Our Gospel this morning gives us another parable, the Parable of the Talents, one that always reminds me of a particular Diocesan convention at which envelopes were distributed to the delegates and Deacons attending. Inside each envelope was currency of various amounts. This was a complete surprise to all of us present. In our Eucharist worship this same Gospel had been read, the Parable of the Talents. With the envelopes containing cash these instructions were given: each person was to take this cash home and be good stewards of this gift, they were encouraged to be creative in any way they chose in order to increase their wealth, then all the earnings would be gathered and donated to a designated charity. Wanda discovered a ten dollar bill in her envelope, and Dorothy almost fainted when she found in hers a one hundred dollar bill. She was filled with anxiety for the remainder of convention, fearing she might lose or misplace that money entrusted to her.
Well, Wanda and Dorothy put their heads together when they got home and decided to prepare a special dinner and sell tickets for the event. It was a lovely evening, Calder Hall was nearly filled, and they were extremely pleased with the profitable funds they would be contributing to this diocese.
This Parable of the Talents is challenging, there are contradictions and troubling issues within this story. Remember that parables are stories with layers and many facets of meaning, stories that can be heard in different settings in different ways. It has been said, “If you believe that you know the correct meaning of a parable you know you’re mistaken.”
It might at first seem that Jesus is giving a warning to invest your money well or at least deposit it in a bank for interest. He made it especially clear that one should not bury it in the back yard.
So this layer of meaning may be focusing on responsibility or accountability as well as putting our talents and gifts to good use. It may also remind us of issues of justice and consequences and a time of reckoning when our Master returns.
The Master was extremely generous in trusting his slaves with his money; even the one talent was a huge fortune for a single talent amounted to about 15 years of a laborer’s work.
Of course, this story isn’t about money; it surely is much deeper than cash in bank investments. Matthew places this story in a setting where Jesus’ death is near. So would he actually be speaking to his disciples about their financial management skills? No. The word talent was an ancient measure of money but has come to mean a precious commodity or particular skillfulness.
Let’s compare the exchange between the first and second slave with the Master. It seems to be a pleasant, short conversation. Each of these slaves seems proud to have been so successful, increasing the su of their master’s property and the Master commends both for their trustworthy efforts, also assuring them of being welcomed into the joy of their master, a considerable reward.
What do you suppose is going on with the third servant as he comes forward in a state of fear and trembling? “Master,” he says, “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, so I was afraid and I went and hid you talent in the ground.” The Master replies with sarcasm and anger. “So, you wicked and lazy slave! You knew did you that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter?” And it gets worse. The one talent is given to the slave with ten. “For to those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing what they have will be taken away.” Certainly this is among the harshest things Jesus ever said and I cringe when I read these words. I would prefer to understand this as Jesus’ use of exaggeration for effect for it really gets our attention, doesn’t it?
Isn’t it possible then, that the servant’s fear of his Master caused him to expect a harsh and cruel response to his poor choice of handling the Master’s one talent?
We know there are many Gospel scriptures where Jesus speaks with great love and reassurance. He often speaks comforting words such as “Do not fear.” “I am with you always.” “You are my beloved.” Today we don’t hear those kind words. Jesus, knowing his death is imminent, speaks urgently—“this is a listen to me now moment, time is short, pay attention to what I am saying!”
This is a crucial moment for the disciples to “man up” and understand they will be responsible for continuing Jesus’ mission on earth. They are the ones who soon will be those sent out to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In my opinion, the is the message to us today. We all have an abundance of God given gifts and talents to be used for the building up of the Kingdom of God. So let’s do that now, let’s take what God gives and go out and use it all, spend it all, use it up!