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Read Matthew 25:14-30
I am a fan of books, both non-fiction and fiction. Do you know why those kinds of writers are better than poets? They’re prose.
Thomas Jefferson also loved books. He had almost 6500. In 1814, when the British raided the Library of Congress, Jefferson offered his books to replenish the library. Wasn’t that nice? Not everything he did was so nice, so maybe you’re not a fan of Jefferson.
I’m a fan of THIS Thomas Jefferson. (picture below) Daveed Diggs won a Grammy and a Tony for his role in the musical Hamilton.
Thomas Jefferson made his own version of the Bible. He only included the parts he liked. I dug it out this week to see whether Jefferson included today’s parable. Turns out Jefferson did, but if I were to make my own Bible like Jefferson, I think I might leave this parable out. Today will be the first time I have preached about it, because this parable makes me uncomfortable.
What about you? Are you a fan of this parable?
The biggest reason I’m uncomfortable with this parable is that it talks about money. That’s never been my best subject, and it’s awkward for many people. I think generally the more money you have, the more you’re comfortable talking about it. As my own financial situation has improved, I have become more comfortable with conversations about money, but it’s still not my favorite subject.
There are a couple of different ways to look at this parable. The most obvious is to take it at face value. Literally about money. The master gives some to the servants, and two of them invest it well, and one of them just hides it in a hole in the ground. The master is happy with the results of the ones who invested, and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The other servant gets chastised and tossed out on his ear.
Putting money in a hole in the ground sounds kind of silly to us now, but that’s what people commonly did in those days. It was the safest way to keep money. Investments are risky. Banks weren’t a thing yet. If you didn’t have enough to take the chance on losing it, then a hole in the ground was the way to go.
But if this parable is just about money, then we are justified in celebrating those who have lots of money and are good at multiplying their money, and we are also justified in despising the poor, and blaming them for their own trouble. After all, at the end of this parable, the poor man who buried his money has it taken away from him, and he is cast out into darkness.
Are we only worth as much as the money we make? If so, what about those who are no longer working, or who are differently abled? Are they worthless?
Of course not. But we need to acknowledge that an outsider looking in at our society might think that this is how we read this parable, and that money is what matters most.
There is another way to look at this parable – that the money is figurative for something else. It is no coincidence that our English word “talent” that means gifts and abilities comes from the Greek word “talenton.” Talent is people. Recruiters find talent for businesses and sports teams, because teams and businesses are only as good as their talent, their people.
The other way we hear this parable told is that it’s about our gifts and abilities. That meaning shows up in the etymology of this word, tracing it back to the 13th century. During that time, allegorical and figurative interpretations of scripture became the standard for preaching.
But I think that this is about more than money and more than gifts and abilities.
Maybe it’s about faith. And being willing to trust God enough to use our faith…
- in the decisions we make,
- in the answers we give when called to serve, and
- in the opportunities we take to help people.
Trusting God for the future is investing for the future. Investing money is just one of many ways that we do this.
Several weeks ago, I had the honor of leading a graveside service for Rev. Earl Estill, a retired Presbyterian pastor and Sterling College alumni. He had chosen this scripture to be read at his service. This surprised me and made me think differently about this scripture. I wish I had asked Earl more about why he chose it, but I can guess that it was because he hoped to hear these words upon meeting God face to face at the end of his life. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and enter the joy of your rest.”
Just as Earl was thinking about the future when he chose that scripture for his graveside service, Jesus was thinking about the future when he told this parable. It is a part of a series of parables and teaching that Jesus is giving the disciples while they are together on the Mount of Olives. They have asked when the end times will happen. Jesus tells them that no one knows when, but be prepared so that you are ready whenever this happens.
- Be ready by making the best use of what you have been given.
- Be ready by being engaged in the work of building God’s kingdom.
- Be ready by investing in the future. Be ready by living in faith.
You might already know that our church has investments. There were a couple of generous church members years ago who left money in their wills to help with the mission of the church. Most notably, Anna Smisor Smith, of the same Smisor family whose name is on the football stadium at Sterling College. Our operations ministry team is charged with overseeing the ways that money is invested. Over this past year, one of the team, Bill Teller, has been monitoring investment options and the committee will be recommending some changes to session so that we are getting a better return on our investments. This is exactly like the servants in the parable.
Several years ago, this church made an investment in the future and stepped out in faith to become the home of the Lil Cubs Daycare. Your investment has provided accessible childcare, as well as jobs, both of which are desperately needed in our area. Though you may not know their names and faces, many lives have been affected by this investment. It took the investment of money, but the bigger investment was in the faith it took to say yes to God’s call to use our resources in this way.
Maybe this parable is about investing in people. Two of our members, Arn and Carol Froese, have done this with their friend in Honduras, Manuel. Arn and Carol met Manuel when he was 13 years old trying to earn money from tourists. Arn tells the story of how Manuel asked Arn to buy him a shirt. He says:
In one store, Manuel planted bait and I took it! He started looking at T-shirts his size, and after putting a few in front of his chest, he looked at me and said, “Buy me a shirt?” The gall! I hadn’t asked for a walking tour of the shops! I didn’t object to him following, but now he expected something?
“How many shirts do you have?” I asked a little sarcastically.
“Three,” he said immediately. His penetrating gaze grabbed my eyes and after a brief pause he continued. “How many do you have?”
Snap! There went the trap. He knew I didn’t know. And he knew the reason I didn’t know was because I had so many!–Arnold Froese
Arn did buy Manuel a shirt that day, and they grew to be friends. And partners in ministry, as Arn and Carol sent Manuel money that he then used to help others in his community. And now our church, through our special offerings, have also become partners in ministry with Manuel. Investing in the future by investing in people.
This can happen in surprising ways. In seminary, we learned about the history of the church, going all the way back to the first century. We tend to imagine the early Christian church as idyllic and beautiful because of the description in Acts 2:
46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity[— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
But many of the letters in the New Testament were written to encourage Christians who were experiencing severe persecution. The Emperor Nero is famous for this, but there were many emperors in those early years who actively persecuted Christians. What was surprising to me, though, was that this was also a time of incredible growth for the church.
We might expect the opposite. But since they could not gather safely in their usual times and places, and in fact many had to flee for their lives, these early Christians went to new places and engaged with new people. They truly became the church sent out into the world.
Some have described the church in this time of COVID-19 in the same way, as the church sent out. What we used to do hidden inside buildings is now visible to the world on the internet. We have people watching who would likely never come inside our building. We’ve learned to be more creative and intentional about how we engage with one another and with our community. With God’s help, and by continuing to step out in faith, we will grow in our ability to trust God and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to impact more people.
We do not know what the future looks like, and neither did those who went before us. In Hebrews 11, there is a summary of the heroes of faith, people like Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Rahab, and many others. “refusing to turn from God [despite persecution] . . . they placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection” (v35).
The end of chapter 11 says: “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” –Hebrews 11:39-40 MSG
Our faith is not just about us. We are a part of God’s great love story that began at the creation of the world and goes on into eternity. How might we invest that faith to add our part to God’s story?
What else do we have that is useless if we keep it to ourselves, but is multiplied when we share it? Kindness? Grace? Love?
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, he tells us that Jesus says that we are like a city on a hill, or a lamp.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.-Matthew 5:14-15
Maybe another way to think of the parable of the talents is that it is about the light that we have through faith in Jesus Christ. A light that is hidden doesn’t do much good for anyone, but a light that is shared can help all who see it. Everything we have comes from God and has the potential to be used to help others.
What do we have to share that we are keeping hidden?
How can we use it to help others and invest in the future?
 Arnold Froese, “They Called Him Manny”