14"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
Prayer from Psalm 90
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Amen!
The famous Parable of the Talents! Although parables in the gospels often begin with, "The reign of God is like, the kingdom of heaven will be like," you'll notice this story doesn't mention the Reign of Heaven/Kingdom of God. The Parable of the Talents, beloved of stewardship committees and stewardship drives. Parables are a type of story that compares – literally "casts alongside" different ideas. In Matthew chapter 25, this one comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited people in need.
• The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. verses 16-18
A talent was approximately what a laborer would earn in twenty years. We derive our talent concept for special abilities from this word. The year 2020 has been different from any other, but during normal formal stewardship times the church asks us to pledge financial and other ways we'll contribute our particular talents to the church's ministry and the world's future.
In Jesus's time and place, people believed all resources were finite, so everyone assumed a zero-sum existence. If the rich got richer, the poor must have gotten poorer. If someone's social status increased, someone else's must have decreased. Given that embedded expectation, the third slave did the logical thing by burying the money he'd received so his assets wouldn't decrease. After all, in his lowly situation, he could not have expected better finances or a better social position, meaning any changes he experienced would be negative ones. However, a slave was bound to do the master's grunt work, in this case growing his wealth, which explains the master's anger.
• The master chides, "Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest." verse 27
Despite the master telling the guy he could have invested that money, the Old Testament forbids banking and interest on loans; Jesus announces the Time of Jubilee when debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough." When that time arrives, saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations.
Textual note: New Testament words for slave and servant get translated into English almost randomly as either servant or slave, but the Greek in this passage actually is slave.
One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic moving up on ten months—depending on how and when you started counting.
As we've frequently observed, we first ask about scripture's original context, yet we need to contextualize scripture by placing it in our own social, cultural, and economic setting. in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to make the gospel local! This passage from Matthew's gospel isn't about entrepreneurship, it ain't Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, it's not investment banking or municipal bonds, although we absolutely need ways to get what we need, whether that means using dollars, pesos, or euros; whether it leads to baking for baby-sitting, or another type of exchange.
In Matthew chapter 25, this parable comes between Wise and Foolish Virgins waiting for the bridegroom's arrival and Jesus' separating Sheep from Goats on the Last Day by assessing who had faithfully fed, clothed, welcomed, and visited those in need. We hear about bridesmaids waiting for the groom (interpreted in several places as the church awaiting Jesus); we hear Jesus retrospectively looking back at how his followers lived out the gospel.
Stewardship committees and stewardship endeavors love this parable because it is about using God-given resources of talent, treasure, and time in ways that multiply the presence of the reign of God in the world; as that happens, both giver and gifted enter into the joy that results from faithful use (stewardship) of monetary and other gifts God has given us. The gospel abolishes counting and calculation, but individuals, churches, and other organizations need money to survive and thrive. Keeping track of cash flow and reserves is an important aspect of trusting God in those areas of receiving and giving.
COVID-19 / Into God's Future
"Well done, good and trustworthy one, enter into the joy…" The master promises faithful servants will be in charge of (steward of) many things, "more will be given."
One more Sunday and the church will conclude another year of grace, while the planet will have endured a global pandemic for too long. During formal stewardship times the church asks for pledges of money, abilities, and linear time people will contribute to the church's ministry and the world's future. God already has been to our future and waits for us there; we've received talents/gifts to contribute to "The Exhibition of the Reign of Heaven to the World" as one of the PC(USA)'s Great Ends of the Church describes it. But unless we're an essential worker, what on earth can we do during Stay Safe Stay Home / Safer at Home / Tier Four Lockdown?
Matthew 25:19, "After a long time" impresses me as being about the gift of time. Weeks, months, and years it takes to earn enough to support yourself and your household, to have enough to donate to causes. Minimally it takes months to acquire basic skills in a craft or a trade, longer to become an expert. If you study music or accounting or history in school, four years of classes is only the beginning. You'll need more time to become close to expert. You know what else? We've had time to pray more!
• Rather than identifying with one of the three servants/slaves or imagining the master specifically as Jesus, what does this passage reveal about the gifts of God?
• Does it promise or imply anything about trusting God with our future?
• Would you call this a parable of grace or a parable of judgment?
• Jesus announces Jubilee when all debts will be canceled, and all creation will thrive in shalom-filled "enough" so saving, investing, and stockpiling won't be considerations. Amidst uncertainty during COVID-19, what do you imagine God is doing at your future, at the church's future, and for the world's future?