GOSPEL: Matthew 25:14-30
[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.’”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before I begin today’s message, let me reveal that I generally think of this Gospel reading as one dealing with money. The Talent, after all, was a monetary term, defined by some as a year’s wages. The actual numbers that came quickly in response to my query were $360,000, or $825,000, or $1,116,000. I guess the value of a Talent varies as much as the exchange rate between nations! At any rate, though, the Talent translates as a quite significant amount of money. For the sake of ease, I’m going to use an amount near the high end, and refer to the Talent of our reading as a nice round million.
Let’s imagine that you worked for someone, and that someone was going to take some kind of Sabbatical, and be unavailable to handle the finances of the business for a period of time. The owner takes the three top people, of which you are one, and divides all the assets of the business among you, probably with very little instruction, other than to say, “I’ll be back!”
What would you do with your million, or your two million, or your five million, keeping in mind that you can’t just spend it, because it’s not really yours?
Most of the time, we see this parable as a judgment on the third servant, and praise for the first two. Is that a fair assessment of the story? Yeah, probably… but life’s not fair, and this story is just one example of the disparity.
Before I go any further, I’d like to make one thing particularly clear. The master is probably not who you think it is. We tend to think that the master is God, but let’s look at the description of the master. We get that description from the third servant, who says, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” Can you imagine that Jesus would describe God as a harsh man, stealing from the neighbors? So, the master is not God. Not only is the master not God, he’s dishonest, using malpractice to inflate his harvest… and the third servant has seen these dishonest dealings of his master, and it makes him afraid. He apparently does not want to be complicit in his master’s dishonesty, so he takes the million dollars he’s handed, and he hides it in a safe place, to be returned as it had been received.
It doesn’t turn out too well for him, though, does it? His dishonest master explodes, accusing the servant of being wicked and lazy. At least the servant should have put the money in the bank, in order to receive interest, but that doesn’t happen. Why? Because the servant is afraid of the master? Probably more so because the servant is afraid of using what to him is already ill-gotten. After all, if it was really the master that the servant feared, would he actually have been able to tell his master why he hadn’t earned any interest on the million?
Note, too, that the master seems to agree with the servant’s description. He never denies it, and actually confirms it in his treatment of reward for the first two, and punishment for this last one. “Take the talent from him, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”
That’s not God. God doesn’t promote the mistreatment of others, stealing from neighbors, or even the charging of interest. That’s the world. That’s the way the world is, and the world is rarely described as filled with honesty and fairness. The world is quite the opposite, and it’s portrayed splendidly in this story.
So, where, then, am I going with a message I’ve titled, “Burying Talents”? Am I planning to say it’s a good thing to bury talents, that the third servant had it right?
Nope… at least not across the board. If the master was dishonest, and the servant wanted nothing to do with that dishonesty, then it is good that he buried the talent to keep it just as it was, maybe with just a little added dust from the ground! However, how many of us are in that same position? How many of us work for a corrupt master?
Let’s take it one step further. If our main master is God, what do we do with the talents God gives us?
And now, I’m going to move way beyond money. In our world, money becomes the measurement of all kinds of things, and many times we measure things poorly on the scale of money. We grant some people million-dollar bonuses in addition to multi-million-dollar salaries for their work as the masters of their businesses, while the people on the floor producing the product from which they gain that wealth are often paid as little as possible. Does that actually make the CEO worth more than the young parent trying to make a good home for a family?
A few weeks ago, our remote control for the projector on the ceiling of the chapel stopped working, so we had to order a new remote. It surprised me that it was $35, just for the remote. However, not having to climb up and down a ladder every time we want to turn the projector on or off or change a setting is actually worth more than that $35! Or should we hire a person just to climb up and down the ladder to push those buttons on the projector?
There’s a song in the Christmas Rudolph story about the worth of silver and gold, which finally says it’s really worth nothing more than the pleasure it gives people… and that the best pleasure is the one saluted by the Christmas tree… which I like to believe points toward Jesus! How, though, does one measure the worth of a person? Is a person worth only that person’s monetary compensation for work performed? Don’t you dare say yes!
Everyone has been gifted by God. We may be gifted in vastly different ways. Some people are great listeners. Others are phenomenal musicians. Some read in ways that bring the text alive. Some are able to bring power for light or amplification into a building. Others keep the plumbing running clear. We’ve got people working on the sign outside, and the lights outside and in. And we have people who know how to bring joy to the lives of others.
The one who gives us these gifts, these talents, is not a harsh master stealing from the neighbors. The one who gifts us is God. So, what are we going to do with the talents God gives us, with the skills, with the money, with the personhood of ourselves? Are we going to bury our talents in the ground, to give back to God only a body that’s a bit older, a bit more wrinkled, and a bit less colorful than the one we had at birth? Is that all we give back?
Or do we give back a portion in a song of praise, or of lament? Do we give a portion in the offering plate? Do we give time and skills for maintenance or beautification of church and home and community? Do we read and study the word, and share God’s gifts with those around us? What we have comes from God, and we do not have to be afraid to use it in ways that grow, and enlighten, and uplift. Let’s do it, in Jesus’ name. Amen