The Parable of the Talents

Some thoughts on Risk-taking

390px-Parable_of_talentsLast Wednesday I went to a Youth Mental Health First Aid training day. I was very pleased that the focus of the day was not discussing how can we keep young people ‘safe’, but thinking how can we teach them to take risks, to make mistakes, and to bounce back. Yes, providing a ‘safety net’, but not trying to avoid any risks, trying to stop them from doing something stupid at all times.

Of course, enabling anyone, and especially young people, to make mistakes is much harder than stopping them. It is harder, because it requires patience and trust, and it will cause more pain and troubles than simply keeping them safe.

However, whether we are teachers, parents or friends, this is what we must do. Not least because it is what we would like our teachers, parents and friends to do as well: letting us take a risk, explore life, knowing that there is always a place, a home, to come back to. Also in our Christian faith, this central to what it means to be human, and if not the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is the Parable of the Talents that makes it clear.

Imagine for a moment, you are the person with only one talent given: what would you do? If you have two, or even five, you could use one talent to take a risk. If it doesn’t work out, you still have something left. However, if you have only one talent and you lose it: how do you come back from that? Do you dare to take a risk if it is all or nothing?

Now imagine you are the master of the slaves in the parable. Why is he so angry when the last slave comes back with just the talent? Is he justified in calling the slave worthless and throwing him into the outer darkness? When reading this parable again, not from the perspective of a teacher, I could imagine myself to be angry too. Seemingly angry at the pupil who didn’t dare to take a risk, but deep down I am angry at myself. Angry for not being able to give this person what he or she needed to take that risk. And because I can’t face my own shortcomings, I send this person away, so that I don’t need to see it any longer.

This may all sound somewhat dramatic, but I do think that we too rarely consider our effect on others, especially those who are in some way dependent on us. Yes, it is hard, and can be painful, to let people make mistakes and still be there when they come back, but – again – it is what we need to do. When we do, I am sure that we see that one talent becoming two, and five, and ten. And suddenly we see that also we ourselves have stopped hiding our talents, but used them. In our teaching we have learnt, and in our learning we have taught.

We give and we receive, we share what we have and realise it becomes more. That is the pattern we are called to: risky, but life-giving; scary, but fulfilling. So let’s see how we can discover each other’s talents and through it our own.


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