By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 15, 2020
Matthew 25:14–30 (ESV)
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no 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 answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Last Sunday we considered the delay of Christ’s second coming. In the parable of the ten virgins Jesus gives us this insight that maybe the delay is because God is still negotiating terms of the marriage. God is still working on securing the finest for a bride of Christ. The church is still working, there is more work to do.
The ten bridesmaids are there serving the church. Five of those bridesmaids were wise while five were considered foolish. All ten were there ready to escort the bride to the feast, they all had their lamps ready at the beginning of the day but when the time came for them to step up and serve, only five were in a position to answer the call.
I hope the words of that story percolated through your mind and heart over the past few days. So often we look at the world and we see the negativity in the media, what we see distracts us from what is most important. We cry out to God and plea that the day of the Lord would come soon, and usher in the kingdom now. I want us to consider that for a moment, where is the light? God is actively negotiating for the bride; God is actively at work even through the chaos of the world. God is working because of the great love God has for the world, love so great that He sent his son not to condemn the world but to save it.
This is where I want our mind today. Not condemnation but salvation, not hate but redemption, not retreat but active pursuit. This is our God. This is our God coming from the throne of heaven, entering the societies of humanity, and showing us the way to our true home. Not wanting anyone to perish but actively seeking our hearts to give us life more abundantly.
The kingdom is like ten bridesmaids serving the bride, waiting for the bridegroom to call out so that they can enter the feast. Jesus called his disciple, He called them and they chose to join him in that journey. He called them to walk through life with him. He called them to become fishers of men, meaning that he would show them a way of life that is foreign to their current ways of thinking but would amaze all that see it. Jesus calls, we respond. Not one of the disciples were completely the same. Matthew was a government official and one of Simon’s were a zealot. Each had skills and personalities that were used to expand the influence of Christ throughout the world. Matthew wrote, while Peter spoke. Some of the disciples we know little about and others are nearly larger than life. Each of the disciples lived through persecution, most suffered martyrdom, they participated in miraculous events, and they saw God’s kingdom stretch across the Roman Empire, into Africa, and east into Asia.
This is where the parable of the servants and talents comes in. A man is going on a journey, and as he is preparing, he needs to entrust his estate to stewards. He considers the various servants that are available. He considers their various skills and abilities and decides how to divide the responsibility of his estate.
To one of the servants, this man entrusts five talents, to another two is given, and to a third one talent is entrusted. For many of us we fail to grasp the great responsibility that is entrusted to these individuals. It is difficult because we do not use the same measures of wealth as they did in ancient times. This is not only something that happens over the course of time, but even when interacting with those of different cultures. For us one dollar does not mean a great deal, we look at minimum wage and think that it is a ridiculously low amount of money. When I went to Ukraine, we were advised to never speak about the dollars we made at our jobs but instead we were encouraged to discuss our work lives in terms of how many hours we would have to work to attend a movie, or eat a meal at McDonalds. When we discuss wealth in those terms the people of Ukraine would see us as equals instead of rich Americans.
A talent is a measure of wealth that we do not fully grasp. I have often considered a talent as being basically a year’s wage, but as I have researched this more fully, I found that the talent is a measure of weight not money. A talent is approximately seventy-five pounds, so depending on what is being weighed the value is drastically different. A talent of silver today would be worth just under $30,000, so a talent of silver would be around the annual salary of a common day laborer. A talent of gold is worth $2,251,080. If this landowner is using gold talents then one talent is approximately worth seventy-five years of wages. The first steward was basically entrusted with three hundred seventy-five years of wages, where the second was entrusted with the wages of one hundred and fifty, and the third seventy-five. That is if the talents were gold, but we are not told what metal is being referred to, because that does not really matter.
I feel that it is important to look at this in the terms of annual wages because it sets it in the perspective of management and human interaction. The man that was given stewardship over five talents could basically be managing a business with three hundred and seventy-five employees. This is a large business and a large responsibility. We have also been provided with much.
Each of us has different skills. We have different talents. Each of us have differing interests and unique perspectives. There is not one person in existence that is completely the same. Our uniqueness is the very thing that God has invested in you.
We often think of theses stories as being things way beyond ourselves. I have never been granted the opportunity nor the responsibility of a major business. I have not had to manage or encourage more than a few individuals. I am not that important. What if the talents given in this story are not gold, but silver? A talent of silver is what many of us manage every year. When we look at this story in terms of silver instead of gold, suddenly every one of us are right in the middle of this story.
