Sunday, 16 November 2014

what are you going to do with what God has given you?


We find our parable today surrounded by teachings having to do with Jesus’ second coming and how we are to live in the meantime. Last week we heard about the ten bridesmaids. 

Five were wise and were prepared with enough oil to last through the night. But five were not wise and their oil ran out. While they were out buying more the groom arrived and the wedding began without them. The lesson is to be prepared for his arrival. 

Next week our Gospel lesson is about Jesus separating the sheep and the goats depending on what they have done for those who were hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, in need of clothing, or a stranger. The lesson here is that Jesus has so identified with those in need that whatever we do for those in need it is as if we have done it for Jesus himself. And, as much as we haven’t served those in need we haven’t served Jesus either. The parable about the talents finds itself tucked between these two lessons about being prepared for Jesus’ coming and serving those in need.

Our present parable is about a man who goes on a journey and entrusts his wealth to three of his servants. He doesn’t distribute the wealth equally, one receives 5 talents, the next 2, and the third gets 1 talent. The master probably had a sense of what his servants could handle and he distributed his wealth accordingly. It’s important to note that the master didn’t owe them this money. They didn’t earn it. It was entrusted to them while their master was away. Also, this was not pocket change. A talent was worth 15 years wages for a day laborer. To us it would be almost a million dollars. They are entrusted with a lot of money. Even the servant who was only given 1 talent was still given a lot of money.

 I read one commentator that said our English word “talent”, which refers to a gift or ability, actually came from this parable. The talents have been seen not only as wealth, but also as particular abilities like sewing, or building, or drawing, or teaching. The early Church Father Chrysostom says these talents could be as simple as our senses, or our ability to speak, our hands and feet, the strength of our body, the understanding of our mind, or our listening ears. We can get quite complicated or quite simple and perhaps that tells us something about the 5 talents, the 2 talents and the one talent. Some are given incredible abilities. I went to seminary with a guy who could pick up any instrument and start playing it. He couldn’t read music, but he could play anything. He was given great talent in the area of music. Someone like Bill Gates was given great intelligence which has also led to him being granted great wealth. We might think of people like them as being given 5 talents. I have heard people say, “If I had Bill Gates’ money I would be able to do great things with it.”  I wonder. Sometimes we are given what we have the ability to handle. We might not all have the ability to be responsible with vast amounts of wealth. That takes a very strong character. There are some who are extremely talented musicians, but it takes a lot of character to not use that talent for selfish gain alone. We might not have the 5 talents. We might have 2. Two is still absolutely significant and valuable. Even one is significant and valuable.

The master leaves to go on a trip. (If we see Jesus as being the Master then his leaving is probably his Ascension to the Father after he is resurrected.) The servants are given complete freedom regarding how to deal with their master’s money. The master doesn’t micromanage.  Eventually the master returns and he calls his servants before him (Jesus’ return). The one who has 5 invested it and turned it into 10. The master replies, “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.” The man who was given 2 talents also invested it and turned it into 4. The master says the exact same thing to that servant- “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.” More power and responsibility are offered to the first two servants and they are invited into the “joy” of their master. The word for “joy” can also be translated as “feast”. What is probably being referred to is the heavenly banquet. Even though they were given different amounts, the master rewards them both the same way. What matters isn’t so much how much you are given, but how faithful you are in making what you are given be fruitful for the master.

             The master comes to the third servant who was given one talent and it is revealed that the servant didn’t make the talent fruitful at all. He actually buried it, which was considered a good way to keep valuables safe at the time. Not only did he not make the talent fruitful, but he also attacks his master’s character 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.” The servant didn’t lose the money. He didn’t waste the money selfishly. He was safe. He was careful.  What he wasted was the opportunity. He was driven by fear and he was not willing to take a risk. His sin is the sin of omission. In the prayer of confession we say, “we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”  The sin of the third servant is in what was left undone.
The sin of omission could also be called the sin of sloth. Sloth isn’t just laziness. Sloth is not using what God has entrusted into your care. It is not to use your abilities, or resources, or time for God’s purposes. It is refusing to use what God has given you. It is putting your lamp under a bushel (Matt 5:15). It is not letting this little light of mine… shine. We sometimes bury too much kindness, time, treasure, and talent. The third servant was punished for his inactivity, not because he did something wrong, but because he didn’t really do anything.  

As I said this parable is nestled between two other parables- The parable of the ten virgins, that teaches us to prepare and be ready for the return of Christ, and the parable of the sheep and goats, that teaches us that serving those in need is the same as serving Christ and not serving those in need is the same as refusing to serve Christ. The sin of omission is to bury our talent. It is to not invest in the Kingdom by refusing to care for the needy and refusing to spread God’s gospel of love.
 I read an interesting article on tithing recently. They give some American statistics that mention that 10-25 percent of a normal congregation tithes. They state that at present Christians are only giving 2.5% per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3% percent rate. Then in the article they imagine the impact on the world if American Christians tithed 10%. They estimate there would be an additional $165 billion for churches to use and distribute. Assuming the churches were good stewards with those funds they imagine the global impact:  $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years. $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years. $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.  $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work. $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.[1] Could this be the overall effect of what happens when we bury our talent? I don’t think Jesus is wagging his finger at Christians as much as he is perhaps seeing the wasted opportunity.  

What this parable teaches us is that there is no such thing as sitting on the sidelines. We are all in the game. There are no bleachers, and there are no fans, we are all in the game. There are consequences to our actions, even if our action is a choice to do nothing. To follow Jesus means to invest in his way of life deeply. That comes with certain risk. …. But… not investing and not playing has risk as well. We might think that we don’t have a lot to offer. We don’t have the wealth of Bill Gates. We can’t play like Jung-Suk, or sing like Leah or Brett, or Emily. But, we all have been given a talent. And every talent is like a million dollars. Every one of us have been given something valuable. I think it was Mother Theresa who said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. God isn’t looking for quantity. God is looking for what you have done with what you have given. The servant with the one talent would have received the same reward as the servant who had five if only he had used what was entrusted to him.    
            
There is a principle in the 39 articles of Anglicanism that says this: “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” This means that as we read and study a part of scripture we have to also hold the rest of scripture in our heads as well.  This particular parable might leave us fearful, feeling guilty, and wondering how we have invested our talent, but we also have to remember that Christ came not to condemn the world but to bring it life that will never end (Jn 3:16). He came into the world for the sake of saving sinners, not condemning them (1 Tim 1:15). And even now he advocates on our behalf, just as on the cross he dealt with our sin (1 Jn 1:1-2).  We have to hold this parable in tension with Jesus’ teachings on grace. Jesus has expectations and hopes for what we could be, and for what the church could be. He hopes that we will invest what he has given us and that we will always be ready for him to return.




[1] Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what-would-happen-if-church-tithed#t3McC3gdXlJc2E3z.99

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