THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday of Talents
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘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.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘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.’
24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Friends, I must begin my message this morning with a bit of a preamble and a clarification.
This morning we are reading and praying through two kinds of talents: 1. our own talents that God has given us to bless the world with in Christ’s name, and 2. the “talents” that Christ spoke of in the parable we have just heard. To be clear, when Jesus said “talent,” he was talking about a unit of money (worth somewhere between 5 and 20 years wages).
This morning I will be speaking about both kinds of “talents” and rather than make many (many) tempting puns, I will do my best to be clear when I am talking about each kind.
Returning to the “parable of the talents” from Matthew…
It is safe to say that the parable of the talents is one of the most challenging parables in the New Testament. It is challenging because, upon first reading, Jesus seems to be saying that the Master (who we might presume to be God or even Jesus Himself) is the kind of Master who will throw His servants into the “outer darkness”; the place with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” if we do not give Him a good return on His investment.
This parable is challenging because it upsets our idea of the God of mercy and forgiveness. It doesn’t make sense that the same God, and the same Son of God, whose birth we have just witnessed at Christmas, would do such a thing to one who returned the property he was entrusted with.
Why does “The Master” in this parable demand so much of those whom he has trusted? Why is he so angry with the slave who buried his talent for safekeeping? and
Where are we in this story?
Should we say that we are like the slaves? Each entrusted with talent in accordance with our abilities, waiting to show God the good we have done with our talents?
Or should we say we are like the talents themselves? That being entrusted into the hands of others (family, parents, teachers, ministers) from the time we are very small, we hope that we will grow in talent and please the master with our growth?
Who we are is not clear. And this matters. This mystery matters.
It is important that we remember that the parables are not ours to turn into simple allegories where one character represents us and one character represents God and that is the end of it. Parables are meant to create in us, a faithfulness that allows the story to be, without us needing to fill in the meaning completely.
Indeed, if we arrive at one meaning alone, we limit both ourselves and God. If we conclude that we are the slaves then we might say of ourselves, in pity:
“Well I’m clearly the third servant, I haven’t taken a risk or done anything worthwhile in my whole life, no wonder God is going to send me into the outer darkness…”
But then the parable invites us to think again:
“But perhaps I’m not the third servant, perhaps I am the talent itself, perhaps I am being invested by the first and the second servant without me even knowing it, perhaps my faith and my works are increasing and God will be pleased to see what the Spirit has done in my life…”
And again and again the parable invites us back.
“Actually on third thought, maybe I’m the ground that the talent was buried in, and I’m just waiting to discover what has been hidden in me…”
and so the mystery of the parable is preserved.
If we can say something conclusive about this parable, about the parable of the Talents, I think we are safe to say that it has something to do with ownership, something to do with trust, and entrusting what God has given to humanity. It has to do with being honest with Him who has given humanity its gifts. And it has to do with the idea that the Master’s trust is trustworthy:
One way to think of the Master’s anger at the third slave is to think that the Master was upset, not because he had missed out on an opportunity to gain one more talent, but because the slave had insulted him by saying “No” to his trust.
We can imagine that the slave has insulted the Master by taking what was entrusted to him, his talent, and rather than believing in the trust of the Master, who wanted the slave to invest it or grow it in other ways, the third slave simply buried it in the ground as if to say “I don’t care if the Master thinks I can use this talent wisely, I say no.”
Shifting from the talent of money to the talent of our individual gifts;
This parable and this way of keeping a loose grip on who we are and what God expects of us is helpful in bringing us into prayerful consideration of what God expects of us concerning our talents.
Let us take a moment to think about our own talents.
Those things that we are gifted at. Those things that we enjoy. Those things we have a special interest in. And let us think broadly.
For some reason, in this part of the world, when we think of talents, we tend to think of things that are impressive but largely pointless.
And perhaps we have been misled; misled by TV shows like the Britain’s God Talent and America’s God Talent; perhaps we’ve been misled that to have talent and to be talented means to be able to juggle knives or play the flute with our nose or to shoot a bow and arrow with our feet while doing a handstand.
And even if we can juggle knives or play the flute with our nose or shoot a bow and arrow with our feet, we might ask ourselves, well, my friends like it when I do that but I don’t see how God can use that in His Kingdom, and to you, you wonderful and oddly talented people out there, I say, have faith, because God can indeed take that odd and wonderful thing that you do and to use that for His Kingdom, shine on you wonderful and crazy diamonds!
