Matthew 25:14-30 • November 16, 2014
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Last week we heard the parable of the bridesmaids – some who were wise and some foolish. The foolish ones are locked out of the wedding banquet. Today, we hear about a wealthy man, three of his slaves, and talents. In the end, one slave is thrown into the outer darkness.
After we have heard these gospel readings I proclaim – The gospel of the Lord, which literally means that the words we have just heard are good news from our Lord. To which I have received a less than enthusiastic thanks be to God. I don’t blame you. This is good news? This is the gospel of our Lord. Really?
So, let’s do a little review from last week. This text comes in a section of Matthew’s gospel with four parables from Jesus about the final judgment and some sort of separating between who is in and who is out of the kingdom. The first one is about wise and foolish slaves, the second is about wise and foolish bridesmaids, today’s is about the use and misuse of talents by a rich guy’s slaves, and the final one uses goats and sheep to illustrate the judgment of the nations. Needless to say, this is a challenging set of parables from our savior in this section of the good news of our Lord.
Today’s parable uses the word talent a lot. What many of us think about when we hear the word talent in today’s world is a person’s ability to do something and to do it well. Popular shows like American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent have increased this understanding of the word. BUT – that is not what talent in today’s gospel reading is referring to. A talent, as it is referred to in our gospel reading, is money. A sum of money that is equivalent to around 6,000 denarii. One denarii was about one day’s wages. Needless to say, one talent is A LOT of money. And five talents is an INCREDIBLE amount of money. An amount of money that would far exceed the earning ability of an entire lifetime for nearly every human being in Jesus’ day – especially a slave.
Here’s what this might look like today. The current median annual household income in Burleigh County is around $59,000 – a daily wage of approximately $226. By my rough guesstimate, that is around $1.35 million per talent. In today’s money, the first slave was given around $6.75 million, the second around $2.7 million, and the third around $1.35 million. Obviously, Matthew wants us to understand that the amount of money being entrusted to these three slaves is not insignificant.
So, yes, I am one of your pastors, and, yes, I am once again talking about money. Because one of the things I want us to hear today is that I believe Matthew wants us to understand just how important money and our use of money was to Jesus and to our life as people who claim to follow this Jesus. But, money is not all I hear in this parable.
Theologian Thomas Long offered a bold statement about this parable that is just as chilling and direct as the final verse of the text. A verse that sends the third slave into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I think Long’s reflection give us perspective on this parable in a way that you and I as followers of Jesus, beloved children of God, living out our faith in North Dakota in 2014 might be able to hear better. Long states that, “to be a child of the generous, gracious, and life-giving God and, nonetheless, to insist upon viewing God as oppressive, cruel, and fear provoking is to live a life that is tragically impoverished. While those who trust in God’s generosity find more and more of that generosity; but for those who run and hide under the bed from the bad, mean, and scolding, God, they condemn themselves to a life spent under the bed alone, quivering in endless fear.”
How is God flowing through you today? Is God’s presence in your life causing the abundant and unconditional love and generosity of God to multiply through you in unexpected, amazing, and unending ways, OR, is God’s presence in your life causing fear and trembling that makes you bury all the ways that God blesses you in the ground or hide it under your mattress?
Mark Twain once said that, “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” There’s an old story of a pastor who, to show his reliance on God, entered the pulpit to preach his sermon after very little time spent in preparation – trusting that God would tell him what to say. After a silent prayer for guidance, he waited for God to speak to him so he could begin. God spoke to him alright. And the divine word that God said to him was, “You are lazy.”
How much of the problem with the church today and the Christian movement in the world is due to “lazy” pastors? Or “lazy” congregation members? Or a complete lack of ambition among any number of other children of God. Can a pious-sounding “I’m waiting on the Lord.” be a sign of laziness? Of burying the talents we are given – whether talents are gifts that we have been given to share with others or money that we’ve been entrusted to use wisely to bless and serve others?
The tragedy in all of this is that you and I are often filled so full of fear over doing something wrong, that we fail to do anything at all. So, here’s the challenge I’d like to present to each and every one of us who have made the effort to worship God on this incredibly cold November day, children of God who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus the Christ even when you aren’t sitting in a church.
This week, when you see a brother or sister in Christ trying to bury God’s love for all of God’s children in the dirt or hide the abundance of God’s grace and mercy for them under a mattress, don’t throw them into the outer darkness – there is already way too much weeping and gnashing of teeth taking place in the world today. Instead, as the apostle Paul so often said, encourage one another and build each other up.
Encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ to stop living their life of faith in fear of a brutal, mean, punishing God. What comes from God is good. And the goodness that we receive from God is far more abundant than you or I will ever need. God’s goodness, given for our use. Use with our time. Use with our gifts. Use with our money. Brothers and sisters in Christ, use it wisely. Amen.