This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on November 13, 2011. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Matt 25.
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
Jesus is winding down his ministry on earth; he spends his energy just before his final dinner, betrayal and death answering a weighty question his disciples bring before him. They ask, in 24:3, “when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of this age?” It sounds like an informational question, but the emotions behind it run deep. They are asking, “how will we know that you are coming back and that you will set things right when you do?” They are afraid of being left behind to fend for themselves in a cruel and painful world.
Jesus responds compassionately, answering them with a series of stories meant to encourage them both to trust Christ to return to complete his promise and to occupy their time continuing his work until he does return. The parable of the Talents is the last of three parables, and should be read in conjunction with what follows it – Jesus’ description of the final judgment. With it, Jesus answers our fears. He tells us that God keeps his promises, and that we are not abandoned, but are well equipped to reflect the grace and kindness of our God. He also tells us that, *because* we have been generously invested in by God, we are expected to invest in God’s world, and we will be shaped by the choices we make.
The unprofitable servant: living out of fear, bitterness, and apathy
The unprofitable servant seems like he acted in a reasonable way – taking this enormous amount of money (1 talent is worth 15 years’ wages) entrusted to him and putting it in a safe place where no one would harm it. But as we look at this passage, we see there is more to his story. We learn, based on the actions of the other servants, that this money was meant to be invested, to be used to the benefit of the household. But this servant did not invest any of his time or resources in increasing what had been given to him. Instead, he took his gift, and buried it in the back yard. (oven example)
Look at the servant’s explanation. He says in vs. 24-25 that he feared his master, and thought him to be harsh, stingy, and, essentially, corrupt in his business dealings. He begrudged what was given to him, and found it an oppressive burden handed down from a cruel task-master, rather than a gift given from a generous lord. Yet, the charges he brings before his master don’t match his actions. The master himself calls the servant on this (v 26)–“if you thought me to be this way, you would have at least put my money in the bank!” The problem behind the problem is that he did not love his lord, and was not interested in pleasing him, only in escaping punishment.
So he took what was given to him, hid it, and walked away to go about his own business. His actions, over time, shaped themselves into a life-course. He did not spend his time doing the work his master set out before him, and so he forgot about it and became absorbed in other things. And when his Lord returned, he found not a worker, but an enemy. This servant is given the life he built – a life separated from God and without treasure.
Our temptation is to be overcome by the darker sides of ourselves and this world, to begrudge our gifts, to see our situations and calling as burdens to squirm under, not a resource to be invested in. Our temptation is to see God as stingy and impossible to please. When we give into these temptations over and over, we bury our lives and we forget and shrink. The inevitable consequence of burying our lives is to find ourselves empty-handed, on the outside. This is the course we set for ourselves when we begrudge God our circumstances – when we believe he has not given us enough, expected too much out of us, held us back; when we find Him unworthy of our energies. But is this who God really is? Is this an accurate picture of Christ?
God invests lavishly in us and in this world
In this parable, we learn the deep generosity of God (represented by the master). The master gives each of his servants an incredibly high sum of money. He celebrates his servants’ successes with them, declaring their efforts to be good and their attitudes to be filled with faithful service. He welcomes them in to his celebration, and ushers them into a time of Joy (vs. 21, 23). We find, too, that God is active, and has a specific vision for his world that he not only intends to implement upon his return, but expects his family to be participating in as well. We catch a glimpse of this vision in the story that follows this (Matt 25: 31-46). The ones who reflect God in that story are the ones who extended kindness and care to people who were unable to care for themselves. God ultimately intends to establish a kingdom where all needs are met, where we naturally love God and love each other.
It’s no accident that this is the last parable Jesus gives his disciples before his death and resurrection. In Christ, we get the clearest vision of both God’s generosity and his intention. Christ, our master, becomes the ultimate servant. He takes his most costly possession, his own life, and exchanges it for us. He says in Matt. 20:28, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The risk is astronomical. But the reward stretches even further. God gives up everything in the death of His Son, but He gains back the entire world with His resurrection. Because Christ is alive, His Spirit is alive in each of us. *WE* are where Christ pours his energies. His gentleness is our gentleness. His love for suffering ones becomes our love. His acts of healing enable us to repair relationships or nurture souls in His name. This is the way God works: we must give up in order to gain. Our God sets the standard and hands us the tools we need to follow him faithfully.
And he rewards us each with equity and justice. Notice that, while the two industrious servants received different amounts of money, they received the SAME blessing for faithful work. We are not rewarded for being intelligent or beautiful or clever. We are rewarded for placing our trust in God, and living out of that trust. 25:31-40 (sheep and goats story) shows us this means applying our energy to building peace in our relationships and restoring stability to those who are stumbling. Anyone can do that, and God says to every single one of us “well done, good and faithful servant” when we do act in faith. This promise is to be clung to with all our might. Christ says, when he comes back, He will end suffering and put joy in its place. And we will be guests at the feast!
We Are To Invest In God’s World Just Like He Invests In Us
We are tempted to read life and God like the unprofitable servant does: “Life is impossibly difficult. We get dealt the bad hands. God is harsh, stingy and exacting.” That temptation only increases as our sufferings do. But our calling is to be like the profitable servants – active, engaging, trusting. The knowledge that their Lord will return motivates them to apply themselves to furthering his business.
The profitable servants take what they’ve received and *immediately* go and invest it. They act out of what they have already received from God. Where & how do we invest the grace we’ve received? The sheep and goats story happens after this one to answer this question. We invest what we’ve received from God by caring for others the way he cares for us.
- This is how even suffering can become a gift. (make no mistake – evil is evil. The fact that God can bring about good results from evil circumstances does not mean that those circumstances ceased being evil! God deepens our trust in him and compassion for others through suffering. But suffering in-and-of itself is not good.) The trials we experience in our lives (and the way God carries us through them) shape us and equip us to care in specific ways for people who need kindness. (friend who is pushing 40 and not married. Abused)
- Furthermore, because we know that God is working toward a day when he will end death, poverty, and harm, we know that our investments should have the same goals. And we are equipped with his Spirit who enables us to move this knowledge into action. So, how has God uniquely equipped you to be about His business in your family, in your community, in the world at large?
So our work, as profitable stewards of God’s grace to us, is to know God well, and to invest the energy he spends on us in repairing the world around us in expectation of His return.