The Parable of the Talents 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,[a] 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.’
It was the third time his boss had been late in just a matter of weeks. His third shift ended at 6:30AM but, once again, she hadn’t shown up by 8AM. The other two times she had been in touch with Joe. But this third time she didn’t call, wasn’t answering her phone and was holding him up for a breakfast date Joe had with his dad. Frustrated at his boss’ lack of responsibility, 27-year old Joe Blumm taped a note on the window of the BP gas station in Eastown (Grand Rapids, MI), locked up the C-store and headed toward home. A customer stopped by the BP when it was unattended, saw the note, took a photo of it and uploaded it to the internet. It went viral. It read: “Hey boss, learn to be on time or at least communicate when you are going to be late, +1 hour with no phone call is unacceptable. As you can see, the doors are locked. I went home. Fire me if you must, but realize I walked out due to YOUR negligence.” Joe was fired but became the poster child for fed-up workers across the country. A shy guy who wasn’t seeking the spotlight, Joe simply wanted a workplace where his efforts would be honored and fair work conditions met.
Ever had one of those days?
Maureen Burns was a faithful member of a committee that served the needs of her community. But, as a Christian, she honored a higher authority than the call of the committee. There was a meeting scheduled on a Sunday night and she said she would not go because it was on the Sabbath. She was the only one not in attendance. Even though she felt misunderstood, she stood her ground.
What would Jesus do?
Isn’t that the question we ask as Christians in our workplace? As people take advantage of us or neglect to do their proscribed duties, how are we called to respond as followers of Jesus? When do we take an unpopular stand and when do we just get out of the way of office politics? Last Sunday I asked folks in our church family to write out for me how I could pray for them in their jobs. Some folks are clearly trying to live out Christian morals in their vocational setting. “For me in my workplace, to remain strong in my faith, to resist temptation and to be an example as a true disciple of Christ.” “For me to be patient and understanding.” “For me to listen fully and with compassion in all my interactions with others.” “For kindness, for good listening skills, for energy and strength.” “To love others and for a loving spirit.”
How do we take Jesus to work with us each day?
Jesus told a parable about three workers. This story is one of several that Christ told to describe how to live while waiting for His return. He preached about the Kingdom or Realm of God continually and had to help earthly-grounded people to grasp holy living. What is proper conduct while waiting for Christ’s return? Jesus painted a picture in words.
The Master or Boss was wealthy and powerful. We know this because one talent had the value of fifteen years’ wages for an average day laborer. Heading out on a lengthy journey, the boss needed to entrust the care of his estate to reliable workers. To one he gave five talents equaling 75 years of salary or, in other words, the paycheck of a lifetime! To the next one, two talents. To the one the Boss must have known wouldn’t perform as well as the others, he gave only one talent. Again, this is no small amount. He still entrusted 15 years’ worth of income to the employee who received the least. And then the Bossman left. He didn’t giving any directions for how to manage the large sums of money. He trusted their leadership and gave them complete managerial freedom.
The two with the greatest sums set to work, investing the money. Being shrewd and taking the kinds of risks that typified their manager’s style, they doubled the amount. When the Boss returned, they were able to share these gains with him. He praised them lavishly for their willingness to go out on a limb for him, balancing risk and caution. They were promoted and put almost on a par with the Master. The third worker took a different approach. He did something that was viewed as a safe and wise method of money management in Jesus’ time: he buried it. When his employer returned to be given his money, the third employee dug up the cash, dusted it off and remitted it—after giving an explanatory speech. He stated that he knew that his boss reaped where he did not sow. It’s interesting to note that the Boss doesn’t refute this statement. The Boss is sovereign. He has rightful claim to anything he wants! The problem is that the third slave acted out of fear. Perhaps he was lazy. Maybe he couldn’t handle much responsibility. It seems that the Bossman understood this guy’s limitations since he gave him the least amount. But still, it was the equivalent of 15 years of income! It was no small entrustment. His fears immobilized him and he was dealt one of the harshest reprimands we witness in the scriptures. When the passage ends with gnashing of teeth and utter darkness, you know it’s been a bad day! We are left with the message that we are expected to take risks for Christ, trusting that we will experience great joy when He reappears for an accounting.
We understand the fear that accompanies our work life, don’t we? Some of the prayer requests from our people echo anxiety. “Pray that, in this changing world, there continues to be a need for the work I do and that my skills will continue to be relevant.” “That I am able to keep it all together.” “To know what I should do for the future.” “In years of retirement, for peace and freedom from fear. Too much time to think…” “For safe driving conditions and safety on the streets and roads.” “For federal employees, that the government shutdown will stop.” (Hallelujah! That prayer was answered this past week!) “For stability.”
