Jeremiah 33:14-16, Matthew 25:14-29
October 22, 2017
Whenever we talk about Stewardship, at some point we look at this story. And it’s important to remember that Jesus wasn’t telling the people about a real incident. He didn’t say, “Hey, I once knew this guy who hired three stewards to manage his estate while he was away.”
No! Jesus was making this stuff up! It’s amazing! Yes, he was Savior, and Lord, and all that, but he was also a master story teller! His parables were told right from his own mind! And they were tailored to the message he wanted to give to the people. And in telling them, he used examples and life experiences that were meaningful to them! We could talk about that all day, that and the incredible nuance and depth of these stories!
For now, I want us to look at this particular parable. “The Parable of the Talents.” And I think it’s interesting that, for us, centuries later, there’s an additional nuance to this story. For the people who were listening, a “talent” was a unit of weight. So a “talent” of gold was worth a certain amount, a “talent” of silver, somewhat less, and so forth… And the story plays out the way it does with that understanding. It works!
However, for us, a “talent” means something else, doesn’t it? It means a “gift or an ability.” But it’s still pertinent to the story! We too are being called to “use” our “talents” for the master. It’s the second of the three “T’s” of Stewardship. Time, Talent, Treasure. We use our gifts and abilities for the master, just like these stewards “used” their “talents” by trading and investing. And I ask you. Do you think Jesus knew that little nuance of language would come into play all these many years later, in a land far across the world! I think he did!
Well, there’s another little nuance to this story. And this is more fascinating to me every time I read this! This parable could easily been a story about two stewards, one who had been given much and used it for the master, and one who had been given little and didn’t. That would be a simple lesson about using what we’ve been given. But Jesus made this a story about three men. And because of that, this also becomes a story about the “relative amount” that each these men were given, and how they acted. And I think that quickly becomes a big part of the story.
Not only that, but I think it makes this second man very important. He was given less than the first, but still he still worked joyously for the master. The third man was given still less (even less than the second) and it changed his attitude! Because he wasn’t given as much as the others, he became bitter, and he refused to do anything.
Sometimes when people have less, they are tempted to fall into that trap. That happens in life. It happens in churches! Think about it! Other churches have more resources. Other churches have better facilities. Other churches have bigger neighborhoods that cause them to grow. Other churches don’t have the challenges that smaller church have. So of course they’re joyous for the kingdom! They have so much! (“Give ‘em a little hardship, and maybe they won’t be so joyous!”)
We can all understand the joyful attitude of the first man here, can’t we? The real story takes place in the actions and attitudes of the other two! And again, this is masterfully designed and told by Jesus! If you think about it, there was a point in the relative amount of talents that were given to the third man, where below that, the third man fell into the trap of envy and bitterness.
And I ask you. Are we ever like that? Do we ever reach that point of frustration, and say, “What’s the point?” “Why don’t we have what others have?” Do we ever let that get to us? Do we ever shrink back from serving the master because we frustrated, we don’t think we have the means, and we think we’re just not that important?
There’s a further nuance here. Jesus was speaking about these things just to his disciples. And to get the context, we have to go way back to the beginning of Chapter 24. There, Jesus had just been teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he had finished delivering a series of “Woes to the scribes and Pharisees.” That was not a very popular speech for them! And as he left, the disciples made some remarks about the beauty of the Temple, and of course the wealth it represented. That was the seed of this parable here! So Jesus gave them a quick prophecy about that Temple. He said the days were coming when “not one stone will be left upon another.”
Then they went up to the Mount of Olives, and there they asked what he meant by that. And then there was an entire chapter where he told them of the signs of the end times. That was all very interesting to them, I’m sure. But then he launched into a series of parables about the Kingdom of God. In all that, Jesus was trying to give them some perspective about the importance of the kingdom and how it related to the importance of “earthly” world. And that led to this parable.
So you see, there is an “end times” factor here. But along with that, there is also this idea of the joy of working for the master, and how it is the things of his kingdom that we should be focusing on. That’s not to say we ignore the worldly things, but that we see that it is the things of God that really count. And if we forget that, if we measure ourselves simply by worldly standards, and by “who has what” and “who doesn’t,” it can lead us to that “trap” of envy and bitterness.
Like many churches in the modern world, we are like the second steward. But if we let the fact that we struggle get to us, if we measure ourselves by what we don’t have that others do, we could find ourselves becoming like the third. I really think that’s the heart of this story – the heart!
Last week I suggested that you “count your blessings,” like the old song exhorts us to do. I hope you did that. If not, do it this week. And as you do, I encourage you to see the joy of serving the master. As Paul told the Corinthians, don’t give, don’t serve, out of compulsion or reluctance, but out of joy!
The master has entrusted his kingdom… to you. Take it seriously, to serve him joyously!
Eternal God, you have blessed us so much. Help us, in whatever state we are in, to be content, and to love you more. Help us to choose the joy of your kingdom, and to seek the peace that only you can give. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.