The Talent Show, Matthew 25:14-30
Plymouth First United Methodist Church, November 15, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
This morning we hear the story that Jesus tells about a man who goes on a journey, and before setting off, distributes his property to three of his servants, entrusting it to their care in his absence.
As the story continues, the property is described as being “talents” which in our experience today refers to an ability that an individual has, but in the time of Jesus a talent was a measure of money. One talent would amount to about 15 years of earnings for a day laborer; to be entrusted with 5 talents was to be entrusted with more than a lifetime’s worth of average wages—75 years of earnings by a day laborer.
Each servant was given an amount according to their ability. No one is given more than they can handle.
The first 2 servants go to work doing business with what they’ve received. The third servant digs a hole and buries his master’s money.
Okay, so in this day and age, that doesn’t sound very smart, does it? But in that day and age, burying your money wasn’t unusual. Banks weren’t on every street corner, and it was possible that if he found an investor, that the investor would lose it. So, he took the easier and safer route.
After a long while, the master returns and calls his servants to him, ready to see what they’ve been able to do with his money.
The first servant comes, and informs his master that he’s doubled his investment. His master is pleased. “Good work! You’ve done your job well! From now on, be my partner.”
The second servant shows that he, too, has doubled his master’s investment and is commended in the same way: “Good work! You’ve done your job well!! From now on, be my partner.”
The third servant steps forward and says to the man (this is Eugene Peterson’s translation of scripture): “Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways. That you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound, down to the last cent.”
The master is furious. “That’s a terrible way to live,” he says. “It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.”
The master then directs that this money be entrusted to the one who had risked the most. Eugene Peterson’s translation continues, saying, “And get rid of this play-it-safe who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.”
What seems to be a simple story of financial decisions, has been placed by the writer of the gospel of Matthew in the context of warnings to be prepared at all times for the return of Christ. You’ll remember last week’s story of the ten bridesmaids. There, too, we were reminded to be prepared: to keep our lamps filled with oil so our light shines, so we’ll be ready upon Christ’s return.
Jesus tells his disciples this story during the last few days of his life. Earlier he had made the decision to take a huge risk, to leave the safety of rural Galilee and to go to Jerusalem, the capital city, where the religious authorities will view him as a threat to the status quo and to their own positions of privilege. The Romans will perceive him as a trouble-maker, as a disrupter of the peace. His decision to do this isn’t made in haste or with a naïve sense that “everything is gonna be okay.” The risk is high, the ultimate consequence will be his death on a cross. But Jesus knows the risk is necessary in order to fulfill God’s purpose for his life, in order to bring salvation for all of us.
We can see that this scripture really isn’t about money, but it’s about what we do with what God has given us. It’s about realizing the gifts and graces and opportunities we’ve been offered and responding to them…having the courage to step up, to step out, and to use those gifts, about investing them in a way that contributes to revelation of God’s kingdom.
I think it’s helpful for us to see how the master gives amazingly generous gifts to each of his servants, and God does the same for us. We see this fact in the beginning of the story—each of the servants are given gifts. Their master doesn’t hover over them and tell them exactly what they should do with their gifts, and yet by the end of the story it’s very apparent that they are expected to do SOMETHING.
Our attitude speaks volumes of what we do with what we have. Are we a people who see the cup as being half full or half empty?
I know I mention my grandparents a lot. They’ve each been gone a long time, and yet their love for me and the lessons they taught me are a big part of who I am.
I found something earlier this week that I’d written about my grandma Barney at some point in the last couple of years before she died. She and my grandpa had lived on the farm where he was born and where my mom was born until after he died, when she moved into a little house in town. As time went on, she moved into a small mobile home on one of my aunt’s farms, then into a retirement apartment near another aunt, until eventually moving into a nursing home close to my mom. In that last move, my aunt sent a letter to my mom, lamenting what few possessions my grandma had. “It seems,” she said, “that the only thing she does have is her faith.”
My aunt meant that as a sad commentary.
I was thinking of my aunt’s letter as I was sitting in the ICU next to grandma as she slept. I saw her glasses laying next to the bed, her socks and her Bible.
I thought about all those times when her daughters had gotten frustrated with her, because whenever someone gave her something, she’d give “the good stuff” away to somebody else, who she thought needed it more than she did. She never had any extra money, because she gave it to her church and to the different missions and televangelists she admired. I remember the pictures she had on her walls, of the different missions she supported, and one of Tammy Fae Baker, who she thought was so sweet. We knew, and she knew that when her time came, Grandma would die penniless.
What if grandma would have buried her treasure? What good would it do her now, I’d written, when you’re laying in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown, and confronting the reality of your own death? Grandma really didn’t have anything…except for her faith. Her gift had been in her ability to give herself away…and yet, she always had more to give. Her cup was never half empty, but she was always brimming to fullness because of the gifts and graces that she was willing to use in order to work for God’s kingdom.
I wouldn’t have chosen Tammy Fae as the recipient of grandma’s love offerings, and yet there is no question that my grandma was giving what she had, expressing her love, building the kingdom, through her example of love, devotion and generosity.
She received more than double for her investments.
You and I have gifts, too. So often we lament what we don’t have, or what we can’t do. But we are so blessed. We’ve been given talents, however you care to define that word.
What kind of steward will you be?
How will you use what God has given you?