Being the Middle Man – November 3, 2019
Old Testament, Matthew 25:14-30
November 3, 2019
When comes to the parables, it never ceases to amaze me that Jesus made up these stories! I think that’s why I love them so much! Jesus made up these stories, right out of his head! He made them to suit whatever lesson he wanted to teach at the time. And I believe he chose his words carefully! And often there are little unexpected twists, that we can easily miss, if we don’t read them carefully!
Today we have this story that has come to be known as “The Parable of the Talents.” It’s a story about using the gifts God has given us. And it’s often read at Stewardship time. Because this is the time when we’re called to think about the part each of us will play in supporting the ministry of the Church for the coming year. And of course, it’s more than just a “financial thing.” This is about using all the gifts and “talents” God has given us.
Well, the part of this story that has intrigued me the most in recent years is this. Jesus made this a story about three people. And he could easily have made it about two, couldn’t he? If he had, that would carry a certain message about those who “have” and those who “have not.” It would have been simple. He could have told the people about the steward who was entrusted with a lot of the master’s estate, and the steward entrusted with very little. And we could understand those two points of view fairly easily, couldn’t we?
But no! He didn’t tell it that way! And this is the thing that has jumped out at me in recent years. (And that’s another thing I love about reading these stories. You can read them a thousand times, and then the next time, something new hits you!) Well, what jumped out at me, and I think this is very significant, is that Jesus made this a three-person story. He added the “middle man.” He added the steward who was entrusted with just some of the master’s money. That means that he was entrusted with less than the first man.
Now think about that. The second person in this story – this middle man – could have taken on the attitude of “Why me?” “What do you have against me?” “Why does this other guy get more?” That’s an attitude of jealousy, isn’t it? Perhaps even more, it’s one of “envy.” And remember, the Church has historically considered “envy” to be one of the “Seven Deadly Sins!”
So, this second steward could have taken an envious attitude. He could also have taken on a “defeatist” attitude. “I always get the short end of the stick!” “This is ‘par for the course!’” “Woe is me!” That happens to people, too. Doesn’t it? And I think that’s even worse! Because I think that attitude can easily make us forget about the third man in the story, the one who had even less! And there are always people worse off than us! Aren’t there? But we can get caught up in our feelings about why we have less than others – and forget those who have none!
I believe one of the things Jesus was saying here is that life isn’t always fair. Some people have more than others. The evil seem to prosper, while the good are lacking. That happens! And Jesus is trying to get us to see the importance of having peace and joy, no matter what the circumstances. And you’ve heard me say that many times! And it isn’t easy! Paul said, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.” And what’s the secret? “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Well, that same Jesus who strengthens us is telling us about this middle man. And I think he’s the most complex of these three people. In fact, he may even be the focus of this story! And I believe the middle man… is us! We are not a poor church, just like we are not poor people. And we’re not rich. We’re somewhere in the middle. And it’s easy for us “middle people” to have either of those attitudes I just described. We could have the “envious” attitude. “Why do other people, why do other churches, have more than us!” Or we could have the “defeatist” attitude. “We always get the short end of the stick.” “O woe is us!”
The great part of this story – again, the way Jesus told it – is that this middle man didn’t do either of those things. Jesus tells us that when the Master returned and approached the three stewards, this middle man said, “Master! I took what you gave me, and look what I did with it!” And notice! He didn’t say, “Master, you gave me less than that other guy, but still, I did something with it!” No! His attitude was separate from any feelings he might have had about having less than the first man. He didn’t feel envy or defeatist. He was proud of what he had done, and he was excited about what he was able to present to the master! Do you see? He didn’t let “envy” about having less, or “defeatism” about always being worse off, affect his attitude in any way – at least the way Jesus told this story.
So of course, you can see the question that’s coming! What about us? Are we able to take whatever gifts God has given us, and be proud of using them for his kingdom? Are we able to be excited about it – no matter how big a part we might have. Can we do this as individuals, as we think about our pledges for 2020? And can we, as a Church, be excited about what we’re doing here together, even though we know there are bigger Churches?
It’s my hope that we can! Because that’s the kind of stewards God wants in his kingdom! If you really think about it, he has given us so much. If indeed we “count our blessings,” and maybe even “name them one by one,” as the old song says, we will truly “be surprised at what the Lord has done!”
That’s being good stewards. Because in the end, the last thing we need to remember here, is what we will sing in the last hymn. “We give thee but thine own. What e’er the gift may be, all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”
No matter what we have, no matter how much we have – or don’t have, it’s all from God in the first place! In the end, we do have abundance, because God’s kingdom is one of abundance! And we are part of his kingdom. And to him be all glory, honor, and majesty! Amen!
Eternal God, we know you have blessed us in so many ways. Help us to see your hand in our lives. Help us not to miss those things you are doing in our midst. Help us to be amazed by your Grace, aglow with your Spirit, and excited about your kingdom. For these things we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.