Parable of the talents
This is a story told by Jesus known to many as the parable of the talents: and so we tend to think of it as speaking about gifts and abilities. It is, but it is about more than that.
Here is a person who is going on a long journey and who entrusts his wealth to his servants.
Jesus is the person going on the long journey. And he is the one who has entrusted his wealth to his servants. He is the Son of God. All things belong to him (cf John 16:15): This creation, material things: every mountain, every valley, every river, every ocean, every star; the possessions and things that we have belong to him; time belongs to him; creativity, music and art; people: family, friends, children; and of course our gifts and abilities. They belong to him and he has entrusted them to us.
It is a bit like parents going off for a week's holiday. They entrust their house into the hands of their older teenage son or daughter. 'Look after it; so that when we come back it is in good shape'.
1. JESUS GIVES AS HE CHOOSES
We read this and think, 'This is unfair. Why should some get 5 and some 2 and some only 1?'
To which the only answer is that this is the way the world works. There are some people who do seem to have far more of the world's resources than others - us, for example, by very virtue of where we live.
The hymn 'All things bright and beautiful' has a verse that we do not sing:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And order'd their estate.
But it is true. What did we do to merit being born in our particular family, at this particular time, in this particular place? What did we do to merit your inheritance?
The danger comes when we start to think that what we have is ours by right, that we deserve it. Interestingly that is where the doctrine of reincarnation and Karma leads: My position in this world depends upon my virtue in the previous world. It might make sense, but think about it. It says that we deserve our privileged position in the world; it says that the poor deserve to be poor.
The bible never says that. When we start to think that we deserve what we have, or that because we have more than another we are better than them, or when we treat what we have (possessions or abilities) as if they belong to us – we are turning a blind eye to the fact that it is God who gives.
The person with one talent could have become a person with two and then four and then eight - and when there is no end to that process, it really does not matter whether you started with one or two or five.
This story does not tell us why there are haves and have nots. We look elsewhere in the bible for the answer to that question. But this story tells us that everything we have is gift: and that there is no reason for either pride or a sense of inadequacy because of our abilities or possessions; and that what is important is not what we have been given, but how we use what we have been given.
And although in this story it is the man with one bag of gold who is found wanting, I also know that it is true that 'to those whom much has been given, much will be demanded' (Luke 14:48), and so the fact that we today, in the West, are the haves – even in a time of recession - should make us tremble.
2. GOD IS LOOKING FOR FRUIT
Jesus is not looking for people who return what he gave to us untouched. He is looking for fruit.
It is a spiritual principle. God is looking for fruit. In the story of creation, when God created the world, he created trees and plants that bore fruit. He created animals that bore fruit. He created men and women and he commanded them, 'be fruitful and multiply'. And Jesus commanded his people to bear fruit; and he gives us his Spirit that produces in us fruits of love, joy, peace, patience and so on.
Jesus tells the story of a sower who sowed seed that fell on good soil, and it multiplied thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. And we are told how the Word of God grows and bears fruit.
God is into multiplication.
He says, 'Look what I have entrusted to you. How has it born fruit? How has it increased?'
People often think that we will be judged on the basis of the harm that we have done others.
But the judgment in this story is based on the good that we have not done: we have been entrusted with so much – what have we done with it?
Of course, if we think that the possession, or gift or ability, is ours by right, that it belongs to us, then we can choose to use it or not to use it. We can choose to work it, or invest it or bury it.
That was the issue here with the man who had one bag of gold. He claimed that the problem was that he was scared of the master: 'I was afraid', he said. The reality, Jesus said, was that he was not sufficiently scared of the master. If he had been, he would have tried to do something with the money – even put it in the hands of the bankers. It is a bit like a teacher giving homework. The child says, 'I was scared of you so I didn't do it.' That is not being scared of the teacher - that is taking the teacher for granted. If she had been scared of the teacher, she really would at least have tried to do her homework.
No, says Jesus, the real problem when we do not use the possessions and the gifts that God has given us for him is that we are wicked and lazy.
Wicked, because we think that it is our possession to do with as we wish. We reject the idea that it comes from God and belongs to God. We reject the idea that there is someone to whom we are in debt to, and accountable to.
And lazy: because we could not be bothered to do anything with what we have been given.
You have a natural gift and you do not try to use it; you have wealth and you do not use it - making more wealth, giving it away, whatever; you have ability and you do not use it; you have responsibilities and you run away from them; you have a message and you do not share it. Why?
Is it because you are scared - or is it because you are blind to the fact that it is God who has given you those things, and that you are accountable to him. Is it because you are lazy, and just don't want the hassle.
We've recently been round both County Upper and King Edward VI'th Upper School. Both of them had the same slogan on the wall: 'we do not expect you to be the best; we expect you to do your best'.
3. THERE IS REWARD AND PUNISHMENT
Humanly speaking this makes sense: if you have a gift or ability and you use it, it will improve and grow. If you do not use it, you will lose it.
And there is punishment: those who do not make use of the wealth entrusted to them for the master, will shrivel up to nothingness: beyond mercy and beyond pity.
But there is also a reward - for those who do use the wealth entrusted to them for the master.
There is the reward of his words: 'Well done good and faithful servant'
And there is also the reward of further growth. The one who has ten is given one more. In Luke's gospel the injustice is pointed out: 'But Lord', they said, 'he already has ten'. But Jesus is making the point that those who are faithful with what they have been given – whether large or small – will be entrusted with more. V29:"For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance".
I'd like to say one more thing. It might just have escaped your attention that we have a mission this coming week.
I have spoken in terms of possessions and abilities.
But there is another thing that this passage could be talking about: we have also been entrusted with a message – a message about the love of God; about the fact that in the person of Jesus, God has come and lived among us; that as a result of his death on the cross there is forgiveness and we can become friends of God; it is the message that Jesus rose from the dead, that Christ Lives and that as a result of his resurrection, sin and death has been defeated and there is a future hope. And it is the message that God promises to give to all who receive him the gift of his Holy Spirit, his presence.
We have the opportunity next weekend to share this message, in ways that I hope will be very easy. We have some great events, and some very gifted speakers who are able to present the message in a gracious but challenging way. Please could I urge you to make use of this opportunity.
It may be that you are not convinced yourself of the message and still need to think it through: please come along and listen and think and decide.
But if you are convinced of the truth of the message, may I urge you not to be like the servant with the one bag of gold who did nothing – because he said he was scared. Please come to the prayer meeting on Wednesday; and please pray and invite at least one person to one event, or to next Sunday's service. If they say 'no', that is OK – you've still done something, you've still made use of one small coin that our master has given us.