Matthew 25:14-30 (New International Version)
The Parable of the Talents
14″Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19″After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22″The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24″Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26″His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28″ ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
We have arrived! We have arrived at the last core conviction laid out by Stuart Murray in his book, “The Naked Anabaptist” (really it is his sixth conviction, but I did them out of order). Over the last eight weeks we have been challenged to see Jesus in a different way, to follow Jesus in our every day life, to love God, and to love our neighbors, even if they are also our enemies. So without further ado, here is the final core conviction:
Spirituality and economics are interconnected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.
Matthew 6:21 puts it about as good as is possible. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Spirituality and economics are inseparable. How you view your religion will affect your checkbook. If you believe that Jesus came to the earth to save you so that you can have a relationship with him and go to heaven when you die, you are probably going to spend “your” money so you can get the most “stuff” that is going to make you “happy”. But if you believe that God has blessed you to be a blessing to others, than you are going to spend the money that God has entrusted you with differently.
Our scripture for this morning is the parable of the talents. The Greek word that we translate as talent literally means a scale or a balance. The talent was a weight, not a value. So it would be like saying I’m going to give you five pounds, not five dollars. And not pounds in the British wayJ. So we really can’t say exactly how much the talents from this parable would have amounted to because we don’t know what the talents were made of. Gold talents would have been worth more than silver, silver more than tin. I have seen estimates that make me feel safe to say that this was a lot more money than most people in the first century would have been used to handling on a daily basis and probably more than most people would see in a lifetime.
Okay, now to the parable. A master of some sort was going to go on a journey. So he picked three people to watch after some of his money. To one servant he gave five talents, to another he gave two, and to the third he gave one talent. The text specifies that these talents were and will continue to be the property of the master. He is simply putting the others in charge of the talents as his stewards. A steward is someone that takes care of someone’s valuables for them.
So the master goes off on his journey and the stewards do “something” with the money that was put in their possession. Of course the text does not say what they do with the talents, but after seeing the results of the first two stewards, we can assume that they did not invest it in the stock market or buy real estate. After a long time, the master returns and he wants to see what the stewards have done with what they have been entrusted. The first two guys have doubled the money and they are put in charge of even more. The third guy, the one who was only given one talent, buries the talent just to make sure that he doesn’t lose it. His reason for doing this? He was worried about what the master would do to him if he lost it.
I think that this is a fair question, one which the Bible does not answer. What would the master have preferred? Would he rather that the servant simply bury the talent that has been entrusted to him to make sure that he doesn’t lose it, or would the master rather he make an effort to use what he had been entrusted with for the glory of God and fail? Though he never comes right out and says it, I think that the implied message of this parable is that the master would rather we try and fail than to never make any effort at all.
So who is the master in this parable? I hope that you all guessed God. And as I pointed out, Jesus notes that the talents that the master is giving out are his talents. What we have is not our own. Everything that we have is God’s. We would have nothing if God hadn’t first made it and put us in charge of it all.
The second point that I think we can lift out of this parable is that God doesn’t give out talents equally. God gives out talents according to peoples’…well, talents. When the master in the parable first distributes the talents, he gives them out according to the individual’s skills, or abilities (v. 15). Where did these skills and abilities come from? From God. So which came first, the talents or the talents? Sounds like another case of the rich getting richer???
I think that as we read on we can see that the talents are distributed at an increasing level based on the servants’ faithfulness. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many.” But not everyone receives the same amount of talents.
So what are “talents” in our world today? The Greek word that we translate as talent is where we get the English word talent from. That should be the easiest Greek lesson you ever receive. You might see a talent show on t.v. where people showcase their abilities. Music, dance, juggling, you name it and there are going to be people that claim to be really, really good at it. Now just because it is a talent doesn’t mean that these people don’t work to get their talent to the point that they have it. Even the most talented musician has to practice. I picture a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sitting behind his piano at age eight, complaining to his mother because he would rather be out making mud pies. And I am just sure that his mother called him Wolfy, and she had to tell him “Not until you finish your first symphony, Wolfy.” But it starts with a gifting from God. What you do with it is how you use your talent. Are you going to grow, expand, maybe even double your talent? Or are you going to bury it so as not to lose it?
Why does God care about how we use our talents? Well, God gave them to us. We are stewards of something that God has gifted to us. We call it stewardship, and it is a reference to how we spend, not only our money, but our time, relationships, health, creation, and talents. How we use the things that God has given to us is stewardship; it is our gift back to God.
It has been noted before that some people consider me to be cheap. I prefer to give it a different name. I would say that I am a good steward of money. Actually, it would probably be accurate to say that I am both cheap and a good steward of money, though not always at the same time, because just being cheap doesn’t make you a good steward of money. I’ll give you an example and you can tell me which I am being.
I wear contacts. My vision is terrible and I can’t see a fly on the end of my nose if I don’t have my glasses on or contacts in. Now if you wear contacts, you probably know that the contacts that are available today are usually disposable. You wear them for a few days, a few weeks, or a month, depending on the manufacture’s recommendation, and then you throw them away. Mine are monthly contacts.
I got a card from my eye doctor this past week telling me that it is time for my annual check-up. It will soon be one year since I was to see the eye doctor last. And at my last visit, the eye doctor gave me a free set of trial contacts because he wanted me to come back in a week to see how they were with my eyes. That is pretty normal. Then I went back to the eye doctor and he saw that they were a good fit for my eyes, so he ordered six more for each eye for me, or six months worth of contacts.
