Proper 28, Year A, RCL, Track 1
Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30
Grace abounds in the kingdom of God whether it is here on Earth or beyond the pearly gates. The master tells two of his servants, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” When we hear the word talent, we often think of a person’s personal ability such as time, talent, and treasure. In the Bible, and especially in today’s parable, the talent being spoken about is not our personal attributes. This parable is talking about treasure or money. We are given the impression that a talent was something rather small for the master says I have trusted you with a few things. This is not the reality for a talent was worth a lot of money; 73 lbs. of gold.(1)
In the day when this passage was written, a talent of gold would be worth 25 years of an average person’s wages. This isn’t very different from today. Over time we find that the value of Gold hasn’t changed that much. In today’s market 73 lbs. of gold, a talent, is worth a little more than 1.3 million dollars. Based on the US median income for an individual this is about 30 years of income.(2)(3) A talent was a round blob of gold which may have even had a handle sticking out of it to help you move it around. It could also have been the total amount of coins equaling 73 lbs. of gold. Defiantly not something that would fit in one hand.
Back in the day, landowners would entrust some of their servants to manage their property while they were gone. In this case, the master gives one servant 6.7 million dollars and other 2.7 million and the last 1.3. We have to realize that there is a lot of trust here and I think few people of our times would trust a non-family member with their life savings even if its value was much less than one talent of gold. We see that trust is a large part of this parable; probably even larger than money. And, as we know, trust goes both ways.
After a long time, the master comes back. We find that two of the servants traded with these talents and doubled the master’s money. I think it is fair to assume that trading back then was no safer than trading today, and to double your money meant you were probably trading in ways that involved risk. But these two men did well and the master tells each of them “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
What great affirmation these two people received. This is exactly the affirmation we want. We want to be trusted and to receive joy and love from those we respect. We desire this affirmation not only from the people we know but from God. We want to know that God trusts us and welcomes us into his joy. These two servants know their master and they seem to trust him as much as the master trusts them. They were trusted with a phenomenal amount of money and instead of being fearful of the responsibility they take it on; knowing that their master doesn’t want them to play it safe.
Playing it safe is exactly what the third servant did. The servant hid the money, hardly even touching it. He returned the money to the master the same way he received it. As we know, the master was not happy about this at all. This third servant demonstrates that when the master entrusts us with something we cannot play it safe, we have to take risk. This is where we see that the servants also have much trust in their master.
I believe that the servant who buried the talent didn’t trust his master and he was living in fear. This servant speaks in the past tense “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man. . .so I was afraid.” In this fear he was not willing to take a risk with the gift he was given. I wonder if he now realizes that he didn’t need to fear the master so much and his opinion of the master, at least for a moment, changed. Possibly this is why he is speaking in the past tense. He saw that the others were risky and they were praised. If one of the servants who took a risk with the talent lost money instead of gaining; I wonder if the master would have dealt with them as harshly as the servant who just played it safe. I think the master would still have been happy with the servant for he was using the gift instead of just burying it and not even trying. We can think of a successful businessman in our era. They don’t always come out ahead in every venture they try. They understand that without risk they will remain stagnant.
We know that this story is a parable. It is meant to illustrate ideas that cannot be found by taking it literally. We know that we are talking about the kingdom of heaven for where else can you be thrown “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” We understand that God is the master but we also know that God doesn’t usually give us a bunch of gold to take care of. The gifts that God usually give us are the other types of talents; the ones we use throughout our lives. The English word “talent,” meaning natural endowment or what we Christians call divine gift, actually comes directly from this parable.(4)
Each of us has been given a gift or talent. As we see in this parable, the majority of us even have more than one. I’m sure we all know people who are talented in many ways and I hope that we recognize at least one talent within ourselves. If not, just ask one of your friends and I’m sure they can help you find at least one gift within yourself. Since each of us has a gift from God we are to use them for God’s benefit. After all, we are God’s people and we are to be risky with these gifts.
A while back there was a lady. Her name was Ellen and she joined the church choir. Ellen was very timid and frankly didn’t sing well. She didn’t even seem to enjoy the choir and at the time I couldn’t understand why she even joined it. Ellen was clearly stepping out of her comfort zone. Over time her timidness faded away and her voice became beautiful. This transformation came from Ellen losing her fear and the gentle encouragement of the choirmasters. I would suspect that there was a point when Ellen didn’t know she had a gift for singing. Yet for whatever reason, she had a desire to sing. Ellen took a risk in which there was no guarantee that she would reap a reward.
Ministry in a church is very much the same way. People join together with new ideas to serve God and his people. A homeless ministry, a new Sunday school program; whatever the ministry is, each of these people have gifts that they contribute to the ministry. People not only contribute talent but their time and treasure. The parish itself often contributes to the ministry out of its resources. What we also find is that a new ministry often fails. Some people walk away very discouraged. Others may be afraid to try again. While others yet think the whole thing was a waste of time and money. Through this parable, I would say we should not look at it as a failure. The people tried to serve God’s people but for whatever reason, the ministry didn’t work out. People can learn from this experience. It may be a way for them to discover what the needs of their community are. When we follow the Lord there is no guarantee of “success.” It is inherently risky much as Ellen who took a risk in joining the choir.
We are called to be bold and take risk; not foolish risk but risk none-the-less to serve God. If we bury our treasure, if we hide our head in the sand, if we do not use our talent to our fullest ability, then there is no risk and little if any chance to be fruitful. There is also little chance that we are truly following God’s intent for us. This risk involves action; the same action that we hear at the end of each Sunday service. We are told to go. Go in peace, Go in love, Go into the world. Go and serve the Lord.(5) Without action, without going, we are sitting idly by much as the third servant did in today’s parable.
1) Likely 33kg of gold
2) 1 talent = (33kg/~73lb) * (current gold price ~$41,075/kg) = (~$1,355,475) / ( 2016 Median wage in the US $44,148) = ~30 years wage
4) Under: Origin and Etymology https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/talent
5) BCP 366