The parable of the talents
So where did the person with the one talent go wrong?
It was not that he only had one talent.
Yes, the first servant was given five, but the second was given only two – and it made no difference to how they went about using them.
And the man with one talent could still have done so much with it. We’re not talking about an insignificant sum. A person could survive on a talent for about 15 years
And we need to slightly careful about how we understand the word ‘talent’.
It has come to mean in English – as a result of this story - an ability, a gift. A talent for singing, for cooking ..
But I think we should really see it as speaking about opportunities. The master gives them some money, but what he is really doing is giving them an opportunity. An opportunity to grow that money, to advance the interests of their master and to win his praise.
And the servant with one talent does not go wrong because he was entrusted with more than he could handle. We are told that they were given talents ‘according to their abilities’. So, no, he wasn’t set up to fail.
We are given amazing opportunities.
For many of us being here was because we were prepared to say yes to an opportunity.
But there are the opportunities given to us in the shape of money, or things, or buildings, or education, or people, or jobs, or roles that we play, or the encounters and openings that we have.
Even some of the most awful things that happen to us can turn out to be opportunities. I remember one family whose baby was born with severe learning disabilities. They said that she was the most precious gift they had been given, and through her that they had been introduced to a community of remarkable people.
And we need to remember that those opportunities are gifts, just as our abilities are.
They have been given to us.
We have done nothing to deserve them.
And if you are tempted to think that you deserve what you have, may I ask what you did to be born when you were, where you were, to the families that you were born into, with the privileges and the pains that that involved, or the people you encountered and the attitudes which you learnt from them? And when it came to those breaks that you got, when doors suddenly opened, what did you do to deserve that?
Whenever I get toothache or a headache, I thank God that I was born after someone invented paracetamol! What did I do to deserve that?
It is a gift of the God who created this universe, who gave us life, who loves us and who therefore longs for us to become like his Son.
So where did this servant go wrong?
1. He forgot his master. He forgot his master’s charge, his master’s values and his master’s interests
It was out of sight, out of mind
Maybe, and I’m adding to the story here a bit, he got the money, thought I need to do something about this, but in the meantime, I’ll bury it to keep it safe. And then he forgot it.
Jesus tells other stories about what happens when rulers go away
- he talks of the steward who begins to take advantage of the other servants in the house. He abuses them. It has been going on for a long time.
- he talks of tenants in the vineyard. The owner, who has gone away, sends his agents to collect the rent. And the tenants beat up the agents.
It is very easy to forget God. Out of sight, out of mind.
And it is very easy to forget that the opportunities that come, are opportunities that are gifts from him – it is very easy to neglect them and do nothing with them; or equally to use those opportunities for our own interests and not for His.
There is a warning here that if we do neglect the opportunities that God gives to us, they will be taken away from us.
And there is also a warning that if we put God ‘out of sight, out of mind’, then he will say to us, “If you do not want anything of me, then I will put you ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”
That is a little bit what the reference to the outer darkness is all about.
2. He had a wrong understanding of his master
He claims that he thinks that his master is a successful man and a hard man.
This is the version of a ruthless oligarch God. It is the billionaire who goes off to London and leaves his business affairs in Russia in the hands of a servant. He comes back. His servant has done nothing. And the servant says to him, “I was scared. Everything you touch turns to gold. You reap where you have not sown. You have an amazing harvest even though you never put down any seed. You get given property and overnight it becomes the most desirable real estate. You invest in companies just before their shares rocket”.
There is a hint of accusation in the complaint of the servant: ‘I was scared because you’re an absentee landlord who bleeds the land dry’
I do not know where that view of the master came from. Perhaps his own guilt in doing nothing. But he could not be further from the truth.
What we do learn about the master in this story?
He is incredibly trusting: he entrusts us with great opportunities
He is very generous: he wants us to have in abundance
He wants his servants to be with him, to enter into, to share not just his business, but far more than that, in his joy
And actually, if this servant did think that his all his master was interested in was profit, and that he was that hard, he would not have been paralysed by fear. He would have been driven by fear. He would have done something – even if it was only investing in a bank.
There are some who say that God is cruel and hard and so they won’t believe in him. That is not logical, and it doesn’t make sense. If God exists and he is cruel and hard, then please do not dare not believe in him. Fear him, be terrified of him, try to do what you can to appease him or to ask him have mercy on you. But never never never ignore him.
3. He was lazy:
The story is told of the young wife whose lazy husband refused to find a job. She said to him, “I’m ashamed of the way we live. My father pays our rent. My mother buys all of our food. My sister buys our clothes. My aunt bought us a car. I’m just so ashamed."
The husband rolled over on the couch. “You should be ashamed," he agreed. “Those two worthless brothers of yours never give us a cent."
