Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one -- to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

With every parable in the New Testament, we just get the bare facts. Still, this does not stop scholars from speculating to fill in the cracks. The first character introduced is referred to simply as -- a man. Later he is referred to as -- the master. Presumably he is a man of wealth who owns servants, has capital to invest, and is financially secure enough to journey for a long period of time -- perhaps to close some trading deals for luxury items from far off lands.

Not wanting the capital that he leaves behind to remain stagnant when it could be traded and multiplied, the master gives to his servant a number of talents (about $8000 total) with which to trade according to their abilities. The phrase -- each according to his ability -- is significant. The master knows his servants. He knows each of their abilities to invest their talents. It is not stated in a judgmental or critical way; rather simply as factual.

Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried the money of his master.

The word -- immediately -- is striking insofar as it discloses the accuracy of judging the first servant with the most ability. He wastes no time in doubling his $5000. The servant who received $2000 is not far behind him proving his ability to double his cash too. However, the third servant digs a hole in the ground and buries his $1000.

Burying money or other assets would not have been a foreign concept in the time of Jesus. This was oftentimes done to guard against invaders or robbers who would plunder the valuables of a home or village. It was a security measure which was instigated by fear. Later we will read that fear also motivates the third servant to do the same.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said -- Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more. His master said to him -- Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share in the joy of your Master. Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said -- Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more. His master said to him -- Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share in the joy of your master.

The long journey of the Master is over and he is doubtless eager to discover what has become of the capital that he has left behind. The formula for meeting with and hearing the news of the first two servants is identical. Both doubled their capital, both are judged Good and Faithful, both will be given great responsibilities as a result of their wise trading, and both are asked to share in the joy of their master.

Although they are affirmed with praise and rewarded by sharing the joy of their master, with hard work and effort comes greater responsibilities, and not a chance to take a break and relax.

Also, even though their abilities were different and each turned different profit amounts, they both put forth the effort to double their capital and that is what is important to the master.

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said -- Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.

Some scholars point to the admitted knowledge of the servant of the demanding nature of his master as a prime example of the insertion of foot into mouth. In other words, the servant thought that the demanding nature of the master was the very reason he SHOULD bury the $1000, whereas the master views his demanding nature as the very reason why the $1000 should NOT have been buried.

We also hear of the motivator behind the actions of the third servant in this verse: FEAR.

His master said in reply -- You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?

The declaration of the master is sharply contrasted with his praise of the former servants. Good and Faithful turn to Wicked and Lazy. He points out the Foot in Mouth statement of the third servant and informs him that even the safeguarded deposit of the capital into a bank would have been better than his burying it. Some scholars even posit that a risky investment which did not yield a windfall of cash, but rather a substantial loss, would have even been more pleasing to the master -- at least there would have been some show of effort -- some risk.

Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Many who read this last verse comment on how unchristian it sounds. Are we not supposed to give to those who HAVE NOT, especially if we HAVE? Nevertheless, this is where Jesus jolts his listeners -- as he does in every parable at some point -- and turns things upside down. Some scholars say that he may have taken a common saying similar to our -- The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer -- and used it in this parable to twist its meaning around. In other words, when it comes to serving God, those who exert the most effort and take the biggest risks are given greater opportunities to continue to build the kingdom -- to build in a bigger way. In doing so, they also share in the Joy of the kingdom. On the other hand, those who bury their God-given abilities out of fear of appearing counter-cultural, as a boat-rocker, or as unworthy to exert any effort will be condemned.

There is lots going on in this parable and it can preach on many levels. There is no escaping the fact of our Christian belief that we will all be judged one day. Some day our master will come back after being away for a long time and ask what we have done with the talent or talents that were given to us. Perhaps it will not be a judgment based on success; but rather on effort. We each possess different abilities so it is not about measurable achievements; but about measurable effort. Fear can be a great paralyzer. It cripples the best of intentions. If one listens closely to this parable he or she will conclude that Fear will not be an acceptable excuse for not putting forth the effort in this life to help build the kingdom.

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