Pentecost 24 – Series A – Proper 28 (November 19, 2017)
"Trust in the Character of Your Master and the Power of His Talents" (Matthew 25:14-30)
These last few Sundays of the Church Year we consider the End Times, the Final Judgment, and the glorious visible return of our Lord Jesus.
Last week we heard the Parable of the Ten Virgins. That parable teaches us that we should be ready for the return of Jesus, because it could be at any moment … and probably when we least expect it.
This week we hear the Parable of the Talents. This parable answers for us the question, “What should we do until Jesus returns?” You might assume the answer is “Get to work. Don’t just sit there and wait for Jesus. Do something in his service.” But there’s certainly more to it than that. We learn here that we can trust the character of our Master, and that we can trust in the power of his gifts to bring a return.
The Master in the parable is Jesus himself. The journey he has taken is his Ascension into heaven. We are his servants, those who have been entrusted with creation and are expected to be good stewards of all that God has given us. And he distributes talents. “Talents on loan from God,” to paraphrase a famous radio talk show host. He places things of value in your hands.
Now, in the parable, a talent is a measure of weight. In today’s currency, one talent of silver would be equal to about $16,500. One talent of gold would be worth $1.25 million. So, the fact that the master gives his servants five, two, and one talents each is a pretty big deal. We’re talking a small fortune.
The idea of “talents” as special abilities is derived from this parable. The gifts and abilities that we have can be either natural or honed by hard work … sometimes both. Either way, we should still consider them as gifts from God. And God wants us to use them in his service.
Talents are distributed “to each according to his ability.” Everyone has different gifts, different skills, different abilities. God gives talents even to those who do not believe in him. God uses everyone in their various vocations to serve their neighbor. And it’s important to remember the words of Isaiah the prophet: “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Is. 64:8). And St. Paul writes in Romans 9, “Will what is molded say to its maker, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20). Our temptation is to always compare ourselves to others … and be envious. And let’s be honest … there are some people that simply seem to be loaded with talent and who shine beyond the rest of the crowd. Yet so many others live in quiet obscurity with few talents. But that doesn’t mean that they are any less valuable to God. We have no right to question “why that person seems to be more gifted than me.” God will use you exactly as he wants to use you in his time and in his wisdom. The tender care and compassion of a mother at home is just as important as the shrewd business leader who knows how to make millions of dollars and provide jobs for hundreds of people so they can make a decent living and provide for their families.
Before Martin Luther was hidden at the Wartburg Castle after the Diet of Worms labelled him an outlaw, there was another famous resident of the castle whom we commemorate today, Elizabeth of Hungary. You might say her talent was “hospitality” in the way she welcomed and cared for people mired in poverty or disease. Elizabeth was born in 1207 in Hungary and was betrothed at the age of four to Ludwig, the son of a German nobleman. From that point on, she was taken to the Wartburg Castle and raised with her future husband. They were married in 1221 and Elizabeth soon displayed her talents for caring for others in the name of Jesus. She founded two hospitals, one at the foot of the steep rock where the Wartburg was built, regularly tending to the patients herself and giving money for the care of children, especially orphans left without parents due to the plagues that ravaged the land in those days. When she was 20, her husband Ludwig died of the plague while on a journey to join a crusade. Her husband’s brother treated her poorly, forcing her to send away her three children. Elizabeth made arrangements for the care of her young children, left the castle, and lived as a nun in Marburg where she continued to serve in a hospice for the sick, the aging, and the poor. Four years later, she herself died of ill health but her memory lives on in the names of numerous hospitals around the world named after her where many people use their various gifts and talents in service to the sick and the dying.
Trust in the character of your Master, your God who distributes talents. Don’t assume he is a “hard man” as the third servant did. “I knew you to be a hard man,” he said to his master, who seemed to be insulted that the servant thought this way about him. He assumed the master was judgmental. He was afraid of him. He dug up the talent he had buried and said, “Here you have what is yours” … sounds rather defiant, don’t you think? And the master calls him “wicked” and “slothful.” Wicked because he didn’t trust in the master’s good intentions. Slothful because apparently he was afraid of failure so he didn’t even try to succeed.
Is this the way you see God? As a “hard man”? Judgmental. Vengeful. Are you afraid of him? Or do you see him as a God who is complacent? As a God who doesn’t care one way or the other what we do while we wait for Jesus to return, and therefore you have grown complacent? Do you think that what you do while you wait – either good or bad – does not matter? That’s what some of the people in Zephaniah’s day were saying. Zephaniah prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the Day of the Lord that would be a small version of the great and final Day of the Lord. The Lord said through the prophet, “I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill’” (Zeph. 1:12).
If that’s the way you see God … as judgmental and vengeful … then that is exactly what he will be for you. You will bring judgment upon yourself, if that is the case. And the day when Jesus returns will then certainly be for you “A day of wrath … a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and destruction, a day of darkness and gloom” as the prophet Zephaniah declared (Zeph. 1:15).
Instead, trust in the character of your Master as he has revealed himself to you in Christ Jesus. Trust in his giving nature. He is not a complacent God. He cared enough to act on your behalf to save you. God the Father gave his Son to die for you. Jesus willingly gave his life for you. Your sins have been judged at the cross … your sins of slothfulness, laziness, your sins of not using your talents in God’s service, your sins of withholding your gold and silver from the Lord in your offerings. Your Master forgives you. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8). That’s David in Psalm 103. Now hear St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10).
Trust in the character of your Master. And trust in the power of his gifts to bring a return ... to achieve something in God's kingdom, to be of service to your neighbor. You had nothing to begin with. God distributes gifts and talents and abilities according to his will. Some come naturally. Others need to be honed, practiced, even with sweat and tears. But all are from his creative hands, his hands that are working behind the scenes in all that we do.
So don’t hide away your talents. Invest them. Put them to use in God’s kingdom … the money that you have … the abilities you have … and your greatest talent … your greatest gift … the Good News of Jesus. The Good News that Jesus is the Savior of the world, that he died to forgive our sins, rose in victory over death, and will return to share his victory with us when he raises us on the Last Day. Don’t bury that news or hide it away. It pays eternal dividends.
Today’s Gospel ends on a tragic note. “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It’s one of those texts that is read and the congregation awkwardly responds, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” Some dude getting cast into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth doesn’t sound all that “Gospelly.” But it is a reminder to us that for “the one who has not,” that is, the one who has no faith in the Master or the power of his gifts, everything will be taken away from him. There will be only eternal darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. The isolation and sadness and pain of being separated from God and his love forever is not something to be taken lightly.
But “to everyone who has,” that is, to everyone who has faith in the Master and the power of his gifts to work for his Kingdom, there will be an abundance of eternal light, laughter, and lips that laud the Lamb of God around his throne. For those who trust in Christ, they will be welcomed with those blessed words, “Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your master.”