Over the last few days we have been watching a political dynasty, built up over 37 years, unravelling before us. Zimbabwe. Not long after Robert Mugabe became president, my family and I moved to neighbouring Zambia where I served as a parish priest. Zambia looked longingly over the border to Zimbabwe which was a thriving country that lacked nothing: Zambia, on the other hand, faced food shortages and a crumbling infrastructure. In addition, Zimbabwe had a new government and President who had fought courageously and faithfully for its new-found liberation. I visited Zimbabwe on a number of occasions and there was a clear can-do attitude and a respect from citizens(both black and white) towards their new president and ruling party. Mugabe and his party looked on his role as a privilege and a responsibility and worked hard for the good of the state.
But, as so often with people in power, things changed. President and party began to see their power less and less as a privilege and responsibility and more and more as a right and a possession. They forgot that their role was to enable the whole people to flourish and to grow, but they interpreted their role for the gratification and enrichment of the few. And now, they are facing judgement, the judgement of the people. Let me quickly add, that all governing parties throughout the world (including the western world) face similar temptations and one danger sign is when one group of society is enriched at the expense of another.
I relate the story of Zimbabwe because it provides some important insights into our Gospel reading – the parable of the talents which speaks about using the talents entrusted to us. It also speaks about the inevitability of judgement if they are not regarded as privileges and responsibilities and if we try to hoard them as belonging only to us. The story will be familiar to all of us. A man going on a journey summons his slaves and entrusts each of them with some of his property – note that he entrusts them with it, it doesn’t ultimately belong to them. One gets five talents, another two and another one. The first two slaves, recognising the privilege and responsibility entrusted to them made their talents work and produce more. The third slave, fearful of his master and not recognising the privilege and responsibility given to him, kept it all to himself and buried his talent in the ground. The master returned and asked the slaves to give an account of what they had done with the talents entrusted to them. Judgement day had arrived. The first two, who had used their talents well, were rewarded and invited to join the ‘joy’, that is the company, of their master. However, the third had kept it to himself, forgetting the privilege and responsibility entrusted to him, so that nobody else, least of all his master, profited. As in Zimbabwe, as in so many places throughout the world, all three faced the consequences of the way they used their talents, the privileges and responsibilities handed to them.
This is also the case for the Church and for all of us as human beings. We have all been entrusted by God with talents and gifts – again, note the word ‘entrusted.’ They are not ours by right. These talents are a privilege and responsibility. We are called to use them as fully and creatively as we can, not primarily for our own purposes, not primarily to keep the church going, but for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Good News of God. When we use them in this way, the church will continue and grow. The way we use our talents for the sake of the Good News of God is by ensuring that others, especially the poorest and most vulnerable around us, in our communities, in our families and in our world, profit from our talents. The story of the Christian faith shows us that when we do not focus on our own needs but use our talents primarily for the sake of others, we will benefit a great deal in ways we would not expect. God has entrusted each of us here with talents and gifts – we may not have discovered them yet, but they are there. The question with which we will be confronted at the end of life is whether we have lived life to the full – and whether we have used the talents entrusted to us…..and it’s never too late to start.
Let’s not be afraid of the gifts and talents entrusted to us. Let’s not bury them in the ground, but rather let’s recognise, enjoy and use them. Let us also recognise and appreciate the talents of others which may be very different from our own. When we encourage others to appreciate and use their own gifts, it will help us with ous. As we heard in the letter St.Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica:
Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing
And let’s pray for Zimbabwe at this time.
Preached at St. Nicholas, Withycombe, Minehead (second image), 19th November 2017
First image by Dandjk Roberts