By The Rev. Sherry Deets

22 Pentecost – November 13, 2011

Matthew 25:14-30

Our gospel reading this morning is usually called the Parable of the Talents. The parable is about a wealthy man who goes away on a long journey. Before he departs, he distributes his property to three servants. It is a great deal of money. The first two servants put their money to work and double it. The third servant takes a different approach with his money, his one talent. He digs a hole in the ground and puts all the money in the hold for safekeeping.

First, let’s be clear: He didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, knowing what we know about Jewish law in Jesus’ day, he did the most prudent thing he could do – he buried it in the ground. In Jesus’ day, if someone gave you money to hold in trust, that was your safest bet. Then, if it were stolen, you wouldn’t be held accountable; you wouldn’t be liable.

So, when the landowner gave him the one talent, he did what any trustworthy and responsible servant might be expected to do: He buried it for safe keeping. As my friend, Mark Fisher, told me, “He did what was culturally acceptable.”

Let’s also be clear: We’re not talking about loose change here. At $6.50 an hour by today’s standards, one talent equals about $300,000. For a servant who probably didn’t have a penny to his name, that’s a lot of money. And, while they did have banks back then, they didn’t have the FDIC to insure the money if the bank failed.

So, if he didn’t do anything wrong; if he acted responsibly in keeping with the custom of his day, what’s the problem?

I cannot help but wonder how it would have turned out if the first two servants had put the money in their high-risk venture and lost it all. Jesus didn’t tell it that way, but I can’t imagine that the master would not have been harsh toward them and might have even applauded their efforts. The point here is not really about doubling your money and accumulating wealth. It is about living. It is about investing. It is about taking risks. It is about Jesus himself and what he has done and what is about to happen to him. Mostly it is about what he hopes and expects of them after he is gone.

The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently.

The parable is not about money or ability so much as it is about trust. The master trusts his servants and acts on this trust. The servants — or rather two of them — return the favor by acting out of trust rather than fear, and they come back to their master with one fortune stacked on top of another.

The third servant paints an ugly picture of a grasping master who demands success. What this servant gets for his trouble is exactly the rejection he fears. He’s a small-minded man who insists that his master is just as small-minded.

The other two servants, instead, recognize generosity when they see it. The piles of money thrust their way reveal a guy who’s pretty generous, who takes a risk, who accepts them, even honors them. Finding themselves at the receiving end of such outrageous trust, they feel empowered, and are willing to take risks of their own. The love their master has shown them overcomes their fear of failure. They realize that any master who treats his money managers in this open-handed way is more interested in them than in turning a profit.

This brief story about a master and his three servants turns upside down the standards of the world. It announces that the worst thing that can happen to us is not failure. The worst thing that can happen is that we make God out to be a horrible old grouch who rejects us when we fail.

The story tells us that the worst thing is not losing out. The worst thing is never risking. In the eyes of God, the fear that keeps a treasure in the ground is an act of atheism. The freedom that puts that treasure at risk — and may even result in its loss — that is an act of faith.

We can learn from our failures, and often it is failure that provides the most indelible lessons. But fear teaches us nothing — until we leave it behind.

There are lots of things – both real and imagined – to be afraid of. The question is what are you afraid of? Naming your fears is the first step to overcoming them. And the second step is turning them over to God. When we do, the question shifts in emphasis, so that it’s no longer a matter of asking, “What are you afraid of?” but rather, “What are you afraid of?”

The point is, with God on our side, we have nothing to fear. We’re free to live without worrying about failing, falling or fumbling the ball because we have the assurance of God’s sustaining grace and love.

  • Jesus told the parents of a deathly ill child, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)
  • He told his disciples out on the stormy sea, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” (John 6:20)
  • In the Old Testament, Moses told the children of Israel, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:8)

The picture of God in this parable is a picture of a God who loves us so much that God will come in the person of Jesus and take on our lot and our life, sharing our hopes and dreams, fears and failures. A God who wants us to know of God’s love enough that God will finally die on the cross that we might have life and have it abundantly. May we truly live that life. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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