March 6, 2016 Matthew 25: 14-30
When you think of someone who has been given a talent, what do you think of? - Leonardo de Caprio, who just won an Oscar for best actor? - Tom Brady? - one of these fine musicians behind me? Today when we think of talents, we think of ones’ gifts, abilities, and aptitudes. But in Jesus’ time a talent was the measure of the weight of a gold or silver coin. A single talent equaled 6,000 denarii, which amounted to the wages of someone working 15-20 years.
Five talents would be the equivalent of a million dollars today. Someone handing you 5 talents was like winning the lottery - the Jack Pot!. With that in mind, let’s listen to The Parable of the Talents from the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30.
‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then 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.” His 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.” And 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.” His 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.”
Then 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But 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? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Woe, that’s harsh! I’d like to think that ending has more to do with Matthew than Jesus. Matthew’s parable of the talents has had many different interpretations and applications over the years. Once again he appears to have taken one of Jesus’ original parables and allegorized it for his own time and community.
Here he presents us with a story about the end times, which Matthew thought were imminent. The Master can be equated with Christ, his departure with the ascension, and his delayed return with the parousia, or end of time, when they though he would return to judge us all.
Well, here we are 2,000 years later and that prediction has not come to pass - and we’re not a church that spends a lot of time talking about the rapture, so what does this parable have to say to us at the Eliot Church in Newton, MA in 2016?
Used metaphorically, ‘talent’ here would refer to anything of value given us by God. We all have different gifts, some are more ‘acknowledged’ than others, but they all have value. We can’t all be Olympic athletes, or famous artists, but we all have God given gifts that we are to use for the betterment, not only of our own lives, but those of others.
I’d like you right now to take out the piece of paper inserted in your bulletins and spend the next couple of minutes writing down your gifts. What talents has God given you? Are you a good cook? - a financial wiz? - an inspiring teacher? - a gifted singer, or just someone who loves to sing? Are you good at making people feel welcomed? or a listening presence to someone in grief? Are you gifted with a big heart, or a deep faith to share? Do you inspire others to work for worthy causes? Gifts come in all forms and sizes. So take a couple of minutes and write down yours.
(allow a couple of minutes to write)
Your time is up, but I encourage you to add to your list this week.
In this parable a Master (Jesus) who was leaving on a journey, summoned his slaves (his disciples) and “entrusted his property to them, each according to his ability.” Jesus knew, when he was leaving them, that his work wasn’t finished. The Kingdom of God was still a work in progress. He had equipped them the best he could according to their talents, and entrusted the work of completing the kingdom in their hands.
This work has been passed on to us, and we too have been equipped with many gifts. I look out at those of you here at Eliot and know that we are blessed with gifts beyond measure: compassion for those in need; a passion for social justice, which is blossoming into service activities and advocacy in all kinds of forms; a vibrant CE program with dedicated teachers; beautiful music on Sunday mornings; and I hope, worship that fills your spirits and leaves you something to chew on throughout the week. We each have our part to play.
In this parable we’re held accountable only for what God has given us. Take a look at the list you have made:
Which gift is the most important?
Are you using your gifts well?
How could you use them better?
Who are we here at Eliot in this parable? slave #1, slave #2 or slave #3? Remember #1 got the million which he doubled. #2 got about half that and doubled it; and #3 got one talent, still a sizable amount, which he buried. Lets see a show of hands - how many think we are #1 - #2 - #3. Which slave do you individually identify with? I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I think it would be good for all of us to look inward this week, as we launch our stewardship drive, and see who we most relate to.
Now let’s look at what the Master has to say to those who have multiplied their wealth? “Well done, good and trustworthy slave;” (a nice pat on the back) “You have been trustworthy in a few things.” (ah -oh, only a few? What are you talking about? Look what we’ve accomplished.) “I will put you in charge of many things.” (oh no, no time to rest on our laurels - more work ahead) “Enter into the joy of your master.” (ah, now that sounds nice!)
In other words: take charge - be bold - take risks - dare to venture outside the box - multiply your abundance - spread your wealth - trust God to lead - and you will reap the rewards - and a bit of the kin-dom here on earth will be built in the process. And all of that will make you very happy.
Last Sunday after worship 25 clergy and laity from four different churches here in Newton met to brainstorm how to multiply our resources by working together to reach out to families who are homeless and living in the motels nearby. It was a very productive and exciting meeting. Just talking about what we might be able to do brought me joy.
Mid-week some of us on our Mission Social Justice team met and discussed how we could use the money, designated for mission, most effectively to change lives. How can we multiply the impact of our money in positive ways?
Our greatest temptation sometimes is to be like the third slave - too lazy - or afraid of being bold enough to try something new - to be scarred of investing our gifts in new ways. We see them as limited, and so we limit their use.
Jesus talked more about money in his parables than almost anything. Remember Matthew, (not the one whose name appears on the gospel today) but the despised tax collector that Jesus recruited? He is traditionally the patron saint of bankers, accountants, and bookkeepers. Two paintings of him shed some light on two different approaches to money.
“One, by the Flemish artist Jan Sanders Van Hemessen, shows Matthew in his countinghouse, his eyes focused on his desk, which is covered with coins. Jesus stands off to the side, his face alight and his hand raised, trying to get Matthew’s attention, but Matthew is so focused on the money he cannot pay attention to Jesus’ call.”
“In this second painting, by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, Matthew is receiving the gospel from an inspiring angel. His paper and pen are on the desk before him, but his head is lifted and turned toward the angel, ready to hear the message. He has moved beyond his obsession with money to an openness to God’s call in new ways.” Leaders who Last by Margaret J. Marcuson
Which Matthew are we? Which Matthew are you?
In our culture, unlike that of Jesus, we cannot wander the streets of Newton preaching the gospel and waiting for some kind person to feed us or put us up for the night. It doesn’t work that way, and you can’t maintain a church without money. But, you can’t grow a church if that’s all you’re focused on.
“Oh no, we can’t do that. It will cost money! If we spend some of our investment, it won’t be there!” If we don’t listen to Jesus’ call - and follow - our church won’t be here.
I feel that, as a community of faith, we here at Eliot are doing a darn good job of listening to Jesus’ call right now, and as your pastor, that excites me! It energizes me! It ignites my creativity! I hope it does yours.
Today we kick off our stewardship campaign, that time of year when we ask you to think about what Eliot Church means to you and your family. Why are you glad to be a part of Eliot? How has it changed your life?
And then I ask you to look at the talents, the gifts that God has given to you and ask yourself, “How can I multiply them here at Eliot to help build that kingdom Jesus entrusted to our care?
And then I ask you to look into your pockets, or bank accounts. Jesus had no money. In that way he could get close to poor folk. He understood their situation first hand. We do - have money. And he didn’t hesitate to let us rich folk know that all our piety and religion doesn’t count until we put our money where Gods’ mouth is. I ask you to think about that as you fill out your pledge cards for this coming year. Whether you have a little or a lot - one talent or five, Jesus expects you to put it to good use, to multiply it.
As for being thrown into the outer darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”, I don’t know about that. But I have one more question for you to chew on this week: What do you want written in your obituary? How do you want to be remembered? Slave #1? Slave #2? Slave #3?