Parable of the Talents

Nov. 15th, 2020, homily on Matthew 25:14-30 by Pastor Galen Zook

In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells the story about a very wealthy man who was preparing to go on a long journey. Before he departed, he called three of his servants into his office, and gave them each a substantial sum of money to take care of while he was gone.

To the first man he gave five talents. Now a talent in our day and age refers to a skill or ability that someone has. But in Jesus’s day, a talent was a measurement — in this case of gold or silver — equal to about 100 pounds.

It’s hard for us to imagine this amount of money because most of us have never seen that much money in our lives.  In Biblical times it would have taken the average laborer 15 years to earn a talent’s worth of gold. In today’s currency, that translates to over half a million dollars (assuming an annual salary of $35,000).

So the first servant was essentially entrusted with 2.5 million dollars, the second servant 1 million dollars, and the third servant was entrusted with $500,000 dollars.

The Stewards

The wealthy man left for his journey without providing any instructions as to what the servants were to do with his money while he was gone. But they each thought they knew their master pretty well, and so they immediately made decisions based upon what they thought he would want them to do with it.

The first man took his five hundred pounds of gold and went off and began trading with it. By the time the master returned, the first servant had doubled the portion of his master’s wealth that he was responsible for — from  2.5 million dollars to five million dollars.

The second servant took his 1 million dollars worth of gold and went out and began doing the same, and when the master came back he gave his master 2 million dollars worth of gold.

The master was extremely pleased with these first two servants and entrusted them with even more of his property and possessions to manage.

But the third servant — oh that third servant! Having observed that the master was a “harsh man,” who was cold and calculating, and seemed to care little for others, the servant was afraid. Perhaps he felt that the responsibility that he had been given was too great. Perhaps he was afraid of messing up, of making a mistake, or of losing his master’s wealth. And so he took the hundred pounds of gold with which he had been entrusted, he dug a hole in the ground, and he buried the money for safekeeping until his master returned.

Sure enough, when the master returned from his journey, the man dug up the gold and brought it to his master, explaining that he knew that his master was a harsh man, and that he had buried it for safekeeping because he had been afraid.

Most likely he expected the master to breathe a sigh of relief that his gold was returned to him safely. Perhaps he expected a pat on the back because he had not lost any of his master’s money.

But instead, the master was furious! He questioned the man as to why he hadn’t at least deposited the money into a bank where it would have at least gained some interest. (Even with today’s low savings account interest rates, half a million dollars would have earned at least a few thousand dollars in interest!)

The master was not in fact pleased that the man had buried the money, and rather than entrusting him with more responsibilities, he took the gold that he had given the servant to steward, and he gave it to the first servant who had proven his ability to multiply his master’s wealth.

A Glimpse of the Kingdom

Now, like our gospel lesson last week, we must be careful not to read too much into this story. We must fight the temptation to pick apart the narrative and try to correlate every single detail to someone or something in our day and age. 

Most of the parables that Jesus told were intended to evoke a particular emotion or feeling, or to illustrate a single point.

Last week’s parable was intended to illustrate what it’s like to await the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, which will take place when Christ returns. We saw that, like the bridesmaids in that parable, we must be watchful, and keep praying, keep alert, and keep working for God’s Kingdom, since we do not know when Christ will return.

Jesus prefaces this parable with the words “It is as if…” (25:14). The “it” here most likely indicates that this parable also tells us something about the kingdom of heaven and about how we are to live in the meantime, as we await the day when Christ returns and the Kingdom comes in its fullness.

And so, a few points of connection: 

Everything We Have Belong to God

Like the servants who were entrusted with their master’s money but did not actually own it themselves, so too everything we have ultimately belongs to God. 

Some of us may say, “but I’ve worked hard for everything I have!” And that may be true. But it was God who gave us the will and the means to work. It was God who gave us the skills and the abilities, the initiative, the drive, and the opportunity to earn what we have. And so ultimately everything we have belongs to God, not us. As it says in 1 Timothy 6:7 (NIV), “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” 

One of the questions this parable raises for us, then, is “What do we do with the possessions that we’ve been entrusted with while we are here on this earth?” Does God expect us to multiply the wealth and the resources that we’ve been given, like the first two servants in this story?

In contrast to the master in Jesus’s story who was a harsh man who reaped where he did not plant and harvested where he did not sow, our master is kind and loving and generous. God cares for those who are oppressed and marginalized and downtrodden. God hears the cries of the poor and needy. And so as stewards of God’s wealth, we should use the wealth we’ve been entrusted with in accordance with God’s Kingdom values.

Three Simple Rules of Money Management

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, taught three simples rules in relation to money:

1. Earn all you can;

2. Save all you can;

3. Give all you can.

The story goes that when Wesley was a fellow at Oxford University (in the early 1700’s), he encountered a chambermaid on a cold wintry day. He noticed that the woman was wearing only a thin linen gown for protection against the bitter cold. 

John Wesley reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy herself a coat, but realized that he had very little money to give her, having recently spent a large sum of money to buy pictures to adorn the walls of his apartment.

It struck Wesley that the Lord was probably not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: “Will Thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou has adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold!”

Wesley went on to cry, “O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures [on my walls] the blood of this poor maid?”

After this insight, Wesley committed himself to living as frugally as possible, in order to give away as much money as he could. As his income increased over the years, his standard of living did not. He continued to live on essentially a college student stipend, and gave away all of his excess money. When he passed away, he had no wealth to speak of, but only a few coins in his pockets and drawers, and as a true scholar, a substantial collection of books on his shelves.

In contrast, however, to many religious people who railed against money, Wesley pointed out that it is “’’The love of money,’ [that] ‘is the root of all evil;’ but not the thing itself.” according to Wesley, money is “an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked … a defense for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain.”

Living Creatively and Lavishly for the Kingdom

Now of course, Jesus’s parable does not only apply to our use of worldly wealth. It applies to the ways in which we use everything that we’ve been entrusted with — our gifts, our talents, our skills, our abilities, our relationships, even the people who are under our care. Like the servants in this story, we are simply stewards of God’s resources — none of it belongs to us. And like the servants, we should use what has been entrusted to us in accordance with our master’s desires.

Rather than hiding away or burying the resources, skills and talents with which we have been entrusted, we should use them creatively and lavishly to further and advance God’s Kingdom.  

If you have excess money or financial resources, invest it in Kingdom purposes! If you have excess time, see how you can use that time to bless others. If you have been given special skills or abilities, use them to share and proclaim God’s love with those around you.

Unlike the third servant, we do not have to live our lives in fear of messing up or slipping up, for we know that our God is a loving and compassionate God who is ready to forgive and ready to heal us, ready to welcome us back when we go astray. 

And so, let us live creatively, and abundantly, earning all we can — growing and developing in our skills and abilities and talents, wealth and resources. Saving all we can, and giving all we can. Let us love freely, even as God has loved us. Let us forgive, even as we’ve been forgiven. And let us continue to work for God’s Kingdom until Christ returns, when we can truty “enter into the joy” that God has prepared for us.

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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