The manager of our local grocery store could be the man the landowner invested five talents with. The postal worker bringing the Christmas cards to your mailbox could be the one in which the two talent were invested with. And the one who received the one talent is every minimum wage earner and every recipient of social security. God has invested in us all. God through countless ages and multiple generations has worked everything out so that you at this time and place would be positioned to participate in His kingdom work. And his desire is for us all to take what he has invested in us. He wants us to take our talents: our musical abilities, our technological prowess, our economic logic, our empathy, our abilities to cook, and even our ability to drive a car. He wants us to use all that investment. The investment that our parents and teachers encourage us to develop, the investment our grandparents made in our parents, the investment the clerk at the market made when they smiled at you as they packed the groceries into sacks. Even interaction we have been in and will be in are investments of life that God has made in you to be used for His kingdom’s glory.
We often think of the investment of Jesus. His life, death, and resurrection are monumental investments. But those are not the only investments God has made. Jesus said in his teaching that he came to give life, life more abundantly. That means everything and every relationship is part of that life-giving abundance of Christ. How are we investing what God has given to us?
In the parable, Jesus says that the landowner went away on a long journey. Each of the servants took what was entrusted to them, and they made decisions in the use. God may have worked things out for us over countless ages to bring us to this place and time, but God continues to work with us and through us. We make our own decisions and we pay the consequences or benefit from the reward of those decisions. I have often heard during this pandemic that our health is in God’s hands, those that say this are not totally wrong, but neither are they right. We should be mindful of the investment God has made in us and of how we invest in others. God might miraculously save us from certain death, but He might also let us taste the fruit resulting from the desires of our hearts. We must work with God as we live out our lives.
A few years ago, there was a resurgence of the question “What Would Jesus Do?” It has almost become a cliché, but it is important to consider. To fully answer that question, we need to know Jesus, we need to know his actions, his method of decision making, how he responds and why he responds in the ways he responds. To answer that question, we must be his disciple, we need to walk with him daily, study him, and practice what we observe. We need to become familiar with his manner and customs. John encourages us to abide in the vine, and when we abide, he says that we are no longer servants but friends because we know what our master is doing. The master in the parable that Jesus told in today’s passage is looking at those servants not as men that serve but as friends. They are trusted stewards that were entrusted with their master’s abundance to do as they saw fit.
The master returns from his journey and calls his friends to meet with him. There is a celebratory air in this portion of the parable. The first friend comes before the master and says you gave me five talents look from my careful stewardship; I have five more to give back to you. The master is pleased with the results, and tells him, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” The second man also present an additional return and receives the same invitation. But the third man has a different story.
The third man was trusted by the master. The master thought enough of this man that he entrusted to him one talent to invest as he saw fit. From all we know of this man, he was qualified and likely, knew how the master would have intended to use what was entrusted to him. But there was something about this third individual that was off. He did not fully trust the master. He looked at what was entrusted to him, and instead of seeing it as an opportunity to share in the blessing of his master, he saw it as a cruel test. This man took what was offered to him, and out of fear he dug a hole and buried what was given to him hoping that in the end he could simply give it back.
I want us to think about this third man. This third man was trusted by his master yet did not fully know who it was that he served. His master desired a relationship, but this man was not open to what was offered.
The church is filled with people like this third man. I have been that third man for much of my life. As I have looked back through my life, I can see all too often how I lived in fear of the one I claimed to love. Always looking over my shoulder wondering if the action I was about to take would result in the wrath of God. There were days when I was a child that I would wake up in a panic because my parents were not in the house and I thought for sure I had been left behind and missed God’s blessing. Those that live in fear of God, are like the third man of this story. When we let fear drive us, we do not fully trust God.
I say this, knowing full well that I am not perfect. There are times even this week that I have succumbed to the anxiety of fear. When these anxieties grab hold of us, we can often shrink back into a defensive mode, burying ourselves with the hopes that we might manage to survive. I spent a great deal of time in prayer as I recognized this in myself. I do not want to live like that. I know that there is more to life than that. I know that lifestyle is not what God wants, but how do we loosen those chains?
God has invested much in each of us. Through countless lives and events, God has been investing in our lives to bring us to this moment. And he offers to us our lives. We might have access to five talents of gold, or maybe we are only offered one talent of silver, that does not matter. What matters is how we invest what we have been offered. Jesus encourages all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and find rest, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He is encouraging us, when we are gripped by the anxieties of life to turn to him and his lifestyle. He is calling us to make it our custom to worship, to withdraw to isolated places to pray, and to invest our lives in service to those around us.
We are not alone. God has given each of us talents of life. He encourages us to invest our lives in those around us for the glory of his kingdom. If we have a business use that business for God. If we have a listening ear, listen to those that have burden they struggle with. If we have skills that could ease the struggles of a friend use those skills to help them understand that God loves them. God has invested much in each of us, how are we investing what he has given us?
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, consider the investments made in your life, and the investments you have made in the lives of others. Consider your weaknesses and your strengths and how God might be urging you to invest what he has invested in you. And let us all seek to enter the joy of our Lord.