When Jesus told this story, he was in the middle of his own high-risk venture. He’s left Galilee for Jerusalem where in just a few days he will be executed on a Roman cross. So they don’t lose hope, Jesus tells his disciples a series of eschatological parables; stories that will prepare them for what is to come.
Last week it was about Ten Bridesmaids. Today, it’s Three Men and their Talents. When our modern ears hear the word talent, we often think of someone who has a skill or certain ability. My wife is a talented singer. Or my son has a talent for getting out of trouble.
But in 1st Century Palestine, a talent was something different. Back then, it was a large sum of money; roughly 15 year’s worth of wages for the average laborer. For someone to give these men even one talent would mean they were entrusting them with a huge fortune.
The parable isn’t about money or ability. It’s about something even more important. It’s about trust.
The master trusts his investments with these men. And does so without giving them any instructions on what to do with it. The first guy takes it and invests in a high-risk venture. The second dumps it into the stock market. Both men do very well; doubling their master’s money.
The third guy takes a very different approach. Instead of taking a risk he buried the money in the ground, a common security measure in ancient times. Given the volatility of the market these days, and the way this pandemic is affecting the economy it might seem like a wise investment plan. But that’s not the reason he gives. Instead he confesses he was afraid of the master. Because he had zero trust in the one who trusted him, he took zero financial risk. And as a result got nothing in return.
Again, this parable isn’t about money or one’s ability to acquire wealth. It’s about trusting God who first trusted us. To be prepared for Christ to return, we need to trust God by doing God’s will.
That’s what the first two do. They take a chance in their faith and as a result they both receive the same praise. And the same invitation: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant…enter into the joy of your master.” To be fair, I think the master would have responded just the same had they risked it all and come back empty handed. After all, he doesn’t commend them for their profits, but their faithfulness.
The master made it clear that he would have accepted anything – even the measly interest you get at the bank – had the intent had been motivated by faith rather than fear. This is a good lesson for us all. Fear has no value, other than it drives us to our downfall like it did to this man. As someone once said, “The God we face is the one we imagine.”
Faith on the other hand is invaluable. In giving his fortune to these three men, the master reveals his faith, and trustworthiness. He’s not terrible and appalling like the fearful man saw him to be. Given his response to the first two, it seems the master is more interested in the well-being of his workers than making a profit for himself.
That’s the portrait of God that Jesus paints for us. The first two men see this and take the risk without any promise of gaining anything in return. They have some faith and run with it. The third guy has none, and loses out.
This parable is about our trust in God just as it is about God’s trust in us. It’s about our faithfulness to God who has faith in us. This begs the question: Can we trust in God’s faithfulness to be faithful to God?
This parable makes it clear in that if you focus on your fears, allowing your worry and anxieties to make your decisions then your fears will be realized. If you focus on your faith, stepping out of your comfort zone, knowing and trusting in God’s faithfulness then your faith will only increase.
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I don’t think Jesus is telling this parable to his disciples to scare them. I think he wants to know if they can trust God enough to carry on his ministry when he is gone. Will they invest in the kingdom of heaven by investing their hearts in the gospel? Will they risk it all to care deeply and profoundly for all of God’s children? We must ask ourselves this same question. Are we willing to invest and risk it all – trusting the one who first trusted us?
Like Jesus points out, and will further explain in the next parable, this is how we too enter into the joy of God. Risking your life by loving and caring for the least of these our brothers and sisters. Faithful living is not static. It takes getting involved and taking risks. It’s easy to claim faith and to bury it in the ground... doing nothing to increase it.
This past presidential election revealed to me the fear of so many Christians, who claim to follow Christ, who seem to know what faithful living looks like, and yet hesitate or refuse to live it. Instead of trusting Christ faithfully, they put their trust a person who has nothing to do with him.
Today is a good time to look at your own actions, and ask yourself what are you investing in?
Faith is a high-risk venture. It’s not some insurance plan you take out for the hereafter. Faith isn’t so much believing ideas about Jesus as it is about following him and doing what he did. And the only way to really do that is by trusting God so completely that you can go all in faithfully and fearlessly as you carry the presence of Christ everywhere you go.
As the disciples will soon discover, living the gospel out loud is a risky venture. But it does pay out in abundance.
Jesus gives us the choice. You can choose to be like the fearful servant who gets exactly what fear has to offer: Nothing. Or you can choose to put your trust in God’s faithfulness, and reap the rewards that come with being like God’s most faithful child.
Jesus risked it all by going to Jerusalem and living faithfully to the will of God. He taught us that life is a risk one must take on faith, and not fear. Moreover, what turns out to be important is not our ability to make sound financial investments but our willingness to invest profoundly in our soul.
At the end of the day, life is not about what we accomplished but whether we learned to trust God enough to be faithful with our love.
It’s a high-risk investment where the only ones who lose it all are the ones who dare to put nothing in.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 308-313.
Inspired by a sermon from Charles H. Hoffacker, Trust, Not Fear. https://episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/trust-not-fear-proper-28-–-2014 (accessed on 11-12-2020).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”