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.’
– Matthew 25:14–30 (NRSV)
Several years ago, I watch one of the most profound videos. It was part of a bible study series called Nooma by Rob Bell, yes that Rob Bell the one that we Evangelicals no longer speak about. In this particular episode Rob was out in a neighborhood and he was planting trees along the side of the road. While you were watching him dig a hole and wrestle the tree with a root ball out of his truck and into the ground, he told a parable about two trees in scripture. The first was the infamous tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge. The second tree was the tree that we read about in the Revelation of Jesus given to John, which is the tree life. The whole time he was planting these trees he spoke of the life we live between the trees.
That one episode of the video series has stuck with me. I have thought about it a great deal for the past few years. If you were to read the story of Adam and Eve you would know that both the trees were present in the Garden, and that after our first parents ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge they were exiled to keep them away from the tree of life. When this tree again enters the storyline of scripture at in the Revelation of Jesus, we find that the entirety of scripture takes a different tone. From Genesis to Revelation we are presented with the story of humanity’s quest for their true meaning of life. A quest from one tree to the other.
I mention this video because I think this quest from one tree to the other, is the journey we each find ourselves in. Every person is born and they grow in knowledge and stature, they progress through their lives going somewhere. Each person has some passion or drive that moves them from one moment to the next. It might be something vast and elaborate, or it might be pretty mundane. But there is something that urges us to continue through this journey. At times we might lose sight, at times we might take a wrong turn and we find ourselves traversing through some valley we never intended to be yet we walk, we run, we stagger, and at times we crawl on our bellies through the mud. Yet we still find ourselves on that same quest from one tree to the next.
I say we are all on that journey, but there are many who do not know the way. They know deep down within them that they must move, so they move without knowing what direction to walk they just go. They walk past countless others that give advice and they may turn or not. They walk, we all walk seeking that legendary tree that brings meaning to our life. Keep this journey in mind as you consider the words that Jesus spoke in today’s passage.
This parable that Jesus spoke was spoken during his last week of ministry. If we were to place it on a calendar we would start with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday which Is recorded in Matthew 21. Also on that triumphal day Jesus went into the temple where he became enraged at the extortion taking place in the name of God. From Chapter 21 to chapter 25 we have the teachings and interactions of Jesus the first two days of that week. And in chapter 26 we will find the beginnings of the plots, trial and eventual execution of Jesus which begins on Wednesday. What I am saying through this is some of the most powerful teachings of Jesus came in basically one sermon right before he died.
Jesus at this time has finished his public ministry, He is now speaking to his disciples privately on the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. The disciples have marveled at the magnificence of the Temple and Jesus tells them that all of it will be laid to waste. And they are astonished. They cannot quite imagine a life without the temple, just as we cannot imagine life without some of things we have grown accustomed to, like WIFI. The temple is all that they have known it had a profound impact on and in their life. It defined who and what they were. The temple was everything to them, and Jesus says your world is about to be turned upside down.
They are on this journey of life and suddenly in a moment and instant the very direction and meaning they thought they were living for was going to come crashing down all around them. They like so many others will be left wondering in the vast unknown seemingly without direction. Unless they remember his words. The words that lead to life.
This is Jesus’s last parable. It is filled with prophetic indicators as well as inspirational nuggets. He says, “A man is about to go on a journey so he calls all his slaves to him and entrusts his property to them. To one he gives five talents, to another he gives two, and to another he gives one talent, to each according to their ability.” I think it is important to consider the value of what this man has entrusted to these people. For a common person they would work each day for a denarius. This was not a great deal of money but in ancient times it was enough to provide your family with their needs. A talent is worth approximately fifteen years of wages. Or if you were to consider the average life expectancy of people of that age, a talent was a life’s income. This man is going on a journey, he does not know when he is coming back and he has some servants so he entrusts them with enough money to provide for their livings. He does not tell them what to do with this money, he just gives it to them according to their ability and lets them know that they can do whatever they want with it.
