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Matthew 25:14-30 -- New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to their ability. Then he went away. At once 16 the one who had received the five talents went off and traded with them and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid their master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 His master said, ‘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.’ 22 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.’ 23 Their master said, ‘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.’ 24 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, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 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? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from them, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw them into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
New and Selected Poems, p. 110
Three weeks; three parables. Last week it was the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. This week, Talents. Next week will be Sheep and the Goats. All three parables are meant to address the then burning question of Jesus’ return and the still burning question of when we will finally live into God’s kin-dom.
I will begin by providing some context for the term “talent” used in this parable. According to the website for The Salt Project, “A talent was an astronomical sum of money, roughly equivalent to 15-20 years of wages for the average worker. In the United States today, the average salary is about $60,000 per year, so ‘five talents’ would be equivalent to something on the order of five million dollars; ‘two talents,’ $2 million; and ‘one talent,’ $1 million.” It was todays equivalent of winning the lottery, except it wasn’t theirs to keep. In the parable they give everything back to the master.
The parable begins with “a man, going on a journey,” analogous to Jesus’ departure and expected return.
Matthew was concerned with keeping his community of believers ready, willing, and able to greet Christ upon his expected return from that journey, of which the day and hour they did not know. Through what means did they stay ready? By practicing what Jesus taught. Love of God. Love of self. Love of neighbor. Our concern two thousand years later is much the same.
The beauty of a parable is that it speaks to different people at different times and places in unique ways that are relevant to their circumstances.
With parables we have a chance to step in to the narrative. Where do we see ourselves? To whom do we see ourselves most closely aligned?
The master? As a metaphor the most common “stand-in” for the master is God, or Jesus. In this parable the master is portrayed as both generous and harsh. I wonder… who else could be the master in the parable?
The slaves or servants that multiplied the talents they had received? How many here identify with the metaphor of being industrious, successful, talented individuals?
The slave or servant that lived in fear of making a mistake and so did nothing? Who identifies with that person? It is likely that we identify with more than one character depending on the place and time that we are at in our lives.
Staying with the parable…. How do we understand the “talents”?
What if the “talents” were a metaphor for our natural God-given aptitudes, a metaphor for God’s grace? Does that mean that the third servant did not have any God-given aptitudes? No, it means he was afraid to use them. Afraid to risk, afraid to try, afraid to fail, maybe even afraid to succeed. His fear kept him from living, robbed him of joy, of gratitude. I wonder… was he always that way, or was he shaped by life experiences?
When we are timid in sharing ourselves, our gifts, our talents, we diminish ourselves and those around us, we diminish the potential of the world.
If we, like the third servant withhold ourselves from involvement with the world, we wither and die and we contribute to the withering of the world. However, the more we apply ourselves the more we gain insights, knowledge, wisdom, experience – all of which make ourselves and the world a richer place.
And if we, like the first and second servants in the parable limit another person – or people – transgender people for instance – we are harming not one life, but all of our collective lives by denying that persons inherent worth and dignity, and denying their unique and valuable contributions to their families and to our societies.
I wonder, is the third servant to learn the benefits of risk taking over playing it safe? Are the other servants to learn compassion for the one who is afraid? For sure, all are to practice love of God, love of self, love of neighbor.
Remember the earlier definition of talents, those astronomical sums of money? And the comparison to winning the lottery. Now imagine that it is all yours to keep AND to return to your Creator, to keep AND to give away to others. That is God’s grace in action, an unfathomable abundance. That is what we are all given in this life, exorbitant amounts of grace. Grace that benefits both ourselves and the world when we increase it, share it, revel in it.
Everything that we have comes from God and belongs to God. And yet, at the same time, we are all meant to be as the master, giving and encouraging, sharing and multiplying grace, living into the kin-dom of God.
As Mary Oliver wrote, …to know our place in the family of things…
Rev. TJ Mack – November 19, 2023