Haggai 2:1-9, Matthew 25:14-30
November 11, 2007
In Matthew’s Gospel today we read this story called “The Parable of the Talents.” This is a passage that’s often read at Stewardship time. And rightfully so. In it, Jesus uses this word “Talent,” which in those days was a measure of the weight of some precious metal. You could have a talent of Gold or a talent of Silver. And you’ll see it used that way in various places. But for us the English word “talent” means also our gifts and abilities. So, this parable then helps with the understanding that our gifts to the kingdom of God are more than just financial gifts. It helps us to think of our talents and abilities as well.
So this is a great stewardship passage. It tells us of the importance of increasing all that God has entrusted to us. It speaks of being industrious and enthusiastic and dedicated and joyful. And all those things are wonderful. And I hope we all do them. But I want us to take this further. (I think we should always strive to further our understanding!) I want us to expand this picture today. I want us to see the “big picture” of stewardship, as we are about to dedicate our pledges for the coming year.
First, take a look at where this parable is found in Matthew’s Gospel. It doesn’t stand alone as a story of Stewardship. It comes in the middle of a number of parables about the Kingdom of God. And, it comes right after Matthew 24, which is a whole discourse of Jesus about the “End Times” or the “Last Days.” That chapter has often been called “The Little Apocalypse,” and it’s a foreshadowing of a much bigger “Apocalypse,” which we now know as the book of Revelation. Right there, that makes our story more ominous!
Then, at the beginning of chapter 25, we have the parable about the wise and foolish maidens. That’s a story about those who will be ready for the coming of the bridegroom and those who will not. And at the other end of this chapter we have Jesus’ vision of the scene in his heavenly kingdom, where the King will separate the people into the “sheep and the goats.” You remember those words, “The King will say to the sheep ‘Come, blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’ And they will ask, ‘Lord, when did we do all these things for you?’ And the King will answer, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.’”
You know that story. It’s all part of the big picture Jesus is painting in these two chapters of the kingdom of God. Well, here in the middle of all of that we find this parable of the Talents. And what I’d like us to remember today is that, because of where we find this parable, it is much more than just a story about how we are good stewards of God’s kingdom here on earth. (Which it is!) It’s a story that’s part of the “Big Picture” of God’s kingdom, and how we are stewards of that kingdom!
As we think about that, I’d like to suggest that the main emphasis of this story may not even be about the “talents” at all! The more I read this, the more it seems to be about the attitude of these men toward God and his kingdom. And the attitude of this last servant is very telling in this. One of my versions of the Bible puts him as the main character in the story and even calls this “The parable of the unjust steward.”
Take a look what this man says to the master. “I knew you to be a hard man.” He didn’t say, “I didn’t want the job of steward.” He didn’t say, “I didn’t want to do all the work these other guys did.” This was not a lazy servant, which he is sometimes called. The Master tells him that making even a little increase was only a matter of investing the money with the bankers. That’s not a factor, because laziness was not this man’s problem. He had a bad attitude toward God. He said to the master, “You reaped where you did not sow.” This was an angry statement that belied his attitude. He didn’t like the idea that the master would get this increase. He wanted to think of this wealth as belonging to (who?) him! But it was not, and he didn’t like that.
Sometimes that’s a hard thing for us, too. It’s easy for us to say – as we were taught, “Everything we have is really God’s, and we are only stewards. We are just the managers of his riches in this life.” But do we believe it? Everything we hear in this world, day in and day out, is “get what you can – for yourself.” In fact, “Get yourself the riches and things of this world – even if you can’t actually pay for them.” And when you get it – all that hard earned money and all those ‘things,’ whose is it? It’s yours! And that constant message makes it hard for us to answer that question any differently. When we earn and get and buy, and we are asked the question, “whose is it all?” it’s very hard for us to answer “It’s all Gods!” and really mean it! And we may even find the attitude of this third steward creeping into our lives. We may even find that it’s already there!
