November 19, 2017 – Pentecost 24 A
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.’ 21His 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.’ 22And 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.’ 23His 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.’ 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
Some of you may know this already, but I really like eating. I’ve had a lot of practice at it, so I’m also very good at it. It’s a family sport, really, and every year, even though I tell myself I’m going to take it easy this year, I’m usually on my way to a second piece of pie before I realize that I, in fact, did not take it easy this year. I don’t know about you, but nothing gets me in the mood for turkey, gravy, family, and the Macy’s parade like a good parable that ends in “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Woof.
Okay, well, maybe not, but this parable has a lot to teach us about gratitude and generosity which is appropriate at this point in the year. First, some vocabulary. I have talents, you have talents, but we don’t have talents the way this story uses talents. During the age of the New Testament, a talent was a form of currency in the Roman Empire and it was quite a large one. One talent would be about equal to 20 years of wages for the common laborer. So, a minimum wage worker today, making $7.25 an hour, working 40 hours a week and every week of the year, makes $15,080 before taxes. So, roughly, a talent would be $300,000. This tells us something about the landowner and, I would argue, about God. This tells us that God is not pinching pennies and giving out gifts and resources in a thrifty way. God is giving lavishly, generously, and unceasingly. These servants would have been able to easily retire on the money that they had just been given, even the one who “only” received one talent. Can you imagine it? What do you do with that amount of money?
The answer for the first two was to invest it and they doubled their share! That’s awesome and the landowner is impressed, too. They have proven themselves able to make good business decisions and, when the master says, “come into the joy of your master,” what he’s really saying is, “You are no longer my slaves or my servants, but my equals.” Not only do they get a massive sum of money, but they’ve also been given their freedom. Amazing!
But I don’t think the parable is really about them. I believe this parable is about the slave who did not invest. And, before we beat up on him or judge him poorly, I think it’s important to recognize something: he doesn’t invest it because he’s not smart. He does not invest the money because he’s afraid of the risk. While we may not have ever been given $300,000 in one shot, I think we can identify with his fear. So much of our culture and our lives are governed by fear. What if I lose the money? What if the crops fail? What if I get embarrassed? What if I get hurt?
We are often governed by fear and, unfortunately, that is often what happens when we have so much to lose. That is what happens when we wrap ourselves up in the warm, cozy blanket of comfort and refuse to let go. When we find ourselves equating our worth, our status, our security in the stuff we have, of course we will be afraid to risk. This slave was not stupid, but afraid. I wonder if we can identify with him at times. I know I can.
But, like all of Jesus’ parables, this is not simply a moral fairytale telling us to invest our money in order to become rich and then, and only then, God will love us and invite us in. This is not a textbook or an owner’s manual. This is a story about the mystery, generosity, and beauty of God’s grace.
First, let’s recognize that these slaves were given gifts before they had proven themselves. The same is true of you. You have been given gifts, skills, and passions which set your soul on fire. You have been given talents, although maybe not the New Testament talents, which are entrusted to you. And, most of all, you’ve been given God’s love and grace before you could earn them.
Second, let’s recognize that God gives differently to different people and, while we may appreciate someone else’s gifts more than our own, yours are no less important. God gives abundantly and uses all our gifts to bring about the Kingdom of God and serve our neighbors
Thirdly, let’s recognize the man telling us this parable and who he was telling this parable to. Jesus was speaking to the religious and social elite as a critique of how they’ve used their power. He has seen how they have been thrifty with their resources and power and, by doing so, have wasted their opportunities to make a huge impact in the world. They had let fear govern them and, by doing so, remained a slave to it. Sound familiar?
When the Holy Spirit gives us gifts and passions, we have to recognize that they have the ability to change the world. They are given to us as a chance to respond to the love that we see poured out through Jesus on the cross. They are given to us as a sign of the resurrection, that new life, eternal life, is here and can be seen here and now. They, like the grace and love found in Christ, have been given freely. We are bold to share these gifts in all their forms – financial gifts, gifts of energy, gifts of helping, gifts of serving, gifts of listening.
We are not governed by fear because we know that we have already been invited into the joy of our master. We have already been named as daughters and sons of our Creator, sisters and brothers of our Redeemer, and co-workers of our Inspiration. We have what we need, already, right here and right now. And in a world marked and governed by fear, perhaps the brightest light we can shine is a life lived in peace and harmony, a life lived not for our own gain, but for the common good of all humanity. You are loved and you are gifted beyond your wildest dreams. You have passions which God is using already in expectation of the Kingdom God is bringing forth. You have a place in the joy of the master.
Maybe this parable doesn’t get you in the Thanksgiving mood, but I hope this does. You have all you’ll ever need to live in the Kingdom of God. You are loved. You are gifted. You are enough. Come into the joy of your master. Amen.