The first servant invests his trust in a manner that yields an additional five talents. The second likewise invests what is entrusted to him and also profits and additional two talents. These first two servants learned from their master. They understood their master’s business and how he would invest his resources and they applied what they had learned for mutual profit. They were entrusted with this amount of money, included in this is all their expenses and personal income and livelihood as well. Consider that. They knew their master’s business. The third however takes the talent he is given, digs a hole and buries it. This third servant does nothing with what has been entrusted to him. He does not invest it he does not even use it to provide for his family, he simply leaves it buried in a hole. What does he do the rest of the time? How does he live? He has been given a life time of wages and he does not touch it.
Which brings me back to the story of the trees. Jesus told his disciples that for your entire life you have focused on the temple, that temple you all interpreted to be the destination and meaning of life, but it is not. The temple is not the second tree. The temple in many ways is a pretty thing that distracts us away from the true life we seek. Because that temple was filled with corruption and extortion, it was filled with exploitation and mockery. It gave empty promises to people and turned many away from the true hope were seeking. The second tree is found with God, that second tree is restored life, the hope of all humanity, the life we lost when our first parents turned from God and chased after their own wisdom. The temple was distracting people from the truth of God. The truth that all God ever wanted for us was for us to enjoy communion with each other and with him in his creation. His desire was for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve to walk with him in the cool evenings singing praises of life. Yet we fell and forever we have chased the dream without knowing which direction to run.
Jesus tells us in this parable that each of us are servants. We each have been entrusted by our creator with certain gifts and talents to use while we journey between the trees. The question is how are we investing our lives. We can get caught up on the injustice of one person getting five and the other only one, but that really does not matter, what matters is are we investing what we have, and are we investing it according to the wisdom of our master?
According to the traditions of Friends, we believe that Jesus is our ever-present teacher and guide. According to the teaching that means that we have access to the wisdom of our master and can use that wisdom in our lives here and now for his glory. How does this work? Just like Jesus walked and taught his disciples his closest friends, we too listen to his teaching and walk with him today. We listen to his teaching by taking the words that have been given to us and allowing them to seep deep into our lives, we allow them to percolate through us till we are changed. But we do not simply read the words, we wrestle with them. We meditate and contemplate all of life through them to the point all we see in the world around us is seen through the light of God. George Fox when he was searching in his life for the way to go, he would often go out into an orchard or field with his Bible and would sit there in silence, reading and meditating and as he did this that is when he heard his master’s call. The call that made his heart leap. As he continued this practice he also received visions of an ocean of light overtaking darkness, and a great multitude gathered together.
How are we investing our lives as we journey from one tree to the next? Are we focused on the work of the master or do we bury all we have in a hole in fear? What is it we are even investing in? It is clear that a talent is a financial reference but it is more than just money. If a talent represents roughly the entire income of a man’s working life, a talent becomes a representation of one’s life. Each of these servants in Jesus’s parable could have been not only given charge of finances but quite possibly could have been given influence over the entire lives of five, two, or one other’s lives. Even in this parable about money again we are brought into a discussion of relationship. And the multiplication of relationships. This reminds me of the movie we watch recently Nail 32. Which is in reference to the life of the founder of the Cowboy church movement. A man asked him how much it would cost to shoe a horse and the founder said $20. And the man said how about I pay for one nail and double it for each additional nail. In this scenario the man would not get paid $20 but over $2 billion. And if we translate that into lives if we were to invest our lives into one person, and in turn each of us invests in others soon the entire world would be changed. One life at a time. One guy invested in five lives another in two and the other was entrusted with one. Two of them used their lives to bring more lives toward the lifestyle of the master and the last servant buried his influence and allowed the master’s work to stop with him. How will you invest your life?
