True Humility and Talents
Some people think that humility is a matter of taking yourself to be small, unworthy, not up for much. But, in the Gospel parable, the servant who thinks he is too little to do much with his talent is dismissed as wicked and useless, and his talent is taken away from him. The Lord doesn’t praise him for humility.
So what is humility? It is the opposite of pride—but what is pride? Pride isn’t thinking that there is some excellence, some talent, in yourself when there really is. Rather, pride is a failure to recognize that talent as given by the Lord.
And so, of course, we are small and unworthy. What else would we be? Our talents are not a function of what we are and can do. Every excellence in us is a gift of the Lord’s. We can acknowledge the excellence that is truly in us without danger of pride, provided we remember that such excellence comes from the Lord.
Not only that, but in the Gospel Reading our Lord announces a funny distribution principle: to him who has, more will be given. So here is the idea. A person who does not refuse a gift of the Lord’s receives it and consequently has more. Then, because he has more, the Lord will offer him another gift. If he does not refuse that new gift, it will be given—and so he will have more. And then more will be given to him. And so on and on, till a person blazes in glory for the Lord.
Unlike the useless servant in the parable, then, we can aim as high as we like, with true humility, provided we recognize as gift every excellence we have. Everything is gift, and everything is meant to be given back in service of love for the Lord.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University