Well here, the master says, ‘You wicked and lazy servant’ (v26)
Laziness is a refusal to work hard now, or take risks now, or move ourselves out of our comfort zone in order to reap the benefits then. Laziness is about short termism and wrong priorities.
This servant wanted an easy life. He claims he was putting security and stability first, but the fact was that he couldn’t be bothered with his master’s interests. And he put out of his mind what would happen in the future.
It is a very human thing. We look to the here and now, and forget the there and then.
At a human level it is so sad to see people’s gifts and opportunities wasting away because of laziness; and it is also sad to see Christian lives shrivelling up because we want to play it safe, and not take advantage of the gifts and opportunities given to us. We do become spiritually flabby. We do those things that we find easy, and we don’t allow God to stretch us.
4. He was not prepared to take risks with the opportunities he was given.
Richard Bauckham wrote about this passage: ‘The reason the master is furious with the third slave is that, for a businessman, the whole point of money is to be used and spent and circulated in order to make more money. Money merely hoarded might just as well be thrown away. In the same way, what God has given us – ourselves, our lives, our faith, our abilities, our gifts, our possessions – is given in order to be spent and put into circulation. Our lives are to be expended in God’s service, becoming thereby the source of further blessings for others and for ourselves’.
He continues, “We can’t really live by playing safe all the time. That is even more true of a life lived for God. All that God gives us is given to be risked in new ventures in God’s service. Every new step in living for God is a risk. If we stand still – paralysed by the fear of failure, clinging for safety to what we already have, or simply because we can’t be bothered, we in fact lose what we have.”
So we need to look at the opportunities and take the risk
I took a risk on Friday: we’ve been given an opportunity to enter into the city restoration project so that work can begin on the restoration of this building next year. For that to happen we need to pay $8000 in fees by the 31 December. We don’t have $8000. But this is something that the church has spoken about and wanted to happen for so many years, the opportunity is here, and it seemed right to sign the contract.
Giles has turned his desire into wanting to go on a diet into an opportunity – so he has made it a sponsored diet. Don has put himself on the line inviting people to sponsor a room so that we can use it for Step Up or AA – because they can’t pay for it themselves.
But it is not just about taking risks with asking people for money!
We can use or take risks with our own money and time and abilities.
Louise was telling me about 3 English teachers who have offered to do free lessons for Vverh.
I had an email from Natalya working in Dubai. She writes, “Found church here, attending leaders group, wanna try how it will go with being part of youth group and work with teens. Trying to understand and practice what is to be a Christian.”
And it was great to go out to Hinkson, to the school there, where people like Corey and Haley have chosen to use their gifts as teachers, getting far less than what they could have done at other schools – because they want to use their gifts for Jesus.
And in preparing for this, I read of a hairdresser and beauty practitioner who wanted to use her gifts for God. She prayed, "Why did you give me a talent that's so much about vanity? How can I serve you?" And she was led to set up HIM – hairdressers in the marketplace – and armed with blow dryers, scissors and nail varnish, once a month they go to the most deprived areas, to nursing homes and homeless shelters and offer free ‘day of beauty’ sessions. Oh, and they also share the message of God’s love, not in any formal way, but just as they do the nails
Many of us are entrepreneurs. We’ve taken risks – usually for the sake of excitement or new experiences or money.
The challenge of this passage is whether we are prepared to take risks for God
Maybe you have been given a new job, or a new opportunity in that job. Or you’ve come into some money. Or you find yourself living in a great big house. Or you have an opening to use a skill that you have or to learn a new skill.
Or it might be that you find you are teaching someone influential here in Russia, and perhaps you have been given the opportunity of speaking to them of Christ. For that matter, they don’t need to be influential. The people who God has used are the people who this world considers nobodies. Invite them to the carol service – I’ll be speaking about the astonishing gift that God gave us at Christmas. Or bring them along tomorrow evening with the Archbishop where, amidst the questions about homosexuality and declining churches, he may be given the opportunity to speak about Jesus Christ, about the forgiveness of sins, about the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and through us, about amazing works of mercy that are being done by believers, about the hope we have of a new, restored heaven and earth.
And perhaps you might say, ‘doesn’t that smack of the e-word: evangelism’.
Yes! But it is part of being a Christian. The Orthodox long that Russians will be baptised, will discover the Orthodox Christian faith, and will grow in that faith in the knowledge of Jesus. I listen occasionally to Radio Vera (Faith). It’s great. First of all because they tend to speak slightly slower so I can understand it (a little). And secondly because they preach Jesus and teach people how to follow him.
And our desire, I hope, is that people will come to faith and be baptised, and that people will grow in their faith, understanding and love; and because we are a foreign church, with an English-speaking congregation, we have a particular task of reaching out to the international community.
And for that, we need to take risks.