Matthew 25:14–30 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Talents
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.’
Sometimes the worst thing about the parables of Jesus is that there is just too much information packed into a seemingly short story. Like last week’s story about the ten virgins. Who would have thought that we as a group would be discussing it for a good thirty minutes after the service? But during that discussion something very interesting was brought up, the idea of why the five wise virgins did not share the oil that they had with the foolish ones. That very question leads up to the parable that Jesus spoke just after that story. I want us to consider the oil as Luther suggested, as faith, or in deeper terms the source of faith, which is the very Spirit of God. That Spirit of God that was breathed into mankind on the sixth day of creation that separated us from all other living creatures, setting us apart to be stewards of all creation. The oil that burns in a lamp is the source or the fuel that allows for the energy of God to enlighten us, to burn within us without destroying us. It is drawn through the wick and the light shines all around, the flame, the oil, and the wick all relate to the triune God working together within a vessel of clay. A simple story that we teach to the youngest of ears, yet so deep it can puzzle the greatest biblical scholars, if they are honest enough to admit it.
But even Jesus knew that the story of the virgins could be twisted in some degree to the point that the true message would not be heard. Those ten virgins in the story waited and fell asleep, throughout history many groups have looked at this story and have said as long as you have the oil everything is good. This has left the church peddling a cheap grace, and a distorted form of discipleship. This is the very type of grace we so often hear about in our contemporary culture. As long as you have said the right prayer or attend the right church you are ok. It does not matter if your actions are right, or even if you are awake, the virgins were asleep. Yet Jesus ended that parable and transitioned into his next with one very important statement, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Keep awake. A lamp is worthless unless it is actively burning, oil is just a potential fuel until the flame ignites it, and a wick is just twisted fiber quickly devoured unless it is saturated. Without the flame, oil, and wick a lamp in the first century is just a fancy piece of clay, no life and no purpose only to broken down returning to the dust from which it was created. If the lamp is worthless asleep what does that say about us?
This is where today’s passage picks up. “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to their ability. Then he went away.” The first thing that is striking when we look at this passage in context with the parable just prior to it, is that this basically says we have a purpose for being here. We are here for a reason, to take care of the master’s property. This has been the role of humanity from the dawn of time, this is why we were created in the image of God and given the breath of life. We are the caretakers of His property. Each one of us has a role to play, it does not matter if you believe in God or not, that is our role and our purpose. Have we ever really thought about that? In our ever present quest to redeem the world for the cause of Christ have we actually boiled our purpose down to the very core of why we exist in the first place?
To each of the servants the master entrusts a portion of his property, entrusting them with only enough that he deems they are able to handle, but I want us to consider just how much he has entrusted each of these servants. A talent is a form of currency, its value is approximately six thousand denarii. The denarii in ancient times was a day’s wage, so one talent is almost worth 16 and a half years of labor. In classical Roman times, the age encompassing the time Jesus taught, the average life expectancy was thirty years. So a talent would basically represent the wages an average individual would expect to earn in their lifetime. Think about that for a moment. You thought that this parable was about money, really it is about life.
Jesus goes on to say that the one that received five talents, enough money for five families, quickly went out and used what he had in trade and made five more talents, as did the man with two talents. The man with one talent went off, dug a hole, and buried the talent he had received. At times it is difficult to think of this story beyond what we perceive as economics, but I would really like us to think outside the traditional box we put this story in and think about it as life. One servant was entrusted with the livelihood of five families, another with the livelihood of two families, and the third was given his livelihood. The master granted them with the portion of property that he thought they could handle, what Jesus is saying is that lives are in our hands.
This is what my theology teacher would refer to as God’s economy. An economic system that was not regulated in currency but in something totally different and much more valuable. Jesus did not come from heaven to be born of a virgin, to live among humanity so that we could have a financial return on our investments, but so that mankind could be redeemed from death to life. God dwelt among mankind to restore humanity. Humanity and life is the economy that God cares about. All of our perceived wealth and wealth creation is worthless in the eyes of God, if what we invest our lives in does not promote life.
The servant that was a steward over the livelihood of five families was able to invest the resources he was given to provide for an additional five, the one with two could provide for an additional two. Suddenly the community grew from eight to fifteen, consider that for a moment. We have each been entrusted with life, we each have at bear minimum one talent to invest into this world. We have our one life. The question is how are we going to use it?
How are we going to invest our lives? When we consider our individual lives thing begin to get more complex. How we invest our lives reflects what we hold as most important. Consider a conversation you may have had with someone you did not know before, what are the things you talked about? You probably exchanged names, more than likely right after names were exchanged the discussion moved toward our employment or what we retired from, and generally the conversation dwindles from there. Our identities all too often are attached to our careers, our identity and our social standing is derived from a twisted economy where value is measured by currency and the ability to amass more currency. That part of our lives are tools that we use in bringing about who we truly are. Currency is a tool, wealth is a tool. It is no different than any other tool when we look the bigger picture. The dollar is like a shovel, how many people have devoted their lives to the savings of shovels? But a shovel is an important tool a shovel when used properly can dig the foundation for a house for someone to live in, it can provide an opportunity to make clean water available to a remote village, and it can give someone a way to feed their family.
I bring this up because the resources, every resource we have available to us is important. They are important only because those resources can be invested into lives. And life is what God is interested in. Are we investing our talents into the lives of our community or are we burying our talents in a hole? Along with that question is another, are we actively participating in the investment or are we just speaking words?
This is not cheap grace or easy discipleship, but an actual cross to bear. So often our words are gilded with scripture but our actions speak something totally different. How often have we heard words spoken saying, “I’m Pro-life” yet have not opened our homes to house a child whose parents’ are unable to support them? How often do we hear that we should help the poor from people that would never open their doors or tables up to someone in need?
We are stewards of the master’s property only stewards. We have been blessed with talents to invest not in ourselves but into the lives of other. What will the master say when he returns? To the ones that expanded the influence of the master he said, “Enter into the joy of your master.” But to the ones that bury their resources and refuse to invest in life, those are wicked and lazy servant who will lose everything. What does it cost to be a disciple of Christ? What is the cost of being a friend of Jesus? It takes belief that the belief goes beyond knowledge and trust, the belief that we will entrust all we have and all we are into our master’s business. It takes us learning that business by participating in the very life that Jesus himself showed us. It takes us investing all that we have to bring light into the darkness, hope to the hopeless, and healing to the broken. To be a disciple of Christ our actions and our words reflect each other, our careers are tools that we use to minister, and our very lives are lived so that His will will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. And that starts with each of us individually turning to him, it continues by us corporately walking together and encouraging each other to walk that journey with Christ, and it returns when we share in the joy of service.
As we reflect on this story that Jesus told and examine our lives during this time of open worship. I ask again, how are we investing our lives?