November 15, 2020 Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Matthew 25: 14-30.
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.’
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning Jesus is giving yet another example of what the kingdom of heaven is like. He is telling the “Parable of the Talents” immediately after he recounts the story about the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Last Sunday in this parable Jesus addressed the need for expectation, readiness, and preparedness while waiting for the return of the Son of Man; and the resultant fulfilment of God’s kingdom. He continues this theme of emphasizing the need for watchfulness over the course of several chapters in Matthew, using quite a few separate allegories in the parables he tells.
This would lead us to assume that Jesus views this topic as carrying some importance for the disciples, and us as we live our lives as followers of the Way of this Christ. Matthew is laying out Jesus’ description of the coming “end times”; the biblical theme of “eschatology”. This is the theological study concerned with the ultimate destiny of humankind. And this will be realized when God’s kingdom is brought into being, after Jesus’ Second Coming. So, this assumption that Jesus feels this is a subject worthy of more than a few parables is one that bears closer examination. Perhaps we should take a moment to revisit the Lutheran concept of the kingdom of God as consisting of two distinct expressions. There is the “already here” and the “not yet”. The latter will come to pass when God’s kingdom has been fulfilled in heaven. The former, the “already here” is understood as God’s people living the grace-filled, abundant lives that reflect thanksgiving for the blessings already bestowed. And, it’s also about enduring the difficulties of the present while living in expectation of the joys of the future existence to come.
And in Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica this morning, he reiterates that the timing of Christ’s return is not known; and that we are to remain awake, expectant, and most importantly, hopeful. The key to satisfaction of living in this life is a hopeful trust in the unbridled joy to be found in the next.
And this trust, hope, and thanksgiving we experience in the “already here” is amplified even further in Jesus’ telling of the Parable of the Talents. Just how much is a “talent”? Turns out to be quite a bit. Jesus’ parables tend to deal in extremes; he does this so those hearing them will pay close attention to their meaning and feel the greatest impact of their teaching. It turns out that a talent was the equivalent of 600 denarii; a denarius being the average daily wage of a laborer in Jesus’ time. According to Google, taking the average salary of a laborer today and doing the math, the five talents the first servant was entrusted with would equate to just over 3.2 million dollars! From this extravagant amount we must assume that Jesus is making yet another extremely important point; and he wants to be sure we all understand what he’s saying.
What was entrusted by the master to the servants in the parable were differing, yet all rather extravagant sums of money, likely because this was a metaphor that people would pay close attention to. But these funds in question were stand-ins for something of much greater importance for Jesus’ purpose in telling the parable. The story centers on the master giving away what was his; in the case of the parable, his money. This serves as a parallel to what Jesus is teaching us is the lesson to be learned from the parable. What Jesus is entrusting his followers with is the love, mercy, grace, and salvation that is God’s alone to bestow upon God’s people. All told, these gifts, when recognized, result in the abundant lives that the Father wishes for his people.
The first two servants we encounter in the parable take what is given to them to nurture and we assume, find ways to multiply it. In each of their cases, the funds are returned with interest, so to speak. The third character in the parable squirrels the money away ensuring that it cannot be expanded, cannot be magnified to increase its value. “Here is my money; until I return, you are responsible for the portion I have entrusted to you. Do what you think is best with what you have been given. When I return you may let me know what you have done with what you have been entrusted”, says the master to his three servants. And we know their answers; two have made use of what they were given and produced twice as much in each case.
The third one hid away what was entrusted to him and it remained stagnant; this one talent, equivalent to around $650,000 in today’s money, could have been doubled like that of the other two, had the servant bothered to do anything at all with it. The master is displeased with this result, to say the least. We can deduce from the parable that neither will the Father be happy with us if we miserly withhold from others the abundant lives with which we have been blessed. We are to share the gifts of the love, mercy, grace, and salvation and are the hallmarks of the kingdom of the “already here”.
The part of this parable that has tended to be a bit misunderstood and given perhaps greater credence than it should, is that it is often used to promote what is known as “prosperity gospel”. This is a theology that is espoused by a few TV preachers, many who foster a belief that God rewards all pious Christians with material gain. Luther calls this a “theology of glory” and he contrasts this with the “theology of the cross” that we are to adopt. And if we spend more than two seconds thinking about this, we can see the flaw in this concept of God desiring riches for God’s people as long as they pray hard enough and have a strong enough faith. Jesus never personally possessed more material goods than the tunic on his back and the sandals on his feet. The abundant life of the “already here” of God’s kingdom isn’t the promise of a big house, a new car, or hefty bank account. These fall into the “glory” theology; and God doesn’t work that way. The “cross” theology compels us continue the work Jesus began as we follow him to the foot of the tree that sets us free.
We are called to share the blessings we have been given, the spiritual and moral “talents” of the parable. If we have been given much, we are expected to share much with others. If our blessings are less extravagant, we are still called upon to share what we have with those who may have none. In no case are we to hoard what we have, to squirrel away the love, mercy, grace, and salvation that we have been blessed with. We too are hopeful to hear, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master”.
The greater the effort we put into sharing the gifts of the abundant life we have been granted, the greater will be our reward. Not in the sense of material gain as proponents of “prosperity gospel” would have us believe, but in a greater expansion of the coming “not yet” of God’s kingdom. We have been freely offered the grace of God; our “theology of the cross” compels us to multiply these gifts from our Master by ensuring that all of God’s people participate in this same abundance of love, mercy, grace, and salvation that we are entrusted with. If we don’t, we might as well just bury these gifts of immeasurable value in a hole in the backyard. And if we do that, we will no longer experience the life abundant we have in Christ. And we will have excluded others from it as well. And we will have done nothing to further the work Christ began, and that we have been called to continue.
If we bury God’s grace and Christ’s love in a place where neither we, nor others may access them, the kingdom of the “already here” suffers and is diminished. And the coming kingdom of the “not yet” is similarly delayed. But, if we invest God’s gifts by sharing them with others, the coming kingdom is ever so slightly hastened, and the earthly kingdom we inhabit is made all that much more abundant for all God’s children.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious and Holy God, we have been entrusted with many things, by your grace. Guide us, inspire us, encourage us to share these gifts with others, for the good of your kingdom. And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, the good Master whose example we are called to follow. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.