TEXT: Matthew 25:14-30
“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, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (Matthew 25:14-15)
The parable of the talents is a parable about the manner in which God will judge the world and his people. It is a straightforward account—coloured by Jesus’ characteristic hyperbole, but a straightforward account, nonetheless. A man who is about to leave on a journey entrusts his servants with different portions of his property. They are to look after that property and to ensure that it continues to work for the master, that it continues to make a profit while he is away.
Two of the servants double the investment they are entrusted with, and are richly rewarded for doing so. But the third gains nothing from it for his master; all he does is bury the money to keep it safe! And the result for him is …? What was entrusted to him is taken from him and given to the servant with the 10 talents—and then he gets booted off the estate. He’s canned. Fired. Gone. Just like on an episode of The Apprentice.
Wow. That’s heavy stuff. As I said, it is a straightforward account. This parable of the talents—this parable of the three servants who each were entrusted with fabulous wealth by their master—is a straightforward account of how God judges the world.
So, what should we make of it? Well, I think we need to consider ourselves to be one of the servants in the parable—or perhaps even a fourth servant. We need to consider ourselves—and our families, and our church—as servants who have been entrusted with fabulous wealth. We have been given wealth to look after while our master goes on a long trip. We need to consider ourselves as having been given one, or two, or three, our four, or five—or maybe even ten—talents and being left with this treasure, to do with what we will. What would we do? What will we do?
I ask that because that is precisely what God has done. God has given each one of us a fabulous treasure—each in a different but abundant measure—and left what we do with it up to us. God has endowed you. God has endowed me. God has endowed his church.
So what will we do with it? Are we going to play it safe—and hide it under the mattress—much like the third servant did? Or are we going to risk it—like the first and second servants did? Think about it. Think about what God has entrusted to you. Think about who God has entrusted to you. Think about what we have been given in this life by our God—what we have been entrusted with for a matter of a few years, and what we have been promised will be ours for an eternity. Think of the fantastic treasure that has been poured out upon us with the giving of our breath, with each meal we can eat, with each person we come into contact with, with each sight we can see.
Most of us do not think about these treasures often enough, or deeply enough. If we did, things would be different, wouldn’t they? Different for us. Different for our world. There is a little piece I’ve seen reprinted in various forms in different church newsletters over the years. It goes like this:
What would the church be like if every member were just like me? Would our church be empty on Sunday, or full to overflowing, if everyone attended as I do? How much Bible Study and prayer would occur if everyone took the time I do? How many bruised, hurting, lonely people, would be touched by the church if every member acted exactly as I do? Would we need more ushers and offering plates if everyone gave like me? How many children would be led to faith through the Sunday School and church if everyone had my priorities? Would the church just be an attractive social club? Would it be closed, bankrupt, out of business? Or would it be a dynamic force for Jesus Christ in our community and our world—if everyone was just like me?
You know, one of the basic teachings of the Bible is that if we don’t use it—we lose it! Even though Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works …” (Ephesians 2:8-9a) there remains a judgement. A judgement grounded in mercy, absolutely; a judgement given in love, no doubt … but a judgement nonetheless. Someone once rewrote the Parable of the Talents to try to get at this point. The rewrite goes like this:
Once there was a king who had three sons, each with a special talent. The first had a talent for growing fruit. The second for raising sheep. And the third for playing the violin. Once, the king had to go overseas on important business. Before departing, he called his three sons together and told them he was depending on them to keep the people contented in his absence.
Now for a while things went well. But then came the winter—and a bitter and cruel winter it was. There was an acute shortage of firewood—and so, the first son was faced with a difficult decision. Should he allow the people to cut down some of his beloved fruit trees for firewood? When he saw the people shivering in the cold, he finally allowed them to do so.
The second son was also faced with a difficult decision. Food became very scarce. Should he allow the people to slaughter some of his beloved sheep for food? When he saw the children crying with hunger, his heart went out to them and he allowed them to take some of the sheep.
So the people had firewood for their fires, and food for their tables.
Nevertheless the harsh winter continued to oppress them. Their spirits began to sag, and there was no one to cheer them up. They turned to the fiddler … but he refused to play for them! In the end, things got so bad that, in desperation, many of the people emigrated.
Then one day the king arrived back home. He was terribly sad to find that many of his people had left his kingdom. He called in his three sons to give an account of what had gone wrong. The first said, “Father, I hope you won’t be mad at me, but the winter was very cold and so I allowed the people to cut down some of the fruit trees for firewood.” And the second son said, “Father, I hope you won’t be angry, but when food became scarce I allowed the people to kill some of my sheep.”
On hearing this, far from being angry, the father embraced his two sons, and told them that he was proud of them.
Then the third son came forward, carrying his fiddle with him. “Father,” he said, “I refused to play because you were not here to enjoy the music.”
“Well then,” said the king, “play me a tune now, because my heart is full of sorrow.”
The son raised the violin and bow … but he found that his fingers had gone stiff from lack of exercise, and his musical skill had wasted away from want of practice. No matter how hard he tried, he could no longer play a tune.
Then his father said, “You could have cheered up the people with your music, but you refused. If the kingdom is half-empty, the fault is yours. But now you can no longer play. That will be your punishment.”
What would the church be like, if every member was like me? What would the world be like, if every believer believed like I do?
The problem with the third servant was his fear. He either feared too much—or perhaps not enough. And so he was very, very careful with all that his master gave him. Like the man who is afraid to love, because he might get hurt; like the woman who is afraid to reach out, because she might be rejected; like the child who is afraid to walk, because he might fall down—the third servant was afraid. And as is the case with most fears, his fear came true! In the end, what he had was not enough for his master.
The third servant was afraid. He was afraid even though the constant message of God—the message heard whenever God visits his people—is: “be not afraid!”
Be not afraid. Be not afraid of losing what you have. Be not afraid of being alone, or of being hated. Be not afraid of suffering or dying. Instead, trust God. Trust in the One who said: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). Trust in the One who gave himself on the cross, and who—in doing so—made an end of death.
The Parable of the Talents is not a lesson about our degree of ability or productivity—it is a lesson about our attitude and our responsibility. It is about stepping out with God’s treasure in our hands and risking it all for the sake of God. It is about really daring to love—really daring to care—even though the conditions do not seem right for it; even though the persons involved do not seem worthy of it; even though 1001 bad things might happen.
The sin of the third servant is the sin of not daring to risk! It is the sin of not believing that God will reward all who trust in him. It is the sin of not trusting Jesus—who died and rose for us—to raise us up when we give our lives for him. The mystery of the Gospel is not entrusted to the Church to be buried in the ground. It is given to the Church in order to be risked!
Be not afraid. If we have invested ourselves as well as we possibly can for the sake of God’s kingdom—if we have used the gifts of God for the glory of God—then God will be pleased with us, and we will enter into his joy. We will sit down and eat with the bridegroom, and we shall know the bliss saved up for all who trust and believe—now, and forevermore.