Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
“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.
“The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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.’
“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.’ 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.’
“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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 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? 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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
‘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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
This parable is a warning, and that is how I shall preach it.
In case you don’t know, the word “talent” in this story means a significant sum of money, certainly what we would think of as tens of thousands of dollars. The modern use of the word—for example, a “talented singer” or “a student with many talents”—developed from the way we traditionally interpret this parable.
Once we know what a talent is, the story itself is relatively straightforward. A wealthy man goes on a long journey and leaves different large amounts of money to what must be three very trusted slaves. We have to remember that in Jesus’ day, while slaves were owned by their masters, they sometimes did more than manual or household labor. It wasn’t unusual to have slaves managing significant business operations.
Two slaves double the investment they are given. One slave fails to earn so much as a little interest, and the master deems him useless for even menial tasks, casting him out.
Do I have to tell you this parable is not actually about money? Money is simply analogous to the gifts God gives us to use in the world as we help him grow his kingdom. Sometimes I talk in great detail about spiritual gifts, particularly if you’re in the Luminary 101 class. Let’s try to keep that conversation simple today.
God has some way of using you. First of all, you’re made in a particular way. That partially dictates how you can best work for the kingdom.
Since we just finished our long sermon series in Romans, I’ll use Paul as an example. Even before his conversion, Paul was clearly what we would call, in modern terms, a “Type A” personality: competitive, organized, ambitious, perhaps a little impatient. We also know he was studious, capable of processing and understanding complicated theological concepts.
Even after he came to believe in Jesus Christ, none of that really changed. God just began to use what was already there. A different make and model could not have traveled the same roads Paul traveled. So in one sense, our talents are stitched into us before birth and during our upbringing.
There’s more, though. Once we become followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us new gifts. They work uniquely with how we are made. For example, the spiritual gift of discernment will be expressed differently in a detective than in a doctor, even though it is the same gift.
We know we are all called to lead others to Jesus Christ, so at a minimum, we all receive the same gift allowing us to spread the Good News. Paul certainly found himself newly equipped to evangelize for Christ.
There are many other possible gifts God may implant in us, too, gifts that make a real difference in growing the kingdom here on earth. I promise you, Christians, like the third slave in the parable, you each have at least one talent. It belongs to the master, not you, but you have been entrusted with it. It is worth a small fortune in the kingdom economy, where we trade commodities like love, grace, forgiveness, and healing.
That’s a lot of background to get to the real point of this parable. Fear is the third slave’s problem, and frankly, fear is our problem. Let’s think for a couple of minutes about what the first two slaves did; in the parable, their actions clearly match the master’s expectations. They “traded” with their talents to get a return.
What do we have to do to trade? Well, first we have to get out in the world. Even in today’s context, we need another person, at a minimum via an internet connection, if we’re going to do any trading. We have to find someone who wants what we’re offering.
This business of getting out into the world is what the third slave feared. He had no stomach for risk, not even taking advantage of the low-risk, low-return terms the bankers offered. The slave feared someone would take advantage of him, that he would make some sort of mistake that would cost him the talent he had been given.
I have heard people say they feel sorry for the third slave. I don’t. He knew who his master was, he knew what his instructions were, and in the end, he proved to be a coward. That’s why the master in the parable found the slave not just unfit for investment work, but completely unfit.
How strange it is that we can experience a similar kind of fear when considering how to use our talents to serve the master who offers eternal life. We genuinely have nothing to fear! Our master tells us, fear not! And yet, in the church we so often keep our faith within our walls, rather than seeking the people who need us.
People might reject what we offer, but we cannot lose what we have simply by engaging with the world. Even if we die, we cannot lose eternal life.
Everyone wants to see a miracle. Let me tell you about a miracle we can see with our own eyes. All we have to do is get out there and use our talents.
You will eventually find someone who accepts what Christ offers through us. You’ll then see love, grace, forgiveness and healing double in proportion. It is as if we are giving away dollars, and every time our offer is accepted, a new dollar appears in our hand.
All who ask receive, but this is no zero-sum game. No one ever loses in a kingdom economy because the source of love, grace, forgiveness and healing is infinite and eternal.
The only risk for us is in not using our talents. According to the parable, that’s when talents can be snatched away, and that image of the servant cast into “outer darkness” is something we should fear. Have you considered what your talents are? Are you using them for the kingdom to the best of your ability?
Hurry, people, hurry! Even though it seems he has been gone a long time, we do not know when we will next face our master.
The featured image is Andrey Moronov’s “Parable of the Talents,” 2013, available through Wikimedia Commons.