How can we make sense of the story? Is the central figure, the master, simply arbitrary: generous with the first two servants, cruel to the third? So it would seem.
To understand the story we must ask not about the master, but about the servants. The first two servants acted out of trust. A man who had entrusted them with so much of his riches, they reasoned, was clearly generous. He could be trusted. The third servant was motivated by fear. He says so himself. “I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man.” It is this fear which the parable condemns. Jesus came to cast out fear.
To escape condemnation we don’t need to establish a good conduct record in some heavenly golden book: a series of stars after our name representing our prayers, sacrifices, and good works. Thinking we must do that is “not believing in the name of God’s only Son.” His name is synonymous with mercy, generosity, and love. Escaping condemnation, being saved, means one thing only: trusting him. It is as simple as that. We don’t need to negotiate with God. We don’t need to con him into being lenient. We couldn’t do that even if we tried, for God is lenient already. He invites us to trust him. That is all.
Trust is at the heart of faith. Many Catholics think of faith as a matter of the head: affirming as true the statements we recite in the creed. Those truths are properly called the faith. Our assent to them is important, and necessary. Faith itself, however, goes beyond mental assent to a list of truths. It is resides not so much in the head as in the heart
Yes, and trusting God means risking our hearts. It means loving: generously, recklessly, without limit and without conditions. Because that is the way God loves us. And yes, doing that will mean suffering when those we love fail to respond, or even betray us.
With this parable of the three servants entrusted with gifts on behalf of an absent master Jesus is inviting us to imitate the first two servants: to recognize the generosity of the One who gives us all our gifts; and to trust him as we use and share his gifts, confident that when the Master returns we shall hear his voice, speaking to us personally, and with great tenderness: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share your master’s joy!” (Matt. 25:21)