Thursday, 23 November 2017

What do you 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.

The parable before today’s reading is 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 oil the groom arrived and the wedding began without them. The lesson is to be prepared for his arrival. The second coming of Jesus is the groom’s arrival.

Next week our Gospel lesson is about Jesus separating the sheep and the goats depending on what they have done for Jesus in the guise of those who were in need- the hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, those 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 distributes his wealth accordingly. The master didn’t owe them this money. It was entrusted to them while their master was away.

This was not pocket change either. A talent was worth 15-20 years wages for a day laborer. In modern money it would be almost a million dollars. So, they are entrusted with a lot of money. Even the servant who was only given 1 talent was still given a lot of money.

 The talents have been seen not only as wealth, but also as particular abilities like artistic abilities, or construction, or organization, or numbers, or teaching. 
One commentator said that our English word “talent”, which refers to a gift or ability, actually came from this parable.The early Church Father Chrysostom says these talents could represent something 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. … If your back was broken and you couldn’t walk how much would you be willing to pay if someone could make you walk again? We often take these things for granted until we lose them. So each of these abilities is an incredible gift to us.

We do have different abilities, and we deal with different life circumstances, 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.

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. 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 significance of the talents is to say that we have been entrusted with great wealth- our own lives, material wealth, and spiritual wealth (The Gospel, The kingdom of God, The gifts of the Spirit, forgiveness of sin). It has all been entrusted to us to be used for God’s purposes in the world.

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 (That is Jesus’ return at the second coming).

The one who has 5 talents invested it and turned it into 10. The master replies, “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.” (That’s what we hope to hear when we meet Jesus, isn’t it?- “well done”).

The servant 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 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.” 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 putting to work the grace you are given.

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 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 to not use your abilities, or resources, or time for God’s purposes.  Sloth is refusing to use what God has given you. 
Sometimes we are most slothful when we make ourselves so busy that we are distracted from what God wants us to do. Sloth is putting your lamp under a bushel basket (Matt 5:15). 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. 

I read an interesting article on tithing once. They give some American statistics that mention that 10-25 percent of a normal congregation tithes. They state that at the time the article was written Christians were 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 the world’s problems are all solved by throwing money at them. And I don’t think Jesus is wagging his finger at Christians as much as he is 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 choicing 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 might not have artistic talent. We might not have organizational ability…. But, we all have been given some grace- 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. … We have been given a tremendous opportunity. God has entrusted us with grace. We are invited to put that grace to work in the world and by doing so we are invited to cooperate with the kingdom Of God and in the end to hear the words of our master- “well done good and faithful servant”.



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

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