November 13, 2022 Second Sunday Before Advent The text is Matthew 25:14-29.
14 “The kingdom of heaven is like a man going on a trip. He called his servants and entrusted some money to them. 15 He gave one man ten thousand dollars, another four thousand dollars, and another two thousand dollars. Each was given money based on his ability. Then the man went on his trip. 16 “The one who received ten thousand dollars invested the money at once and doubled his money. 17 The one who had four thousand dollars did the same and also doubled his money. 18 But the one who received two thousand dollars went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who received ten thousand dollars brought the additional ten thousand. He said, ‘Sir, you gave me ten thousand dollars. I’ve doubled the amount.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Good job! You’re a good and faithful servant! You proved that you could be trusted with a small amount. I will put you in charge of a large amount. 22 “The one who received four thousand dollars came and said, ‘Sir, you gave me four thousand dollars. I’ve doubled the amount.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Good job! You’re a good and faithful servant! You proved that you could be trusted with a small amount. I will put you in charge of a large amount. 24 “Then the one who received two thousand dollars came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you are a hard person to please. You harvest where you haven’t planted and gather where you haven’t scattered any seeds. 25 I was afraid. So I hid your two thousand dollars in the ground. Here’s your money!’ 26 “His master responded, ‘You evil and lazy servant! If you knew that I harvest where I haven’t planted and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have invested my money with the bankers. When I returned, I would have received my money back with interest. 28 Take the two thousand dollars away from him! Give it to the one who has the ten thousand! 29 To all who have, more will be given, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken away from those who don’t have much.
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”, a talent being one of the common coins used in the ancient Middle East. This morning’s Scripture reading is taken from the God’s Word Translation, and the language has been updated to put the value of what was entrusted to the three servants into modern currency. Nonetheless, the title pf the parable as being about “talents” persists, so I’ll just go with it. In several of the parables that precede this one in Matthew, Jesus addresses the need for expectation, readiness, and preparedness while waiting for the return of the Son of Man; and the resulting 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 shares with the crowds and his disciples.
This would lead us to assume, correctly that Jesus views this topic as carrying some importance for the crowds, his disciples, and us as we live our lives as followers of the Way of 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 acknowledgement that Jesus considers 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 the concept that God’s people are currently 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 Thessalonians 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 finding satisfaction 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 was a “talent” in Jesus’ time? Turns out to be quite a bit. Granted that the scholars who wrote this morning’s contemporary version of the parable translated the values into more reasonable modern amounts, the earlier versions of this story opted to stick with the original values as Jesus taught them. Jesus’ parables tend to deal in extremes; he does this so those hearing them in his time will pay close attention to their meaning and feel the greatest impact of their teaching.
So, I thought I would research the amounts each servant was entrusted with, using the values of talents in Jesus’ time and taking 2,000 years’ worth of inflation into account. 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 the internet, 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 sixty-eight thousand dollars! From this rather more extravagant amount than this morning’s scripture reading expresses, we must assume that Jesus is making yet another extremely important point; and, if we use the current values of the amounts involved, taking modern salaries into account, we can be assured that Jesus wants us to pay close attention to what he’s saying in this parable.
What was entrusted by the man 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 to illustrate 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, are what result in the abundant lives that the Father wishes for his children.
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 monies 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 increased in value. The master had said to his three servants, “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”. 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 forty-one thousand dollars 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 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 television preachers, many who proclaim a belief that God rewards all pious Christians with material gain. “God wants you to be happy”. “God wants you to be rich”. Martin Luther calls this a “theology of glory” and he contrasts this with the “theology of the cross” that we are encouraged to adopt. And if we devote more than two minutes thinking about this theological concept, we can readily see the flaw in it. God desiring riches and happiness for God’s people as long as they pray hard enough and have a strong enough faith; this is surely a “glory” theology and not one of the “cross”. 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, and that in turn sets us free. And while salvation is not dependent on our good works, we are nonetheless moved to want to perform actions that serve others; this out of thanksgiving for what God in Christ has provided for us. And this is where we separate ourselves from this “prosperity gospel”, the notion that God rewards us with material goods if we show the right amount of faith. And that we are to simply pray harder and we will then receive God’s grace, and that these actions are enough. There is no assumption that we ought to provide for others in response to what we have been given.
Yet we are called to share the blessings we have received, 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 little or 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 from our Master, “Good job! You’re a good and faithful servant! You proved that you could be trusted with a small amount. I will put you in charge of a large amount”. In our case, this means multiplying the “already here” gifts of God, so that others may enjoy them.
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 by helping to usher in 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 have been 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 that Christ began, and that we have been called to continue. We will have squandered our “talents”, the riches we have been given.
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, and 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 One whose example we are called to follow. Amen.
God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!
Preached by Minister Tom Houston at Grace Ministries when he presided at service there on Sunday, November 13, 2022.