Our celebrant this morning gave one of the standard explanations for this parable. I've heard it before, but it's always good to be reminded of truth. I sometimes like to forget the truth, stretch the truth, bend it, make it suit my own desires. (What... nobody ever does that but me?)
"Why do you suppose," our celebrant asked, "Jesus was so rough on the one-talent-person?"
He went on to describe a typical one-talent-person... and came to the conclusion that most of us are exactly that. There are not so many gifted people in the world that are going to make the cover of Time, win a Pulitzer prize, or be remembered into the next century. Most of us are average. That's what average means. But the anonymity of being average can lead to the incorrect conclusion that whatever we have to offer is so small, it won't be missed.
I won't use my talent badly, but neither will I risk it. (After all I only have one.) So we play it safe, don't hurt anybody, keep a low profile, get by with minimum effort and minimum trust. He talked of the low-risk spiritual life: "where we neither sin nor love much, acting not with faith, but with prudence." These are the people Jesus is concerned with reaching in this story.
For myself, I always figured the poor guy got a bum rap. If telling your master you think he's "a hard man, reaping what you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter." isn't taking a risk, I don't know what is. "I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours." That sounds pretty gutsy to me. But after all, he's backed into a corner by the other two highly successful (and talented) servants, what does he have to lose now?
I was afraid... That's the crux of the problem. We have too many tales of a wrathful and vengeful God that we forget the part about mercy. (Not that this story shows much mercy either.) But God is essentially saying that our faith in His mercy is what will produce it. That rings a bell, doesn't it? How many times does the word faith play a part in Jesus healings, stories, and rebukes? O you of little faith... if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you faith has made you well. Seems like he's trying to tell us that faith, in and of itself, is mighty important.