For stability. Isn’t that the prayer on all of our lips? Security. Safety. Stability.
How do we invite Christ to calm our fears so that we serve to the best of our God-given abilities? How do we discover the right balance between caution and risk?
Lindsay Armstrong writes about the necessity for holy action in this parable: “What we think about God and do in response to the master’s gracious trust is neither trivial nor incidental. We have real choices and power, with genuine consequences resulting from the ways we use our freedom. What we do or fail to do shapes this world and our lives. It is not the only factor, but it is nonetheless crucial. Thus, compassionately addressing inactivity, fears, and/or misconceptions about God could be a freeing treasure to offer an insecure society.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, pg. 313.)
The stakes are high because Jesus has an obvious priority in His ministry. He becomes an itinerant preacher who teaches the commandments for a holy life and shares the gospel. He trains up His disciples so that they, too, can head out courageously and talk about their faith wherever they go. Jesus teaches through His discourses, like the Sermon on the Mount. He models what it is to live in the power of the Spirit through His healing miracles and exorcisms. He teaches about God’s love through His presence with societal rejects. He demonstrates God’s nearness through His touch of the untouchables. No matter where He traveled, despite great risk, Jesus preached about the presence of God’s kingdom among us right now and the need for us to partner with God to transform our world.
We have lots of educators in our congregation: those who offer instruction in the public schools and a team of folks who are part of our Christian Education ministry. Two of the prayer requests given to me were from those with the gift of teaching: “For educators, i.e., budget cuts and unwilling students.” “As an educator, that education is held in a higher esteem when legislative decisions are made and that politicians keep in sight how their decisions affect children.” These educators pray as they enter their classroom each morning!
Psalm 19 upholds the strength of the commandments for Jesus’ people, the Jews. Beginning at verse 7 it reads, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
Wow! Who wouldn’t want a piece of that action? Jesus reacted to the third slave so harshly because he treated the treasure entrusted to his care with such disregard. Fear that he could never measure up to his master’s expectations led him to waste the potential of the gift he’d been given. We are reminded in this stark parable that living as disciples of Jesus leaves no room for coasting. We understand the responsibility that comes with our faith but are hesitant to act. Like the third worker we bury too much kindness, patience, love and talent in the ground and then wonder why we feel empty. To be baptized into the family of Jesus Christ is no cakewalk! Rabbi Harold Kushner states, “We worship God not because He will make our path smooth, but because He gives us grace and determination to keep walking even when the path is rocky.”
Each one of us occupies a critical outpost in the mission field. As you go about your labors do you consider that you are a missionary for Christ? Theologian Kramer states that we are the “spearhead of the church’s encounter with the world displaying Christ’s relevance to the whole range of kingdom life.”
How do we take Jesus to work with us so that a skeptical, post-Christian society will better understand that Christ is relevant for their own life?
One way to imbue our day with our Christian faith is to turn our commute into a pilgrimage. How would it be if we used our time waiting at red lights to pray for our co-workers? Could we use stop signs to confess the negative attitudes we carry with us into our workplace that need to be surrendered? Can we use the stretch of road that shows off the beauty of nature to praise God for creation and to remember our place within the world? We are as insignificant and significant as the shivering sparrow on our birdfeeder. How would it be if we prayed for our neighbors as we left for work and prayed for our family in approaching our home at the end of the day? On the longest stretch of our commute we could consider the distance covered by the disciples to share the good news of Jesus with strangers who were many times hostile toward them. Can we break down our commute into landmarks that turn a monotonous ride into a mobile devotion? What spiritual landmarks can prepare us to bring the peace of Christ into our workplace?
Each week we gather in our sanctuary for worship. We bring our work life with us, perhaps grateful for good jobs and respectful colleagues. Some may feel like the gas station attendant who is hanging on to his sanity by a thread. Some of you may be yearning for meaningful work which has eluded you for what feels like an eternity. We come to church to refuel. We yearn for stillness. Through prayer, conversation, singing and a sermon, we process our experiences from the past week. In worship we come into the presence of Christ so that we will be emboldened to take Him to work with us, whatever our vocational calling may be. We are missionaries with outposts in the kingdom. We are entrusted to bring holy treasure with us that will glorify God. We dare not take that responsibility lightly!