I was recently reading The Fall of Rome: A Novel of a World Lost when I came across an interesting part which I thought contained an interesting life lesson. One of the protagonists of the story, a disgraced and exiled noble wracked with questions about his destiny, comes across a religious hermit who shares with him the parable of the ten talents from the Bible.
If you’re not familiar with the parable, here it goes:
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30)
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Interestingly, the hermit asks the noble – what if there was a fourth servant, a man who takes his talents, uses instead of hiding them, yet loses the talents anyway? Would he also suffer the same reaction from the master as the third servant? Or would he still receive a pat on the back from the master, who’d say “at least you tried”?
The lesson I learnt here was about taking hold of the opportunities that are presented to us.
What do you do when God (or life, if you’re an agnostic) presents you with an opportunity? Would you invest it, or bury it? Will we shirk away from our destiny, by missing out life’s opportunities? If you took up an opportunity but lost, would it still be worth the while?
I ask these questions of myself every day. It’s just that I’m afraid the answers will scare me.