24th Sunday after Pentecost

November 15, 2020


[Jesus said] “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his
property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then
he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five
talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one
talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those
servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward,
bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents
more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I
will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came
forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master
said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over
much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying,
‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no
seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his
master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and
gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my
coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him
who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But
from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer
darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)

We are a week closer to the end of the Church Year – next Sunday – where, as at all new year eves and new
year beginnings – we look back and hope forward. Last week we heard Jesus talk about 10 maidens, 5 wise
and 5 foolish. There have been seven days between hearing Jesus in last Sunday’s Gospel and now. For
Matthew’s account and for Jesus there has only been one breath. We pick up where we left off. The disciples
haven’t moved, they are still around Jesus with the temple precincts in view – vast, large, immovable – but
they are listening because Jesus said every stone is coming down. And now so are we because Jesus told
them to ‘watch’ because they do not know the day or the hour of the marriage feast and they are to be
prepared. How prepared you are depends on how important the bride and bridegroom are to you.
Relationships govern behaviour.

And now Jesus slides into what has been called the parable of the talents which seems to be explaining what
they are to do as they wait – and we hear the now familiar account of a man going on a journey and
entrusting his servants his property – to manage – and what they are assigned matches their ability – five,
two, and one talent. A talent is a measurement – a weight – very often silver but not necessarily – and the
thing to note is that it is large – not tiny, miniscule, or impoverished. Hands up if you would like to receive
say 15 years wages in one go today – no tax? 30 years worth? 75 years worth? Whatever scholarship
suggests, my point is simply that these servants have been entrusted with substantial talent. And maybe that’s
not a bad metaphor for each of us, that we are endowed with substantial talents.

Anyway we know the story – in effect, like health, it is a matter of use it or lose it. The story speaks into how
the followers of Jesus were to behave as they waited for Jesus and their use of the resources they had – time,
their own abilities, and possession. The story is vague on details but clear on the intention – they were
faithfully to use the talents – one traded, one made, and one buried – and we have no description yet about
these servants as we had with the maidens a moment earlier – are they wise or foolish?

The master returns and looks at the accounts and now we hear descriptions – five talents from five talents –
good and faithful servant; two talents from two talents – good and faithful servant; one talent back – and the
reply is wicked and slothful servant – if you were not going to use it then why not bury in a bank rather than
the ground and there would be interest?!

The servant gives his excuse up front – ‘Master it is your fault, you scared me, I was afraid of you’. We have
no evidence that this claim of the hard master is true and the master accepts the argument and in effect says if
that is so, why not try and get some interest at the very least? The point is obvious that this servant did
nothing with his talent and what he did with his life – we don’t know what – but it is nothing to do with his
talent. And the consequence is darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So what do we get out of this parable? My guess is that at the back of our skulls, there is the idea that we’d
better do something for God or else. We, by nature, simply can’t get away from the thinking that if we have
to do something for God, if he expects something from us, then it will involve a pass or fail; a well done,
good enough, not good enough but I’ll turn a blind eye, or fail. And this parable doesn’t help because that’s
what seems to have happened. Right?

Well, that interpretation doesn’t apply to the servant with one talent. Strictly, he didn’t use his talent at all.
Didn’t even try to. He didn’t destroy it – in fact he handed it back, pristine, if you ignore any bits of soil still
clinging to it.

And we are left with a general message of Christian stewardship and responsibility but unease if there is a
pass or fail. This idea of gifts and talents and supporting the congregation and the Christian Church is found
throughout the New Testament. Followers of Jesus are called to be faithful – which, of course, is a
relationship word – and that governs their behaviour, how they live, at home, in their congregation, in the
wider Church, in the world. And living always involves us, our time, and abilities – talents, our
circumstances, our stuff – our possessions. And Christians do live knowing that everything is a gift from
God. All relationships are two way, so our behaviour is not unimportant but in this relationship with Jesus, it
is always responsive, responding to Jesus who takes the initiative. He didn’t get your permission to rescue
you! What are his first words to you? (I love you.) And yes, the Triune God, is big and all powerful and in
that sense scary but we do not need to be afraid of him because we know God in Christ Jesus. Thus we
always will fail and never live perfectly and yet Jesus always forgives and restores. That is a relationship to
get out of bed for each morning!

But what happens if your view of God is of the totally other, behind fire and dark cloud, a terror to be close
to, because God has no face? What happens if your talent from this God is so holy that the safest thing to do
is to bury it and not be close to it – and more importantly, not let others close to it either so that it can be
presented back as unsullied, untouched, pure as it was given? Some interpretations of this parable suggest
that Jesus is telling his disciples not to make Christian teaching so pharisaical, so pure, that it is dead. That
the purpose of the talents is to engage with the world so that others may be presented to the land owner at the
end, not as scalps, but an ever growing kingdom.

We know from the New Testament that the first century Christians wrestled with how the Gospel was to be
lived and it involved engaging with Jesus, understanding the Gospel, and living the faith which is marked by
love in the contexts they were in. Faith without works is dead. Faith comes about through hearing – hearing
the Truth – ie. hearing Jesus – and so Christians have always lived with truth and love. Thus the Early
Church could comprise Jew and Gentile – a change from its Jewish background – and also say that if anyone,
even an angel, brings another Gospel than the one heard in Jesus, truly human, truly divine, born, lived, died,
risen and ascended for us then let them be accursed. Truth and love. Love and truth. It is unhelpful to play
them off against each other but instead Christians are called to stand next to Jesus and his Word and follow
him into each day and situation they’re in with his love.

Was Jesus specifically targeting the Pharisees here? I think unlikely but the servant with one talent is called
wicked and slothful whether by his nature or by his foolish action, and the judgement on him is so
unnecessary because it simply didn’t have to be – he was already part of his master’s world – but rebelled –
and that is why in the darkness there is such weeping and gnashing of teeth. This outcome is not the master’s
doing but a consequence the servant did to himself. And that is a message that all disciples need to hear –
back then especially Judas a short while later – that to receive a talent is to be a recipient of grace. The talent
is never a wage but more an opportunity to live in the name of and following the intentions of the giver.
Who is the Giver in your life? Who has given you what you treasure? I hope you have more than one person
in mind! But in all your answers, I hope that the master who seems away, out of sight, Jesus, is included each
day among those who give you life and your gifts and talents. God hasn’t given you your gifts and talents as
a test or to set you up to fail – but to live – and live well in his Kingdom.

That is why Jesus, yes hidden from our senses, comes to us through words, water, bread and wine so that we
may remember and trust that he loves us and there is no reason to be afraid or bury anything. That is the
truth. Jesus loves you. And so we live.

Bible References

  • Matthew 25:14 - 30