“Talents and Faith”
Joke: A man, his wife and mother-in-law, went out camping and deer hunting. One evening the wife awoke to find her mother had disappeared. She woke her husband and insisted on them both trying to find her mother. So, the hunter picked up his rifle and started to look for his mother-in-law along with his wife. After a short time they came across a clearing not far from the camp, where they saw a chilling sight. The mother-in-law was backed up against a giant rock with a large black bear facing her. The wife cried to her husband, “Aren’t you going to help?” Her husband replied, “No, that bear got himself into this mess so let him get himself out of it.”
What makes a joke funny or often a story interesting? Usually it is the punch line or a twist in the story that you didn’t see coming. A good joke makes you laugh, and a good story makes you think. It creates an insight that you did not have before.
Jesus parables are often like that. Sometimes they were probably even humorous to the people who first heard them, but we are so familiar with the stories in the scriptures, and we live in a different culture that we usually miss the punch line.
The story of the talents has these same story telling characteristics. It is not really a funny story, but it does have an unusual twist on the end that was intended to help the hearer see things in a different way, and we generally miss this.
Let me explain.
The Story is told of a man going on a journey, and he called in his servants and entrusted them with his property –five, two, and one.
And then he went away. The one with the five talents traded with them and made five talents more. The one with the two talents made two talents more, and the one with just the one talent dug a hole and buried it.
Now it is probable that the master is going to be pleased with the first two servants, because they have double what they were given, but what about this third servant?
Now what the third servant did was not as bad as it seems, because according to the Jewish Laws of that time the best way of protecting money given to you was to bury it. This frees the person who was put in charge of some money from the liability of losing it because the person took the most prudent action to keep the money safe. Up to this point in the story there is no real reason why we would think that the third servant had done anything wrong. Perhaps those listening would figure that the third servant’s action was reasonable, but certainly different than the first two.
Now comes the scene of confrontation with the master. Matthew 25:19-29 (NRSV) The master commends the first two, and tells them to “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.’
The odd twist in the story is the extremely harsh judgement that fell on the third servant. “You wicked and lazy slave.” Strip him of everything and cast him out.
One may have judged the third servant’s actions to have been not as satisfactory, but did he deserve such harsh treatment? He may not have produced a profit, but he did not steal the money. The master’s actions seem harsh.
What had the servant done that was so bad? That becomes the talking point. Well first we must understand that the object of a parable is not just to tell us about ordinary life, but to tell us something about God, and this parable contains many allusions to God and the final Judgment. There is the imagery of the master, and the comment “to enter into the joy of your master,” and there is the last verse that speaks of the outer darkness where men weep and gnash their teeth. There is the imagery of the servants which symbolize groups of people claimed by God.
Perhaps most significantly there are the talents which are a reflection not of wealth, but of gifts given by God to us.
Perhaps the greatest sin of the third servant was not just that he buried the wealth but it was in the attitude with which he received what he was given and his subsequent decision of what to do with it. He even confronted his master with the attitude by insulting him –calling him a harsh man and a person that gains value where he has not worked. So, I here I buried it, take what is yours. This was not a spirit of humility or gratitude, but the opposite. Ultimately the third servant’s sin is in his desire to divorce himself from the gift and the opportunity given to him and in his unwillingness to serve even as he was enabled to serve. Instead of having faith in his master’s will, he lived in fear and a self-centered concern. Here take what is yours and don’t bother me.
Now to put what I am trying to say in a more concrete way, God has given to each of us various talents –gifts, abilities, insights, and resources, and our choice is the same today as it was for the servants in the parable.
I forget whether it was a song or a saying that I once heard that said, “That you have to climb out on the limb, because that is where the fruit is.
That is what life is really about; taking a risk of faith to help those around you. Making use of the opportunities and blessings God has given us. Letting our lives serve a greater purpose. We can choose to live only for ourselves or we can consider putting the abilities, gifts, and talents within us to use for a God given purpose. Is it not possible that what you have comes from God and has a God given purpose? Dare you bury it, or should you use it?
Maybe you are the supervisor of a dozen workers but are afraid to take a leadership role within the church. God says lead. The church needs people to lead.
Maybe you have great material wealth but feel that the church does not properly spend the money given to them. You feel it is risky, or meaningless to give to the church, but God says give.
Maybe you know the scriptures and read them daily but are afraid that you could never explain them to someone else. God says teach. You know you will learn more by teaching others then you will by yourself.
Maybe you have a beautiful voice but are afraid to get up in front of a crowd. God says sing. Share the blessings of being able to lift others up through your song.
Maybe your faith has become just a list of rules and regulations. You judge people because they do not measure up to what you think the Christian faith is about. God says love unconditionally.
I could take this list on and on. Wherever we live in fear of failure, and inaction or try to create our own sense of security, there the talents of God maybe buried, and what will happen when the times comes for us to give an account of how we have used our lives?
Finally, I suggest to you this final teaching. If you do not use it, you are going to lose it, or conversely I point out that the parable says nothing about a servant who was given a number of talents, used them and lost all they had. By using what God has bestowed upon us, the gift is always multiplied.
Once an agnostic fellow of a socialist nature called Jesus cruel. He quoted this verse that comes at the end of the parable: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away…” Jesus was not being cruel. He was simply stating a law of the kingdom. If you use what you have, you will have more. If you do not use what you have, you will lose even that which you have.
As we celebrate the many blessing that are given to us, let us, stop and consider what gifts of God are still buried in our lives, and then let us take that risk of faith, and dig them up and use them. God will surely multiply and bless our efforts. Amen.