to learn of you. You’ve given me this second chance, and it is my honor to continue to serve you as best as I can.’
The master smiled, and looked from one to another.
‘He has spoken rightly. You have all done what you thought best. Or,’ glancing at the housemaid, ‘what you wished was best, though in your heart I think you knew the difference. And you have all learned something. You now can better serve both me, and the world, if you choose to use your learning rightly. Now, you may go. Go and continue to learn, continue to serve. And remember this test of the talents.’
this is something I've been pondering for sometime. I needed in my own heart to know- what would the Master say?? And although I think this is the answer, it's so hard to accept in your heart. What if my own plans went awry? Could I trust the Master to make things right, His way? This story is a challenge for me, and I hope to readers as well. Let me know what you think!! The one character I forgot was a grumbler- maybe someday I'll rework the story and add some things. In the meantime- enjoy!!
p.s. I searched for hours to try to find a nice image to go with this but I give up. Abbiee et al., I don't know how you do it.