The master entrusts his property to his slaves and goes away for a long time. He entrusts different amounts to different slaves. When he comes back he asks for an accounting.
The word “talent” in this story can be a little confusing. It doesn’t mean special gift or ability, it was a unit of money.
Many years ago, at my home church of St. Margaret’s in Woodbridge, VA, I remember something our priest did with this parable. After a little bit of sermonizing, the priest picked three volunteers from the congregation. She gave them each an envelope. When they opened the envelopes, they discovered that One woman got a $50 bill, a 10 year old boy got a $20 bill and a middle-aged gentleman got a $10 bill. The priest basically explained that they were tasked with being good stewards of the money entrusted to them, and to come back with the story of what they had done with it. She said, “You’ve got a month. Let’s see how you do.”
Well, when the month was up, that Sunday during worship she called up the three one at a time. The woman had put the $50 in her investment account, and it had actually made a little bit of money. She gave back a check for something like $55.00. Not bad for such a short time. The little 10 year old boy, however, got creative. His mom was a crafter and made wreaths to sell at craft shows. So he took the $20 and bought a beautiful wreath from his mom at her cost. Then he started selling raffle tickets to the other people at church and to his friends’ mothers. I think they were like $1.00 each or 6 for $5.00. When the month was up, he presented the church with something like $276.00! Well done, good and faithful servant!
Jack, the guy who had gotten the $10.00, walked sheepishly up front. “Gosh, I forgot all about this! I didn’t think anything more about it after I left church that Sunday! Uhhhh… so Here’s the $10.00 back!”
We all laughed. And we didn’t call him a wicked and lazy slave!
It’s kind of fun to think about what you might do if you were given such an opportunity.
But in the biblical story, a Talent is worth a whole lot more than $10. One talent was worth 6000 denarius, with a denarius being the usual daily wage. So One Talent was worth 15 years of a common worker’s salary.
Think about what you make every year. Multiply that by 15. That’s a lot! And that’s just One talent. One guy got 5!
The workers in the story weren’t given just a little bit to oversee, they were entrusted with tons of money, representing the master’s property.
But really, this, story is not about money.
It’s not about talent and ability and it’s not about money, either. Not just those things, anyway.
This story is more about trust. The master trusted his servants. He gave them huge sums of money to manage, he did not leave them with a bunch of rules or instructions, about what to do with it, and he left for a long time.
The story is about the trust on behalf of the servants too. Two of the servants seemed to trust the master who had given them this responsibility. We were willing to take a risk and invest what they had to try to do better. The third man was afraid. He did not trust the master. He thought of the master as harsh, just waiting for him to fail, wanting a lot out of him without promising anything in return. No trust and a lot of fear. He used those feelings as an excuse to do nothing. He didn’t even try. And the master calls him both wicked and lazy, and condemns him to outer darkness.
I’ve often said that I would have loved for one of the people in the story to have taken what they were given, try their hardest to invest it wisely, and to have failed miserably. I think the master would still have been happy with the failed servant’s efforts because he acted out of trust, not out of fear.
So how might we look at this story more broadly for ourselves this morning?
Unfortunately, there are many people who see the master, who see God, as a harsh taskmaster. They think God is ready to punish them for falling short. They feel like they were given the short end of the stick when the talents were handed out. They just try to play life safe, but they never risk much of themselves for the sake of stewarding the master’s property, for the sake of building God’s Kingdom.
And I’ve got to admit, this story does seem a little harsh. The poor guy who is afraid is thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. He’s called a wicked and lazy slave!
If the master is supposed to represent God, this harsh reaction just feels wrong. What we have to remember is that this story a parable. It’s a story meant to make a point. Jesus tells this story to show his followers what’s expected of them. It has a scary ending because Jesus wants us to get the point. A very serious point: We have been given a great wealth of resources and opportunities. Some are big, some are smaller. Nevertheless, we are made rich by them. How are we called to steward those resources and opportunities. Our choices have eternal consequences.
I said this story isn’t about talents and abilities, and it isn’t just about that, but it is to some degree. Our talents, abilities, and experiences are some of what God has given us that we are called to use and invest in growing God’s kingdom. We need to use those talents and abilities, trusting in God and putting ourselves forward for God’s purposes, not hiding them out of fear or laziness.
I said this story isn’t about money, and it isn’t just about that, but it is to some degree. All of our money, our income – whether minimum wage or 6 figures, our retirement accounts or social security, our stock portfolio or piggy bank, all our future earnings potential, is all part of the talents, the wealth, that God has given us to steward.
Some of it you steward directly to build God’s kingdom, like the tithes and offerings you make to God through this church or other charitable organizations doing God’s work. How you use the rest of it matters too, though. How is your grocery money going to invest in God’s kingdom? Is it buying wholesome nutritious food, maybe supporting your local farmers, helping you be a good steward of your body and the environment? Or are you wasting it on junk food, and poisoning the body God has given you with chemicals and empty calories?
I’ll admit… I have to say yes to both of those things… the good and the bad! I may buy produce at the farmers market, But I have also been known to down a bag of florescent orange Cheetos in no time flat.
The important thing is that we need to think about how we are stewards not just what you give in charity or volunteering, but in everything, and that our understanding of who God is and what God desires for us should help us make better decisions.
For example, have you looked at the companies you support and the investments you have your money in? Are they helping to make this world a better place? Do they care for their employees and the environment? Are they making products or providing services that enhance human life – for everyone, not just for a select few at the expense of others?
Our stewardship includes all aspects of our life.
I think the concept of the talents we are given also includes the wealth of possibilities and opportunities we have, big and little, day in and day out.
Sometimes we, the people of God, will find ourselves in a situation where are called to say the right thing, or take a hard stand, when it would be easier to turn a blind eye or walk the other way. That could be as personal as not letting someone tell a racist joke or standing up for someone who is being bullied against or gossiped about. It could be seeing an injustice in the wider world that you have been put in a unique position where your voice or your actions could make a difference. How sad for us if we are afraid, and bury that talent of an opportunity to be the voice of Jesus in a situation like that.
Sometimes the “talent” the master gives you is an opportunity to engage some new future, whose possibilities we can hardly grasp. I think St. Michael’s Church is on the cusp of such a time as that.
We have been given talents from the master….
The Talents of Good People who are part of our congregation, with many different spiritual gifts and abilities and experiences.
We’ve been given the talents of some financial resources.
We have been given the Talent of a beautiful campus, with lots of land, and a plethora of buildings.
We have invested those talents in worship and discipleship, and we have people who have multiplied those talents through service to thousands beyond our walls, and to bringing others into a relationship with Christ.
Moreover, I believe we are being handed the Talent right now of a large opportunity to become something bigger for God.
As the school moves off this campus and we look at how we are going to use this space, we have choices to make.
We can be fearful, anxious about money, afraid to fail, and seek a quick-fix solution that merely pays the bills.
Or, we can trust that God has a bigger plans for St. Michael’s. How might whatever solution we choose be one that enables us to grow God’s Kingdom? That could happen by partnering with some entity here on this land, and furthering our joint mission, or that could happen through generating an abundance of income to expand our ministries in other ways. There are so many possibilities.
The key thing is that we need to trust. Trust in God, and get to work investing all the talents we have, personally and corporately, for the Kingdom of God. AMEN.