4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Jesus said,] 14For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.21His 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.22And 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.23His 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. 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable that Jesus tells in this passage is about an incredibly
wealthy man… someone who definitely would be part of the 1% in
our context. He distributes a portion of his money to three servants:
according to v. 15 it was given based on ability. As far as we can
tell by the parable there is absolute autonomy… they are
entrusted to use this money for
a long time and they aren't
told what to do with it. Its clear that everyone knows that the
owner, the rich-man, the boss-man, the master, whatever you want to
call him, will eventually come back for the money and the servants
will return the money along with any proceeds that came from their
time as caretakers of the money. And by the way the amount of money
that we're talking about is staggering. A talent was equal to
approximately fifteen years worth of wages for a day laborer…
so for the person who was given 5 talents, the amount of money we're
talking about was literally more than he probably would have been able
to earn in his lifetime, and even for the person who only received one
talent… I mean multiply what you make in a year by
fifteen… wouldn't it be nice to receive that as a lump
sum… I imagine it would still feel a bit like winning the
The other day I was in downtown DC and I saw a billboard for the mega-millions lottery… apparently it's up to $57 million dollars. I don't usually keep track of these things but when I see a billboard like that, it does make me wonder what would I do with all that money? It's a daydreaming game that I think many of us play… even back when I used to occasionally buy lottery tickets, I knew the odds of winning were infinitesimally small, but I always figured the dollar I spent was worth the dreaming that it allowed me to do. And depending on what phase of life I was in, I dreamed of cars or boats or vacations or houses… now a days I might dream of colleges and weddings… I think I would give to the schools I attended and of course the church and Heifer and the International Justice Mission. I'd probably give some money to my family members and friends and if the jackpot was big enough I might endow a youth minister position at a few churches I know or a professor position at my seminary… when you're dreaming and the amounts of money seem limitless, the list of possibilities goes on and on. But it's no surprise that I never did win big. So after I saw that billboard and because I knew I was preaching on this passage, I went to the internet to see if I could find some statistics on what happens to people when they win the lottery… It turns out from the research I saw from a psychologist at the University of Missouri that winning the lottery doesn't have as much of an effect on people's lives as you might expect. Most people keep their jobs and their homes and their relationships, and of course having more money doesn't necessarily equate to more happiness. But what was particularly interesting to me, in light of our passage is that according to the certified board of financial planners, nearly one in three lottery winners eventually goes on to bankruptcy.
Two of the three servants in the parable were of the same mind, they started to work immediately and by the time the master returned, they had doubled the money… the third servant took a different route and buried his share. I don't know what the person who was given five talents actually did in order to double the money he was given… I don't know what the person who was given two talents actually did in order to double the money he was given… but I do know that for some reason the person who was given one talent thought that it would be better to dig a hole and bury the money rather than do anything that might risk losing it. He wanted to play it safe, and he wanted to make sure everything was secure…
Just for reference, I did a little bit of math this week… and to put it into today's terms, if you were to use FDIC insured Certificates of Deposit, which are investments that are readily available to us… and you were to leave all the interest in there so it could compound, it would take at least sixty years to double your money. Of course there are quicker ways out there to double your money but all of them involve some level of increased risk. Clearly they didn't use the same kind of investment vehicles in first century Palestine. To my knowledge there weren't CDs back then, there weren't high yield bonds, there weren't corporate stocks or any of that kind of stuff, but from what I gather, it has always been the case that the possibility of reward rises and falls proportionally with the amount of risk that you're willing to take on. It seems to be one of the cardinal rules of investing… if you're willing to take on a higher level of risk there is potential for a higher level of reward…
And the corollary of that of course is that if you aren't willing to
take any risk, the possibility of reward is severely limited; which
brings us back to the third person in this parable. He set out to not
lose and he did exactly what he set out to do, when the boss came back
he handed back the money… every last penny of it… and
for his effort… well the best thing I can think to say on his
behalf is that for his effort he became
the teaching moment in
the parable. The other two servants were functionally the same. They
received different quantities of money but they have nearly identical
stories when it comes to what they did with the money, how they
accounted for it when the rich man returned, and what their reward
was… For each of them, their part of the story finished with
the same affirmation.
Well done, good and trustworthy servant.
But the one who dug a hole was different, I don't get the picture that he was a bad man… there's nothing in the parable to suggest by his behavior that he was even necessarily lazy or wicked like it says in verse 26… Frankly, the only thing that was clear about him is that he was just afraid. He was afraid of what was going to happen if something went bad… and with good reason… things do go bad. Even if things don't go bad very often, sometimes they do. Like in 2008 when over the course of a few months the stock market tanked and wiped out 10 years of gains… as a nation, our confidence hasn't been the same since… in a lot of ways we are living in a time of economic uncertainty, which sometimes makes it hard to take a risk… and even though we have no idea what went on in this third servant's life that made him unable or unwilling to take a risk, I think we all know what that feels like. We have enough to think about just trying to make ends meet for us and for our families… it can be hard to even imagine what it would mean to invest in the way Jesus seems to be pointing with this parable.
And honestly, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the person who was given 5 talents and the person who was given 2 talents tried to double the money but instead they lost all of it… I wonder how the master would have responded then… and of course we don't get to know that because that's not the parable Jesus tells, but in my heart, I believe that they would have been commended for trying, for doing what they can… and I think that because just like so much of what Jesus says, this parable isn't really about money. It's about life. In this part of Matthew's gospel Jesus is speaking in response to his disciples questions. They were asking him about the end of the age and they were asking him about how they would know when he would return. And with this parable it seems that Jesus is more concerned with how they act in the meantime. And what it comes down to is simply: act! Do something. Risk, invest, care. After all, isn't that what Jesus did? He cared deeply for people… everyone. Sinners and outcasts, Pharisees and religious leaders, Roman Soldiers and disciples were all welcomed, instructed and offered healing. He invested everything in teaching his followers and showing them the way to life. He risked everything to challenge the status quo of the religious, political, social and military system that just wasn't in line with God's priorities… and he paid dearly for it… he paid for it with his life… but also everything changed because of him. It's hard to even comprehend the reward… countless people able to see, to understand, to embrace who God is because of Jesus' life and ministry… and that's our model.
Not that we can ever be Jesus, of course, but the choices we make do have real consequences. We may never win the lottery and have a pile of cash to distribute, but we always have the option to either step out in faith, or be buried by fear. We always have the option to invest hoping to make a difference or to hold on tightly while we sit on the sidelines and watch the world go by. We always have the option to care deeply about others or to remain focused on ourselves. What we do and what we fail to do helps to shape the world that we live in… How we use the resources that have been entrusted to us reflects what we think about God. And what we do in response to the incredible grace that's been offered certainly isn't something to be taken lightly… In the parable, both great freedom and great responsibility are given… here's 75 years worth of wages, or thirty years or even fifteen years of wages… what you do with it is up to you… and the invitation is to make it worthwhile. In Jesus name, Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on October 23, 2011.
© 2011 Daniel Holland