Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reflections on the Parables – Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the Talents

Read the text here: Matthew 25:14-30

End of the Road - Beginning of the Journey
Well, we have come to the very last parable of the year! The text for next week is more of a prophecy (the sheep and the goats) than a parable.  But we finish our 6-month look at Jesus’ parables with this Parable of the Talents.  So before we look more closely at this particular parable I want to make a couple observations about parables in general.  1st – All of the parables are parables of the Kingdom of God, which through Jesus has come into our midst.  The Kingdom of God (or in Matthew the Kingdom of Heaven) is not off in the future – it is now! 2nd – All of the parables give us a glimpse of who God is and how God chooses to relate to us.  And the words that describe this would include – overflowing love and abundant grace; 3rd – the parables all call on us to respond to God’s overflowing and sometimes crazy and illogical love and grace by living lives that reflect the Kingdom.  And response is called forth – one way or another.  By refusing to respond, that is a response.  So what kind of response is appropriate for such amazing gifts that God bestows upon us.  Keep these in mind as you consider this parable.
We are now close to the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus is preparing his disciples for his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.  So Jesus is talking about end times and also about how it is we are to live in the time between Jesus’ ascension and his 2nd coming.  This particular parable is actually the 2nd of a set – the first being last week’s Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13).  Matthew 25:1 includes an introduction that would include both parables: The Kingdom of Heaven is like this….  10 bridesmaids waiting to process into the Wedding Banquet of the Lord.  But 5 were unprepared in that they ran out of the oil of faith and their lamps went out.  The lamps that reflected the love and grace and forgiveness of the Groom stopped burning.  Consequently they exclude themselves from the Great Banquet.
Jesus goes on immediately to tell another parable of a master who is going away for a long, long time and in preparation for this he entrusts his property to 3 servants.  This is given to them – according to their ability and potential – in the form of “talents.”  Now a talent is a financial commodity, roughly equal to 20 years wages for a common laborer at the time.  Five talents would equal 100 years of common wages.  The point is that it is an overflowing amount that has been entrusted to the servants (us).  What do the servants do with what is entrusted to them?  What do the servants have to present to the master when he returns from his journey?  Well two of the servants invest, cultivate, give it away and otherwise manage the trust in a way that gives them a 100% return.   But the 3rd servant – well – he has nothing to show.  He had taken what was entrusted to him and hidden it away, protecting it so that he could simply return to the master all that had been entrusted to him.  There is no procrastination or busyness here.  This servant did this on purpose. And the consequence is that he is throw into the “outer darkness” (like the 5 foolish maidens) and (also like them) excluded from the Great Banquet!
It is very interesting to look at what the servant says to explain why he chose to bury the talent.  The master is a harsh man, he says, one who has high expectations and it is clear that this servant was afraid of the master.  Now, we don’t know how the other servants felt about the master, but they do not seem to be paralyzed with fear like this 3rd servant.  This fear has led the servant to focus on one thing – self-preservation!  He cannot get beyond this and the treasure entrusted to him benefits no one – because it is buried.  If we see the talent as faith (which is not passive but active) then we can see the relation with the 5 foolish bridesmaids.  For them it was busyness and procrastination – for the 3rd servant it was fear.  But the result was a self-focus and selfishness which resulted in the extinguishing and burying of their faith – which means no action; no reflection of God’s grace; just a focus on the unholy trinity of me, myself and I.
So what about you? What are you going to do with the overflowing and abundant gifts that God has entrusted to you?  Are you like the girls in the 1st parable – too busy to worry about faith?  Or are you like the 3rd servant in the 2nd parable – either so fearful of God, or so self-focused that all you want to do is bury the gifts and keep them hidden?  In what ways is God calling you to invest your talent / treasure?
This morning we will include a commitment time during our worship.  This will be a time for us to consider how we use the gifts that God has given to us – in what ways we are letting the light of our faith shine forth.  The commitment slip we are asking you to bring to the altar includes a financial commitment to the ministry of the Gospel for the coming year.  But that is not all.  It also includes other things – a commitment to regular prayer and Bible study, a commitment to being in worship and partaking regularly of the Sacrament, etc.  All of this is important as it provides us with a way of both investing the talent/treasures God has given us and replenishing the oil of our faith.

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