The Parable of the Talents

19 Nov, 2023

By the Rev’d Andrew Coyle

Season: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Readings: Judges 4:1-7 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 | Matthew 25:14-30.

Take 30 seconds to talk to those around you about what you notice in our gospel reading this morning. Is there anything in particular that strikes you or gives you pause?

The thing that focused my attention was the interaction between the man and the third servant, the one who buried the talent that his master had entrusted to him. When he is asked for an accounting of what has been entrusted to him, this servant
says to his master, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours”.

Now, burying your wealth to protect it from theft was a common practice in Jesus’ time, and many of Jesus’ hearers would probably have regarded the servant’s actions as both reasonable and responsible. The master, however, castigates his servant as both wicked and lazy, telling him that, at the very least, he should have invested that money with the bankers so that it could have earned interest.

Now, I’m not entirely sure what we are supposed to do with the information that the master was harsh and “reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he did not scatter”. That all remains something of a mystery. Unless, that description tells us more about the servant than it does the master. If we go back to the beginning of this morning’s parable, there are some things that it is useful to notice.

First, the man who is about to go on a journey entrusts his property to his servants. And that word “trust” signals to us that what is to follow has to do with both a relationship and a responsibility. The nature of that trust is further emphasised when we understand that a talent is a huge sum of money. A single talent was worth more than fifteen year’s wages for a day labourer in those days, so those servants were being trusted by their master with a considerable responsibility.

The second thing we might want to notice is that the master gives a number of talents to each of the three servants “according to their abilities”. And what we are meant to take from that is that the servants are expected to do something with what has been entrusted to them. They are not just to keep the master’s assets safe but to use their skills and capacities to actively further the master’s interests. He has given them money, and he expects them to make more money for him. Seen in this light, we can see how the actions of the third servant are a bit of a letdown for the master! All the servant did was bury the money.

More than that, though, unlike the other two servants, this third servant acted out of fear, and was unable to respond to his master’s trust with a trust of his own. He was unable to see that he had the capacities that his master saw in him, and that his master trusted him to exercise those capacities. And here, it might be helpful to zoom out a little and get some more of the big picture in which this parable is set. Because this parable is not actually an encouragement to venture capitalism or an
advertisement for the benefits of currency trading and market speculation!

Like the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids that we heard last week, this parable concerns how the Gospel writer’s community are being invited to live in that time between Jesus’ death and resurrection and that time, yet to come, when he will
come again. This parable is meant as an encouragement to them and to us, as we live in that meantime, that time between the promises made known to us by God through Jesus and the fulfilment of those promises.

And one of the encouragements of this parable is to trust in what we have been given,
to trust in what has been entrusted to us:
gifts of faith and hope and love,
the promises recorded in scripture,
the teaching and example of Jesus,
the promises made known to us in his resurrection,
the gift of the Holy Spirit,
and, indeed, the gifts of the Holy Spirit that come to us for our work in
the world.

And a second encouragement of this parable is not to be afraid but to act on those promises,
to let those promises guide and shape our living,
to let those promises continue to lead us into action.

So that when someone asks us why we operate a foodbank and why we run Christmas Lunch on Jesus, we can say that Jesus fed the hungry and proclaimed good news to the poor, and we have been given a mission to do likewise. And when someone asks us why we host a Seasons Programme, we can say because Jesus brought consolation and healing to those who were grieving and gave us the promise of life on the other side of death, and we have been entrusted with a mission to do likewise. And when someone asks us why we have a Selwyn Centre, we can say: because Jesus brought people into community with one another and taught us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and we have been entrusted to live that out in our own lives. And when someone asks us why we recycle, we can say: because this earth is good and because it proclaims the goodness of God, and we have been entrusted with its care. And when someone asks us why we pray, we can say: because prayer is the work of God within us, and we need God’s gifts of strength and peace and wisdom if we are to do that work that has been entrusted to us.

We do all of these things because of the life that God has shared with us, and entrusted to us in Jesus. We are Christians, followers of Jesus. We are not going to simply sit around like nothing has happened to us. We are going to take the gifts that God has given us, and we are going to share them with the world in whatever ways our abilities and capacities enable us to because we trust that God has given us a work to do and that we have been called to be participants in the work of God.

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