Proverbs 3:1-18, Matthew 25:14-30
October 30, 2011
We are continuing to think about Stewardship Sunday, which is next week. So, today we’re looking at the Parable of the Talents. Once again, these Parables of Jesus are amazing stories! They’re drawn from the people’s world and their experiences. They bring out the people’s emotions, probably a lot more than we realize. And of course, the most amazing thing is, Jesus made these stories up!
So think about this one. And let me ask this. Why did Jesus tell this story using these three men? Was this some kind of Jewish joke? You know, jokes always seem have three people, or three things happening. Why did Jesus feel the need to tell about more than just two men? Wouldn’t the first and last stewards in this story be sufficient to make his point? The first was a good steward, and here’s what he did. The second was a bad steward and here’s what he did. He hid the money. Why was there a need to tell about two good stewards?
I think the answer to that question may be found it you focus in on the second steward. In fact, I think he may be the key to this story! And I want you to pay particular attention to what he did not say! He didn’t say, “Ok Lord, I know you didn’t give me as much as you gave that other guy – the guy you must like better – but here, I went and made you some more money anyway.”
He didn’t say that! He simply came bringing the fruits of his labors, too. And he was joyful about it! And I think there is in this man a wonderful uncaring attitude toward the inequality of portions. And that’s very refreshing! We make those kinds of distinctions in this world, he did not. He was proud of his part and he rejoiced in his contribution even though it wasn’t what someone else’s was. There is a joyous feeling in this man of “working for the kingdom despite one’s relative station in life.”
As I said, I think he may have been the focus on the story, and Jesus may even have emphasized his part as he told this story! After the master praised the first servant, Jesus may well have said, “And also, he who had been given (only) the two talents came forward!” That man came forward, too! It didn’t matter to him that his part was less than that of the first servant! And when the master praised the second servant, Jesus may well have given some extra emphasis there. “Well done good and faithful servant, you (too) have been faithful over little I will set you over much.”
Do you see what I mean here? I think this is a very important part of the stewardship message. Because there are some wealthy Christians, and there are some not-so-wealthy Christians. I’ve known both. And I’ve known both kinds who did not let their station in life get in the way of their faith! In the same way, there are some wealthy churches and some not-so-wealthy churches. There are churches like ours with six figure budgets, and there are churches with seven and even eight figure budgets. And the question is, can we all rejoice together in God’s kingdom, no matter what our part? Can we be just as joyful as the second steward? I hope we can. Because I believe that’s a big part of what Jesus was getting at in this story!
That’s not easy, because, as I said, we live in a world where inequities between people are emphasized. We live in a world where the haves and the have-nots are often pitted against each other. We live in a world where things are more highly valued than human relationships. And we live in a world where the value of people is too often determined by what they have, rather than by who they are. And Jesus tells this story in a way that takes out those inequities, and emphasizes the joy in generosity. And I think that’s amazing!
As I’ve said before, isn’t whether or not you’re rich that matters to God. In fact, I don’t think God is impressed all that much by wealth. It’s just not that important or impressive to the one who created all things and who looks over all the earth in a single glance! I believe God is more concerned with what we do with what we are given. And of course he’s more concerned that we understand that what we have has been given to us – or better yet, entrusted to us. When we see it that way, that’s when we know what it means that we too are stewards – just like the men in this story! Then we are faced with the question, “What do we do with our talents?”
Then let me say this. If we remember that everything we have is a trust from God, then we will realize, as one preacher said years ago, that we are stewards not just of what we give, we are also stewards of what we keep!!! In other words, how is our whole life dedicated to God’s kingdom?
I hope this story is encouraging to all of us, but especially to those of us who can’t give as much as someone else. Because, no matter what our gift, what God is most concerned about is the attitude of giving. It’s the joy of being stewards of the Master that matters! And if we understand that, if we have that attitude, that encourages each of us to give the best we can – no matter how it compares to the gifts of others!
Maybe you remember the verse that says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s found in II Corinthians 9:7. Well, that’s just the end of the sentence. The whole verse reads like this. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul is explaining a state of the heart, isn’t he? He’s challenging us to think about our motivation for giving. Are we motivated by compulsion? You know, a lot of people have been standing up here talking about the needs of this congregation. And of course, that’s important to know. We want to support our church! But is there more to it than just that motivation? Are we also “cheerful givers?”
Let me tell you here that the Greek word for “cheerful” in that passage is the word “Hilaron.” What does that sound like? It sounds like our word “Hilarious!” That describes more than just “cheerfulness,” doesn’t it? This is more than just “smiling as we bring our gifts.” More accurately it might read “God loves a joyous giver.” That’s something different, isn’t it? That speaks of the joy of life we’ve been talking about!
This whole parable is about the joy of these two stewards, isn’t it? It’s about the joy of the kingdom which is their reward for good service. And it’s about the joyous way they viewed their contribution to the kingdom. And I would bet you that if we all have that joy, if we all concentrate on that joy, we will be more likely to give the very best we possibly can, and there will be no deficit here!! Really, the more we get that, the more we will give. If we’re giving “reluctantly” or “under compulsion,” as Paul put it, we won’t give as much, will we?
So this might be a good time for an “attitude check.” How do you feel about your stewardship? Do you have any “third servant feelings” going on inside you? We haven’t said much about him, have we? But his was the opposite attitude as the second servant, wasn’t it? He had no joy. He saw it all as compulsion and obligation. Do you have any of his attitude? In fact, do you have his attitude about any part of your life of faith? People do, you know. Some feel the whole of the Christian faith is just about obligations. We are obligated to live right, to keep the Commandments, to love others (even if they don’t love us!), to do all those things if we are going to get our “reward.” And for some that’s drudgery.
I encourage you not to live in the drudgery or the obligations. Live instead in the joy of the master. That’s what he wants. He wants the very best for us. He wants to have that joyful relationship with us! We are his people, his children, stewards of the amazing Gospel of grace that is our legacy. May we see our part in God’s kingdom as the true joy of our life.
Eternal God, we know that you love us. We know that you want your eternal joy for us, and yet we are reluctant to enter into that joy. Grant us a vision of your kingdom, that we may be inspired to live the joyful and victorious life that Jesus came to show us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.