The Holy Gospel According to Matthew 25:14-30
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;
15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to
each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.’ 21His 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.’ 22And 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.’ 23His 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.’ 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
The Gospel of the Lord…
I’ve heard this parable more than once before. In fact, many of you might recall hearing a parable like this on what is often called in the church a stewardship Sunday. With almost no effort it feels pretty easy to connect this parable to our own experience with money- and to even exhort members of the church to give more, or they risk disappointing the master who will throw them into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The connections might sound easy, but I’m not exactly sure outer darkness and gnashing of teeth is the motivator we want when we think of what it means to live with generosity and to be good stewards of the gifts of God. This is also the second parable we have heard in so many weeks that tells us that people are going to be left out. Last week, we heard about the bridesmaids who had forgotten to get enough oil, had fallen asleep, and then rushed out just as the bridegroom was coming, in hopes of purchasing some last drops to light their lamps. Unfortunately, they are too late, and they get locked out of the party, left alone because of their foolishness. And then today, we hear the parable of the three slaves, and we know that one of them is the person we aren’t supposed to be, he does something wrong, and he gets locked out, thrown out, he isn’t a part of his master’s joy.
But what makes this parable most difficult for me, is that right up until the end, I am totally feeling what that third servant is doing. And, I would not be the only one. In this same gospel we hear a parable about a pearl of great price, buried in a field. Have you ever heard of someone putting their money in a mattress? In Jesus’ time, burying your wealth wasn’t considered odd, in fact it was one of the more safe ways to keep it. And this talent we are hearing about, it isn’t just a little bit of change. One talent was equivalent to about 20 years worth of wages. 20 years! That means that first servant was given 100 years of wages, the second 40 years, that last 20 years. No matter which one you are, that is a whole lot of money. More money than most of us could have ever imagine just sitting in your wallet, and so it feels almost prudent that the third slave buries the money, because you don’t just fool around with twenty years worth of wages.
But, by the end, we hear that this last slave didn’t do what the master wanted. Burying the money, conserving it, that wasn’t what the master expected, and it certainly didn’t get the slave what he was looking for either. Expecting his master to be pleased, he instead is called worthless and lazy. Expecting to be rewarded, he is thrown out in the cold. So is there really something we can learn from this?
It all begins with our understanding of the master. All the slaves are given an incredible gift- more money than they could ever imagine to possess. They are given an abundant extravagant gift. And with that gift, their master, the giver leaves them no instructions. He doesn’t tell them to clutch it desperately, he doesn’t tell them to give it all away to the poor. He doesn’t tell them to invest it wisely, he doesn’t tell them to use it to gain an unfair profit. He tells them nothing, but he gives to them beyond their wildest dreams. The giver is not one of scarcity, the giver is one of extravagant abundance. And we know plenty of stories of scarcity. Scarcity it a tool of capitalism, we are always supposed to fear that we won’t have enough, that there could never be enough, that whether it is money or opportunity, or any kind of commodity, we ought to hoard it for ourselves, because anything we love is scarce. Scarcity keeps us from working together, from acting together, because we have to be suspicious all the time that someone else will take from us, or will use us, or will simply have more than us.
But, then I read this parable again. And, despite what we hear in the world, I am forced to see life for what it really is, and it is a life of abundance. It is a life of abundance, not because of the size of our bank accounts or the stories of capitalism, it is a life of abundance precisely because of who the great giver is. The great giver is our God. Because we know the God is a God of abundance, because we know that extravagant nature of God, we have to look around us and see the world differently. We have to see the world through the eyes of those first two slaves, the ones who saw what they had been given and rejoiced, who saw in that gift the abundance of their master. Do you know how much we have? This morning we heard about this abundance from the generosity network, and we dreamed and talked together about what it means to live as a powerful church that transforms lives and changes the world. You can’t do that on a budget of scarcity- but you can do it when you recognize we live in a world that is filled with the abundant gifts of God. Scarcity says turn inward, hoard your money and care for yourselves. Abundance says- know your own power, believe in the ability to transform lives, and trust that you are going to change the world.
But not only is our God one of extravagant abundance, our God is one of multiplication. When our first instinct is conservation for fear, our God continues to be about multiplying. When five thousand hungry people gather, Jesus multiplies loaves and fish, until there is no way to call it anything but a miracle. When a few disciples gather in a house on Pentecost, God sends a spirit that is so incredible, so real, that sets the people so on fire, that three thousand are baptized. When two people named Abram and Sarai decide to believe in a promise, against all odds, even when they are too old to have children of their own, God makes from their trust and obedience a nation so great that it outnumbers the stars in the sky. When only a handful of scared disciples gather in an upper room, afraid for their lives, Jesus enters their midst, blesses them and sends them out. They are commanded to make disciples, and thousands of years later, in a sanctuary here in Logan Square we gather to give praise and thanksgiving to that very same God. That master, our God, isn’t about hoarding for fear, our God isn’t about burying the promises because we are afraid of what might happen if we give them away, our God is about multiplying, about power, and transformation and changing the world.
And it all begins by knowing who the master is. It all begins by trusting that more than anything, God’s plan is to fill us with joy. We have been given blessings so large, been given so much that it is worth more than a hundred years of wages. We have been given a promise of eternal life, the gift of Jesus Christ, the knowledge that death no longer holds us. We have been given a community of faith to hold us and believe in us and support us. We have been given a new family, grafted into a promise that cannot be shaken. When we think of our master, it is one of abundant extravagant multiplying promises. And that is why we take risks with what we have been given. That is why we dream big dreams. We hope beyond hope. That is our power, the power that helps us to be agents who can transform lives and change the world. We can trust because of who God is.
That last servant was afraid. He was so afraid that he buried that incredible gift. And he buried with it not only the chance that all his dreams would fail, but he buried with it the chance that all his dreams would achieve even more than he could imagine. He let fear be the driver rather than the hope and joy of the gift. He lived fearfully instead of faithfully. To him that master was a hard man, one who wanted to give out punishment rather than joy.
I would be lying if I told you that fear was never the driver in my own life. But as you continue to discern God’s vision for this congregation, one of the principles of being a powerful church that transforms lives and changes is the world means you are brave and courageous for the sake of the gospel. We can be brave, even when we are afraid, because we know who the master is- we know that God is a God of joy, one who lets us go in the wrong direction, turn around, try again and keep on sinning boldly because eventually we will get it right. That master is not about fear, not about teaching us to bury our gifts, but one of extravagant abundant love. That is why we can risk, that is why we can dream big dreams, because no matter what, we are God’s. We are good and faithful servants, not because we always get it right, but because of who the master is. Rejoice in the abundant, extravagant, multiplying promises of our God. Amen.