So I got the card in the mail that said it was time for my one-year check-up, and it made me think, “How many of those original six contacts have I used thus far?” Being a monthly contact, they should have all been used soon after Christmas. How many do you think were still in my medicine cabinet? Six…for each eye. I am still wearing that free trial pair of contacts that the eye doctor gave to me one year ago.
I actually thought about quickly trying to order another box of six contacts for each eye before my one-year had passed because you need to get a new prescription every 12 months to order prescription contacts. But then I realized that this would give me 12 years of inventory of contacts. So I decided against this.
Is this good stewardship or just being cheap? I would probably argue for the latter. I would say that this is actually poor stewardship because it might actually cost more in the long run if I come down with a serious eye infection.
But I do believe that to be a good steward of money means that we are to live on less money than we make. Our society is addicted to credit. We max out our credit cards and only pay the minimum balance, or transfer our balance to a different card. We take out home equity lines of credit and put the security of our family’s dwelling place in jeopardy. All so we can buy more stuff. I believe that we really should be going the opposite way with it. Rather than maxing out all of our sources of credit so that we can have more stuff, I think we should have less stuff so we can have more money to save and probably more time to spend with family and friends. Now I am not saying that it is never appropriate to use credit. I have a few mortgages myself, as well as college debts. But these were investments that should pay off in the long run. A Christian should be living below their means, meaning you should be spending less than you make each month.
A good place to start is to say that you are going to try to live on 90% of your monthly income. Where do I get that number? Leviticus 27:30. Leviticus 27:30 says that 10% of everything from the land belongs to the Lord. Now I don’t think that means that you need to give 10% of your money to the church. I really get tired of hearing pastors tell their congregations that they need to be giving more money to the church. I think most of us, myself included, need to be giving more money to the Lord. But that does not mean that you have to give it to Staunton Mennonite.
If you want to give your tithe to some other ministry that you want to support, do it. I do. I give elsewhere. If you don’t think that Staunton Mennonite is not doing a good job with the money that we receive here, then I think you shouldn’t give your tithe to this church. That would be bad stewardship.
I remember walking home after class one day in college and a man asked me if I could give him some money. For some reason I was bold and I asked him what he was going to buy with the money. And he told me, “I’ll be honest with you. I’m going to use it to buy beer.” It would have been poor stewardship for me to give him money if I thought he wasn’t going to use it wisely. And I hadn’t had anything to drink that I didn’t have to turn the faucet for for some time.
So if you don’t think we are doing a good job with money here at Staunton Mennonite, give somewhere else. If you do think that we are doing something right, please help support our ministry. It is just that easy.
Now there is no hard and fast rule in the New Testament that says that you must tithe 10%, so I only use it as a reference point. But the New Testament is full of scriptures that tell us to give generously, even to give to everyone that asks of us. I don’t think that is Jesus’ way of saying that we need to send money to everyone that sends us a request for money in the mail, but it is a call to live more generously.
I also encourage you to look at where the things that you are buying are coming from. I try to buy fairly traded coffee, where I know that the grower received a good price for his/her crop. My wife loves to buy crafts and jewelry from Ten Thousand Villages, where the artisans also receive a fair wage. Yes, these things might cost more, to us. But I believe that it is good stewardship if we know that someone else, someone really in need, is benefitting from it.
Stewardship isn’t just about saving money. Stewardship is about using what God has given to us wisely, which includes money. I am a fan of the MMA Stewardship Circle, which shows the way that multiple components of stewardship are all connected by our faith. How we spend time, how we spend money, how we view our relationships with others, how we use the talents that God has given to us, how we treat the earth that God has given to us, and how we treat other people that God has put on this earth are all faith issues.
Anabaptists have always had a connection with the earth, a connection with the land. I think that it is a bit of a stretch to say that Mennonites have always been pioneers in creation care, but because of the agricultural history involved in living simply, many Anabaptist have been environmentalists without even knowing it.
During the early 20th century, there were many “advancements” in agricultural practices that allowed acre after acre to be plowed and planted in consumable crops such as corn and wheat. But these practices sometimes develop additional problems, such as was the case in Oklahoma in the 1930’s. Excessive plowing, lack of crop rotation, and drought conditions led to what is commonly referred to as the Dust Bowl. Wind storms could pick up the dry soil and cause a sandblasting effect to homes, cars, animals, and people. Not only that, the topsoil was being removed from the land making growing crops in the future a less productive endeavor.
Our technology tends to develop faster than it should, in my opinion. We can figure out how to plow fields, but we don’t figure out how to control the dust until it is too late. We can figure out how to drill oil in the Gulf of Mexico, but we don’t figure out how to plug a leak until it is too late. I wonder some times if as stewards of all that God has given to us, maybe we should become better stewards of our time and slow down to think what the repercussions of our actions might be.
Farmers have since learned to practice no-till planting, crop rotation, and various other practices that help to preserve the good earth that we have been called to care for. And thankfully, BP seems to have been able to stop the leaking wells in the Gulf.
My friends, we are only stewards. Just as Jesus specified in his parable that the talents that were given to the servants were still the master’s talents, all that we have still belongs to God. Even our bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Let’s work together to be good stewards of all that God has given to us. Because all that God has given to us is only ours to borrow. And one day I hope to hear the master tell me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”