Along with that, we also need to ask here, where is our life’s orientation in making any increase? In the big picture of God’s stewardship, God wants us to make the increase for his kingdom. There is great joy in these first two servants when they come to the master and say, “Look, Master, I have taken what you have given me and look how I have increased it!” Do we have our lives so oriented toward the increase of his kingdom that we have great joy in that increase? Is that how we think of our stewardship?
The master tells these first two servants, “Well done! Enter into the (what?) joy of your master!” That’s the result of that orientation. In the big picture, when the orientation of our lives is toward the increasing of God’s kingdom, the personal rewards amount to nothing less than “the inheritance of the kingdom prepared for [us] from the foundation of the world.” And that doesn’t mean just at the end of life, it means our whole lives! It means the big picture.
That’s the message which is consistent with the whole of the story Jesus came to tell. It is consistent with the message he stated way back some 20 chapters before this. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” That’s the big picture!
Even today’s “prosperity preachers” have that backwards. They would tell us “if you want prosperity, then do the ‘God thing.’ That’s the way to get!” But that’s not seeking the kingdom first, is it? Underlying that message is still the idea of “getting for the self.” Look at the examples they give. People come on and they say, “I got a job. I got a house. I got a big check! And all I needed to do was send some money God’s way!” Have you seen them say that? But that’s still appealing to the self, isn’t it? And the “getting for the self,” isn’t what our orientation should be about! Here in Matthew we see the big picture of God’s kingdom. And that means the whole picture – from the beginning to the end. And when our orientation is toward that kingdom, the inheritance of all of his kingdom is and has been ours from the beginning of time.
Remember the Elder Brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. I think that parable is really about that Elder Brother! He was indignant about this party that was being given for the prodigal. “I never got any of that!” And the father told him what. “You have been with me always, and all that I have is yours!” That’s us! That inheritance, that kingdom, is and has been ours from the beginning of time. All we have to do is give up the orientation of life that says the most important thing is what we get out of it! All we have to do is to shift from “The increase is ours, and God is reaping where he did not sow.” to “the increase is God’s and it is his kingdom that we look to, because we are part of that kingdom.” That’s all we have to do.
Now, that’s hard, I know! We are immersed in a world where “everything is measured by gain,” as Ebenezer Scrooge’s fiancé observed. And it’s hard to see what is truly important. And as God’s people we need to see that God’s kingdom is the most important.
Maybe you’ve never ever considered this. Maybe living in a consumer oriented world, you’ve never thought about what it’s like to orient yourself toward the increase of the kingdom of God. Maybe you’ve never really given yourself the opportunity to “consider the lilies of the field.” as Jesus said. “They neither work nor worry nor amass great wealth, yet Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” Maybe you need to give a thought to your life’s orientation. Maybe you should.
Scripture says, “God loves a joyful giver.” Why is that? Is it because he wants people to give of themselves without grumbling? No. Clearly throughout scripture God says again and again that he wants his people to know the joy of his kingdom. That’s the response to the first two servants in this story. “Enter into the joy of the Lord.” And in other places Jesus ends parables with those words. “Enter into the joy of the Lord.” God wants not so much the most from us as he wants the best for us! But we will never see that until we give up the desire to have the best only for us.
So let us be thinking about that – today, tomorrow, and for that matter, forever! What is it really like to see Stewardship as a life oriented toward God’s kingdom? What is it really like to seek that kingdom first? What is it like to see Stewardship as a “Big Picture,” an important part of the whole of the life of faith in this world, and the ongoing joy and fellowship with God in the world to come.
When you think of your part in the stewardship of this Church, as you bring your pledges forward in just a few minutes, I invite you to see it, not just as the support of this one ministry, but as part of the big picture of God’s kingdom in the world, and of that great inheritance prepared for us.
Eternal God, we thank you for your great love for us and the joy of your kingdom in our midst. Help us to see the big picture of this life of faith. Help us to know that all we have is indeed yours, and that we are Stewards of your grace and love. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.