What would you do with $675,000 dollars, a half a million bucks cash, tax-free?
It is interesting that our modern day word talent, that we use to refer to personal gifts and abilities, comes directly from this Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. But when Jesus was speaking about talents he was talking about a unit of money worth the pay a typical blue-collar worker could make in about 15 years. It’s important to remember this because I think on the outset when we first hear this parable, in some ways we feel sorry for the guy that got 1 talent in the parable as compared to the guy who got 5 talents because we don’t have a good sense of the ancient cultural meaning of the word. I know for a long time, when I read this parable my thought was always like the land owner was handing out a couple of bucks, like here’s a dollar, here’s three and here’s a fiver. I thought, come on, what is this guy with a buck suppose to do, I’m not even sure you can invest a dollar for interest let alone buy some coffee! So I always had this impression that the landowner was being unfair with the guy who only got a dollar.
But that was before I opened up a little Bible handbook and commentary that I had and started digging in to what Jesus was actually saying. What this landowner was entrusting to his workers was an extraordinary amount of money and trust. True, if you do the math, the most skilled of his workers probably received over 3 million dollars to put to good use on behalf of the master of the house, but the guy with the least amount of skills and training, that guy that only got a talent, actually received more than half a million dollars, cash, tax-free to put to good use on behalf of his master.
Once I started to read this parable in context of what Jesus was saying, it began to make a lot more sense to me; and no wonder when the landowner got back after many years of travelling he was so ticked with the guy that buried his talent in the ground. Honestly, just think of the good you could do with half a million dollars. You could feed the poor in the area at least one meal a day for a good long time. You could buy shipments of diapers and clothes for the women’s shelter up in Warren. Overseas, that amount of money could be used to provide medical treatments for hundreds of impoverished children. At the very least, you could invest the money in a zero risk CD, even with the lousy interest they have right now, and add to the principal for the future. You could do something. It’s no wonder that the landowner who gave this worker over half a million dollars was so angry, that when it was all said and done, after years of opportunity to work with this money all he did was bury it in a hole. Seriously, buried half a million dollars in a hole!
But maybe, just maybe, when this worker decided to bury the money in a hole, it wasn’t really because he was scared of the landowner, because when you think about it, that’s actually a really thin excuse, knowing that at the very least the master would want some interest on the money when he got back. But what’s more likely in the context of the story, was that this worker was hoping that the landowner would never come back, he was gone for so long that maybe the worker was hoping something bad had happened to him. So instead of being associated publicly with the master by investing his money for him and trading publicly with it, that half a million dollars would make a nice little retirement nest egg for the future, no questions asked kind of money, that the servant could keep all for himself.
Those were the reasons for such a harsh judgment at the end of the parable that condemned that final worker to where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The gift given was held selfishly for himself or herself alone, ignoring the pleas and cries of the needy, the hurt, the poor and the suffering all around, the worker said mine all mine and me only me, and was allowed to go to that eternal place where selfishness reigns supreme and no help can be found.
When Jesus spoke this parable it was in the same great Matthew dialogue that we heard about last week with the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, that spoke judgment against the people that God had specifically called to share blessings with the whole world. The nation of Israel that Jesus spoke to at the time, was given the promises, the covenant of blessing, the hope of the Messiah the future promise of the restoration of all things, they were given all these things and more, they were blessed to be a blessing to all of the nations and all the people around them. They were made a nation of priests to bring God to the people and the people back to God. But the judgment that God pronounced upon them on His day of visitation in his Son Jesus was that of the wicked slave who decided to keep all of the blessings to himself ignoring the hurt all around and instead of being a light upon a hill, taking that light and burying it so no one would know what they had.
What are we doing with the blessings God has given to us in Jesus? Because the promises are the same and the work of God’s people did not end with the nation of Israel but continues with the nation of priests that God has created through his son Jesus. The Church; that is the people of God who are centered around the Word and the Sacraments and are called to be disciples who make disciples, has all of the same promises. The covenant of blessing, the hope found in Jesus, the future promise of the restoration of all things, forgiveness and peace with God, blessings you could never buy, blessed to be a blessing to the people all around us.
And on the day of God’s visitation, either when he returns or when we go to be with Him, what story do we want our lives to tell to God for how we managed the blessings given to us? Have we lived for ourselves alone? Have we turned a blind eye to the poor and needy, have we ignored others in their distress? Have we said to those who are hurting that it’s not our problem what happens to them? Have we built walls around the blessings found in Jesus, walls that separate us and keep the Gospel safely buried in the ground, our own little nest egg, Heaven for me alone?
If I were to answer those questions honestly, in front of you, here and now, my answer would be yes. Throughout my life I am guilty of all of those things and more. I have been like the wicked worker and deserve only judgment for my sin. But I must remember, as should you, that in the great story that is the Bible, when Jesus speaks all of these strong words of judgment, potent both then and now, we have to remember where He is and what He is doing when he says these things. He is in the city of high walls and broken priests, He says these words with His eyes fixed upon the cross, He is walking to His bloody death, His victory over sin, His setting the prisoners free, His Resurrection cry, His light in our darkness, His forgiveness for our sins. Remember that in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and made right once again. His mercies are new every morning and we are given what we don’t deserve, a half-a million bucks all over again and a job to do, today we are blessed by the grace of God alone, to multiply our blessings in the lives of others, all this comes from God to be given back to God. Amen.