In the parable, the one given the one talent yielded nothing because – as he told his master – he was afraid. Fear petrified him to inaction. But what was he afraid of? It was fear of risk; fear of the unknown; of what might be; fear of adventure; fear of stepping out of the familiar and comfortable.
In an article, Five Ways of Being That Can Change the World, Joanna Macy comments on Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest with these remarks: “…we learn again that hardest and most rewarding of lessons: how to make friends with uncertainty, how to pour your whole passion into a project when you can’t be sure it’s going to work. How to free yourself from dependence on seeing the results of your actions”. That is the predicament of the one-talent guy in the parable.
While the one-talent servant was hesitant and afraid, those with five and two talents “went off at once and traded with them” (Mtt. 25:16-17 NIV). They took chances; they risked. Even more, they trusted and acted in faith. Indeed, the master commended them as “good and trustworthy servants” (verses 21-23). The NIV has “good and faithful servants”. Now, trust and faith are incompatible with fear.
Five-talent individuals are rare: We don’t get many people like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Mahatma Gandhi, William Wilberforce, or Nelson Mandela. Most of the world population are two and one-talent individuals. It is the one-talent who is tempted to say: “What can I do? I cannot make a difference! Nothing could be expected of me!” Think of the current overwhelming apathy in the “democratic” process in America today.
The warning in the parable is that a gift that is not invested in action will fade and even die out. Conversely, the more a gift is put into use, the bigger it grows and the more it produces. There are rewards too in investing gifts. The master says,” Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master”.