October 12, 2014
“Discovering Our Part in God’s Story”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
Matthew 7:21-23, 25:14-30
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’
21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This is a profoundly challenging parable. This is the third story that Jesus tells in a series of parables about what is expected of the followers of Jesus in the in between time, between Christ’s coming and coming again.
The first story is about a master who goes away leaving his servant in charge of the household. In the tale a wise servant is the one who is busy and who has taken good care of the household while the master is away.
A wicked servant is one who takes advantage of the master’s absence to beat the other servants and drink, and the master returns and takes him by surprise, and he is punished.
The wise servant is the one who obeys, not the one who calculates.
In the second parable Jesus specifically says that the kingdom of heaven is like bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the groom. Some of them were ready and prepared, and some were not. The ones who were not prepared, missed the arrival of the groom, and were shut out of the banquet, and when they beg to be let in, the groom says he does not know them.
These first two stories and the one that follows are called parables of judgment because in the stories there are dire consequences for acting unfaithfully or not being prepared for the surprising and unpredictable return of the master or the groom, which is meant to describe the surprising and unpredictable return of Jesus.
The third parable is of an excessively wealthy man who entrusts his slaves with vast sums of money to care for with no instructions with what to do with it. Two of them manage to double what they have been given. The third buries what he is given with care not to lose it.
This is an unsettling parable for a couple of reasons. First the amount of money involved is obscene. One talent equaled about 6,000 denarii which was the earnings of a day laborer for 20 years, and one of the slaves is given five talents, more money than he will ever see in his lifetime.
Underlying this parable is this situation of extreme injustice, where the excessively wealthy master obtains more wealth, the rich get richer. The first two servants manage to double what they are given and the master is pleased with them; they have been good and faithful.
The third servant buries the money so that it will be safe until his master’s return.
The original hearers would have sympathetic to this third servant. He did the responsible thing, especially when we learn that the master is a hard man, who has gained his wealth by unsavory means.
The slave is afraid of what might happen if he lost the money, so he ensures that nothing is lost. This is wise and prudent.
And yet, in a surprise twist, this is the servant who is punished, for not even thinking to take the money to bankers to earn interest, which was a practice prohibited in the Jewish law. He is called wicked and lazy and is cast out of the kingdom. He is the one not making the obscenely wealthy, morally- questionable, harsh master more money through risky means prohibited by the religious law, but he is the example in the story of what not to do.
How do we understand what Jesus was trying to say?
Like many of the accounts of things Jesus said, this parable likely circulated in a very early compilation of things Jesus said, which was used by these early biographies to tell the story of Jesus’ life.
Matthew takes the tale and increases the money involved to an almost unheard of amount. In Luke’s account of this story the amount handed out is only one mina, about 100 denarii. So that detail tells us to pay attention.
One commentator writes that using the talents should grab our attention, as it would have the first hearers. If the parable is an analogy for us, as followers of Christ in the time of waiting, when God’s kingdom has come and is coming still, then we have been entrusted with something of tremendous value. We cannot take the value of the gift for granted.
In Luke’s telling of this story, the master tells the slaves to do business with the money until he returns, but in Matthew there is no such instruction. The servants work, and work hard, to reap a bounty. They take initiative and risk, and they are the ones to whom the master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of you master.”
The third servant in the tale shows no love for his master; he is interested only in himself, in his own comfort and security, and not in service. There is no trace of gratitude that his master entrusted him with so much.
One commentator writes, “What then can be said about the third servant? The judgment still appears to be very harsh. However, if we consider the parable as a parable of invitation, perhaps his plight takes on a different perspective. If . . . the master is inviting, continually inviting into superabundance, grace, and joy then the only conclusion that can be drawn is the third servant is not able to hear or accept the invitation. The third servant has not only hidden the talent, he has buried himself.”
There are two implications here for us. The first is that we should highly prize the gifts God has given us. We are skilled at diminishment, thinking our gifts are too modest to be of value.
The second thing to take away is that we too are in this waiting period, between the already and the not yet, and big things are expected of us.
The easiest thing would be to do nothing, to not use what we have been given, to bury it in the sand – one less thing to have to think about or worry about, one less thing to do.
But we should hear this parable as a pretty strong condemnation of that attitude. We are expected to take initiative, to try and to work and to serve, to put some elbow grease into this discipleship business. We are expected even to take risks for God’s kingdom, even to risk making mistakes.
The quote on the front of the bulletin says that your talent is God’s gift to you, and what you do with it is your gift back to God. That is the heart of God’s message to us through this parable. And if you think “talent” is just a clever word play, our word talent comes literally right from this parable.
And the time is now. We can’t let one more hour pass before we use our gifts, our talents, our money, our resources, for the things that God intends for us. There is a challenge to each of us here this morning. What is it that God has given you that you are not using? Where do you need to take initiative and risks for God’s kingdom? Jesus says don’t wait, the time is now. We are not called to do this because we feel like we have to, but because it is our gift to give back to God, a recognition of the immensity of his generosity to each of us.