— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ 24th Sunday after Pentecost ~~~
“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, 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.’ (NRSV)
It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities.
Then he left.
Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.
After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them.
The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’
The servant given one thousand said, ‘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 was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! 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.
Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’
(The Message by Eugene Peterson)
When my folks died there was an inheritance of my father’s pension and the home in which they had lived and owned. There were five of us children to divide it up evenly – as was their wish. It was a difficult time of grief, but the division went smoothly. Mom and dad were not the stuff or the cash or the brick home they left behind, and we knew that their greatest disappointment would have been if any of it got in the way of our relationships with each other. The primary inheritance from my folks was the sacrificial love and unfaltering support they gave each one of us.
I have to say, however, that I was paralyzed with the responsibility of doing something with the money that came to me upon the deaths of my parents. It is not that the amount was super large – though I am amazed they had anything to leave after having raised five of us and putting us through school. The amount was not a vast sum of money, but the responsibility of having their money felt heavy to me. What investment would honor them? Should I give it all away? Should I be aggressive in the stock market? Would the simple interest of CD’s be better? What about a money market? Aghhhh…. So, for over a year I did nothing.
Then I made an investment – several actually. I put money down on a small home. This was right after Anne Forrest and I were getting serious in our relationship, and we would need a place to live. I bought an engagement ring and put some back for a honeymoon. And the little bit I had left I put into the stock market. Made my own decisions. Tracked my own stocks. And for a brief while I thought I was a genius!
Here’s why I thought I was a genius – within nine months of investing $5000 in the stock market I had turned that investment into $20,000! I mean I was this close to buying lakefront property! I could not wait to get home each night and pull up the portfolio. How much money did I make today! Warren Buffet had not had as good a nine months as I was having. Nothing to this. Easy money. High life. Early retirement.
Oh, I’ll give some away. I’ll be a good rich person. I’ll be nice to the people who come asking me for money. I’ll be generous. I won’t become consumed with all my wealth, ….but what time did the markets close? I need to log on and see just how high it went today!
The drive for money is consuming. If we don’t have much we are consumed with making a little more. If we have some then we are consumed with making more and protecting our investments. If we have a lot then we don’t want anyone taking advantage of us and we want more than the other rich people we know. At all levels, money and the push to make and protect and manage money can lead to a life that is narrow and without joy and disconnected to the fullness of life that Jesus came to proclaim.
Which leads me to say of this parable of the talents that Jesus is NOT talking about making money. I don’t care what Creflo Dollar or Paula White say. Jesus would not review my life and say – well, in that first year of having your parent’s inheritance you were the one talent man, but, boy, howdy, in that next year you were Mr. Five Talents! Way to go, good and faithful servant – come and be my partner! This story is not a “claim your financial blessings story.”
This parable is addressed to people carrying on the message of God’s love after Jesus was gone. This parable is to the church living within the delay of the return of the Master. This parable is for all those who follow Jesus while awaiting the full consummation of God’s reign of love.
The message is a question – Will we be faithful and bold with the message of redemption in God’s all-embracing love in Jesus Christ? Or … will we play it safe and fall back into a ridged, culturally determined, fearful existence of following the rules of an angry God or a get rich or die society? The message is to live freely in the extravagant love of God and be bold in proclaiming that love! Love abounds and will cast out fear.
I don’t like to quibble with people who know a whole lot more than I do about Greek and about the Bible, but I think Eugene Peterson missed one important point in his rendering of this passage into modern English. I sometimes read and very much appreciate Peterson’s rendering of the Scripture but on this passage I think he missed an important point. I think I know why he did it, but too much is lost. Mr. Peterson in The Message assigned the values of the entrusted money to each servant as $5000, $2000, and $1000. This is helpful in its simplicity but part of the point is lost in the reduction – at least for those in the United States.
There is a note in my study Bible that a talent was worth more than fifteen years’ of wages for a laborer. Some commentaries make it even higher than fifteen. So, if you want to translate this into modern language (at least in the U.S. – and, maybe, to his credit Eugene Peterson was not placing our country at the center of everything) but if the readers of the story are workers in the U.S. then the figures would be more like this – one talent equals $225,000; two talents equals $450,000; and, five talents equals $1,125,000.
These are extravagant figures, and that is the point. Jesus is not talking about money. If money was the topic then Jesus would have used more realistic figures. No one listening to Jesus’ story had anywhere near that kind of money and no one hearing the story would ever have that kind of money. But what they did have, what we have, is a message to proclaim. The message we have is the unconditional, unfaltering, sacrificial love of God embodied in Jesus! The message of love is extravagant! That is the point. Jesus did not want his followers falling back into a fearful, life-narrowing, tit for tat relationship with God.
Eugene Peterson renders verse 26 this way (this is the master’s response to the one talent man who was afraid of the master and buried his money) –
The master was furious. That’s a terrible way to live!
It’s criminal to live cautiously like that!
The NRSV translates the beginning of verse 26 this way:
But his master replied, You wicked and lazy slave!
That seems rather harsh! But if the story is not about money but rather is a story to the church about trusting that God is extravagantly loving and calling us to claim and proclaim God’s abundant grace, then I think the word “lazy” is helpful.
Here’s why I think so… the lazy man’s religion is … fear. It is so easy to be fearful and to project our own insecurities and fears onto God such that God becomes yet another thing, person, reality that is ready to judge and condemn us. Religion based on fear of God is easy because it calls for the very least of the human spirit – namely fear only calls us to avoid punishment, shame, failure. We become like mice in a maze simply seeking the cheese rather than the electric shock.
Religion that is based on love, however, is harder because this religion ask us to venture out into the world making use of the life we have been given in the direction of finding joy and purpose. Joy does not come from doing things to avoid suffering or punishment; rather, joy comes from risking our lives for holy purposes – for love of God, self, neighbor. It takes work to cultivate a heart ready to embrace life and the goodness of God’s creation and the calling to be generous.
The beautiful life of love is harder than a life based on fear. The beautiful life nurtures love and generosity that reflects the love and generosity of God. This kind of life is not for the lazy. The life of abundant grace, ironically, is for the person willing to work to open his or her heart and mind to the love of Jesus. We do have a choice – will it be fear or will it be love. Love is harder, but it is the better more rewarding choice.
By the way, the big winner in my stock portfolio way back in the late 1990’s, the company that was the engine of my amazing success, got sued and lost the case. The stock plummeted. I failed to secure even a little of the profit. I sold all my stock and broke even.
My parents, I suspect,
if they are watching from the vantage point of eternity,
could not care less.
My parents are, however, singing with archangels
every time I and the church
take risks for extravagant love.
Thanks be to God.