George Fox saw a great crowd, Jesus saw a field ripe for harvest, and lost sheep without a shepherd. What do we see? Are we like the disciple that day focused on a temple built by human hands or are we looking at something that transcends mankind’s greatest marvels? Will we take onto ourselves the lifestyle of Christ and reflect his life to our world? Will we love God in worship, embrace the Holy Spirit in prayer, and live the love of Christ with others as we minister to the various needs around us? Or will we bury all we have in a hole to fearful to move? Will we invest ourselves in God’s kingdom, one life at a time?
(Image from: http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56005)
Sermon by Jared Warner, November 19, 2017
presented at Willow Creek Friends Church
You might like to read Stephen Crisp’s A Short History of a Long Travel from Babylon to Bethel. You can find it at http://www.qhpress.org/quakerpages/qwhp/crisp.htm . Or you can download a copy from archive.org. Go to https://archive.org/details/ashorthistoryofa15730gut
OK, another comment. You have written: “According to the traditions of Friends, we believe that Jesus is our ever-present teacher and guide. According to the teaching that means that we have access to the wisdom of our master and can use that wisdom in our lives here and now for his glory. How does this work? Just like Jesus walked and taught his disciples his closest friends, we too listen to his teaching and walk with him today. We listen to his teaching by taking the words that have been given to us and allowing them to seep deep into our lives, we allow them to percolate through us till we are changed. But we do not simply read the words, we wrestle with them. We meditate and contemplate all of life through them to the point all we see in the world around us is seen through the light of God. George Fox when he was searching in his life for the way to go, he would often go out into an orchard or field with his Bible and would sit there in silence, reading and meditating and as he did this that is when he heard his master’s call. The call that made his heart leap. As he continued this practice he also received visions of an ocean of light overtaking darkness, and a great multitude gathered together.”
Either you were too pressed for space (or time) to dig into what you are alluding to. But this seems rather a shallow rendition of what Fox went through and what was opened to him. Fox was at the end of his rope with no where to go left him. This is what he meant by stating he was “tempted to despair.” The incident to which you are alluding did not arise while sitting in an orchard with his Bible. So, quoting from his Journal, “But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’ When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have preeminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? This I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as: he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see his love, which was endless and eternal, surpassing all the knowledge that men have in the natural state, or can get by history or books. That love let me see myself, as I was without him; and I was afraid of all company: for I saw them perfectly, where they were, through the love of God which let me see myself I had not fellowship with any people, priests, nor professors, nor any sort of separated people, but with Christ who hath the key, and opened the door of light and life unto me.” Works of Fox, Vol. 1, p. 74
“Yet I was under great temptations sometimes, and my inward sufferings were heavy; but I could find none to open my condition to but the Lord alone, unto whom I cried night and day. I went back into Nottinghamshire, where the Lord showed me, that the natures of those things which were hurtful without, were within in the hearts and minds of wicked men. The natures of dogs, swine, vipers, of Sodom, and Egypt, Pharaoh, Cain, Ishmael, Esau, &c. The natures of these I saw within, though people had been looking without. I cried to the Lord, saying, ‘Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?’ And the Lord answered, ‘It was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions!’ In this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings. As I was walking by the steeple-house side in the town of Mansfield, the Lord said unto me, ‘That which people trample upon must be thy food.’ And as the Lord spake he opened to me, that people and professors trampled upon the life, even the life of Christ was trampled upon; they fed upon words, and fed one another with words, but trampled upon the life, and trampled under foot the blood of the son of God, which blood was my life; and they lived in their airy notions talking of him.” Works of Fox Vol. I, pp. 79-80
I will leave these two passages without further comment. I would be interested to read what you make of these.
Thank you for your comments. Yes Fox’s seeking was extremely intense and was not something that came easily. Neither is a life of discipleship to Christ. I find that knowing that Fox left a testimony of his discipline for us very encouraging. He did seek and God did provide answers to his questions. And as he invested his life into the work he sensed he was being drawn into he experienced the life he earnestly sought. And his life and work left a legacy. As do the lives of many that earnestly seek to live a life devoted fully to God.