November 6, 2016
Today we have the story known as “The Parable of the Talents.” I wonder, though. Could this have been called “The Parable of the Three Stewards.” Jesus didn’t give these stories any titles. He just launched into them. But if he did, what would he have called it? Would he have named any of these three stewards as the focus of the story? What would he say was his main point?
What would you say? Who would you say was the focus? I think many people would say the focus of the story was on the first or the third man. They would say this parable was about abundance or the lack thereof. But if that were the case, this story would have worked equally as well with one man who took “talents” and used them, and one who did not.” But Jesus put three men in this story. And I’m glad he did.
The more in think about this, the more I find myself intrigued with the second man. I think he was there in the story for a reason, and I think in some ways he is more relevant to most people than the other two. And I’ll tell you why.
Think about this. We people tend to “measure” ourselves based on others. “I’m not as talented as so and so.” “I’m not as well off.” “I’m not as beautiful.” There’s even a cliché expression. “Keeping up with the Joneses.” You know what that means, don’t you!
Think about churches. I grew up in a large church. In the ‘50’s Carmel church had a thousand kids in Sunday School! It was a lot smaller than that in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, but it was still large by comparison. Well, when I was in seminary around 1980, I amazed to learn that most churches in our denomination were nowhere near that large. In fact, they told us at the time that 90% of the churches in our denomination (and in lots of others!) had less than 200 members. And 80% had less than 100 members! Think of the small churches you have known. And that was in the ‘80’s!
Well, that was an amazing thing for me to learn! And students like me – and there were a lot of us – had to learn what it was like to be part of smaller congregations! Because, even as far as churches are concerned, there is a temptation to measure one against another. There is a temptation to measure ourselves against those who have more.
That’s why I love the second guy in this story. He was just as joyful in working for his master, even though he was working with less. And even though it was less overall profit, he still made the same percentage increase!
When we measure ourselves against each other, we miss the glory! And to do so is a big temptation! “Yeah, you’re in a big church! You never have to worry about paying the bills!” “You can have the best facilities and resources.” “You can make capitol improvements!” It’s so easy to fall into that kind of thinking, isn’t it?
And yes, would I like to see us increase our multimedia capabilities? Would I still like to see us put a nice electronic sign out on the lawn? Would I like to see us improve our Fellowship Hall space, and maybe make a second worship center? Sure! But if I see not having as much of the capabilities and resources as someone else as a detriment, then I’m straying from the attitude of the second man in this parable! And I’m glad for his part in this! I want to have his heart!
That’s our task here in this church, isn’t it? And it’s the task of many of the churches in our denomination. (And others.) We need to seek the heart of this second steward. We need to be glad to work for the kingdom – to be cheerful givers – even though we don’t have what other bigger churches might have.
It’s too easy to forget that. And that brings us to the last man in this story. Because whatever else it is, this story is an indictment against those who say “What’s in it for me?” “You reap where you did not sow, Master.” “If I bother working with this money, I won’t get anything out of it.” He had forgotten like we sometimes do, that everything we have is a trust from God. The others said, “Here’s your money with the increase.” This man didn’t like it that the increase wouldn’t have been much, and it wouldn’t have been his.
But this is also a a matter of “Why bother?” Why bother working for the master when our part is so small – in comparison to others! Isn’t that the problem in all of this?
If I were going to send one of these other two guys to “counsel” this third man, I wouldn’t send the first. He would be too quick to tell of God’s abundance, and having a lot, that would be easy for him. I would send the second man. He would be able to tell the third man about having less, and still knowing the joy of serving in God’s kingdom. He would be able to counsel him not to compare himself to others, but to focus on what God has given him!
So may that be our counsel, too. May we use our gifts, gifts in the sense of talents, and our gifts in the sense of what we pledge in physical offerings. And may we be joyous, no matter how much we are able. For indeed “All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”
Eternal God, please bless us as we pledge ourselves to the future of this ministry. Help us to have the heart and the mind of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray, Amen.