So there are those things we recognize as “talents” because of their oddness or their entertainment value alone, but then there are those skills that have a more obvious benefit to others:
The writing and performing of music
The talents of singing and dancing
The talent of athletics
The talent of creating art
The talent of fixing things with tools
The talent of being skilled with numbers and balance sheets
The talent of organizing
The talent of planning
The talent of accommodation – of making others feel welcome
The talent of passion – of not being afraid to stand up and speak when things are unfair
Or even (and this one is always underrated) the talent of simply being and listening, of being present in the life of another, of being willing and able to just listen to another’s story. The world always needs more listeners.
In this way, even though we might not be invited on TV to perform our talents, we recognize that we all have talents. We all have things we can do well, or things we feel confident in, or even just things we enjoy. To my knowledge there are no awards, no golden trophies given for organizing a pantry or listening to another’s stories, and yet, if you enjoy them and if they bless others, they are great talents indeed.
Thinking again on the parable of the talents, it is easy to pass by the detail that this whole story takes place in the context of a Master and his Slaves.
While we may say to ourselves that this backdrop does not matter or that it is simply a relic of a different time, we ought to pay a little more attention.
We can suppose that the third slave was punished because he either did not respect the Master’s trust or he did not respect the Master’s property. We can imagine the third slave thinking to himself, as he was burying the single talent in the ground:
“The Master is rich and won’t miss one more talent, he has given the talent to me and it is mine to do with as I like until he takes it back.”
However, within the scene set forth by Jesus; the scene of a Master and his Slave. The third Slave has failed to recognize that everything: The talent, his own labour, and even the ground he has buried the talent in is the property of the Master.
This is how it is that we can find God in a story about slavery.
Slavery may be a deplorable system for human beings to mistreat each other, but it is accurate—at least in this instance—in demonstrating the relationship between God and the world.
God is the Master of creation.
God has created each thing and called it good. God has created us, knitting us together in our mother’s womb.
God has given us talents and called us into community.
God has “ownership” of the ground and the talent and the slave.
If we say to ourselves, as the third slave did:
“Even though the Master wants me to use this talent, He has given it to me and it’s my decision to bury it,” we are fooling ourselves.
We can no more claim selfish ownership of our talents and our abilities than we can claim ownership of the air in our lungs.
We can hold onto our talents as we can hold onto a breath of air, but not forever. And doing so will actually do us more harm than good.
We can live our lives and exercise our talents “for our own benefit” but we are fooling ourselves if we think these talents and these benefits come from anywhere other than Godself.
As the world moves further and further into an era of secularism, one of the casualties of wisdom is that we are forgetting just how powerful and impactful it is to serve God with our talents.
The secularist may look at Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel and wonder: “Wow, just imagine what Michelangelo could have done with his amazing talent of painting if he hadn’t been limited to religious subjects”.
However, (and as anyone who has served God with their talents knows), it is simply not possible for a faithful person to give their best performance or to create a masterpiece without this God-centred devotion!
To put this another way, while it has become a cliché for football players to thank God for everything from their victory on the field, to the favorable wind direction, to the flavor of Gatorade on the sidelines, we miss the point if we do not take the faith of these athletes seriously. Certainly, a person can put on pads and risk injury to themselves to catch a football without having faith in God, but if—when one such player—tells us that they run and jump and catch in devotion to God, we ought to try to take them at their word!
Indeed, we ought to be inspired to likewise share our own talents in God’s name and to have the courage to call God by name when asked “why?”
So let us ask ourselves, having named at least some of our talents, why do we practise them?
Why do we write?
Why do we practise music?
Why do we organize events?
Why do we serve on committees?
And if the answer is not “for the Glory of God and the support of the body of Christ, his church,” then what can it be?
Can you have the faith to take what God has given you (a skill or a passion or a talent) and perform it joyfully for God?
Returning to parable where we began, we imagined that perhaps the Master was upset with the third slave mostly because he had failed to accept the Master’s trust.
While the most urgent lesson of this parable lies within the example of the third slave, we ought to remember the example of the other two. The two slaves who had faith in the trust of their master. The two slaves who grew their talents in faith and obedience; the two slaves who heard what all of us will long to hear when we stand before God ourselves:
‘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.’
The Parable of the Talents reminds us that we live our lives in the Master’s domain; whether we are the slaves entrusted with talent or whether we are the talents themselves; needing to be encouraged to grow by those with good faith.
No matter what part we play in this parable at any given time, we are reminded that it all belongs to God: the property, the slaves, the talents, and even the earth itself.
Nothing is beyond God’s grasp. Nothing is beyond God’s redemption.
There is nowhere we can go in our lives that God’s love and trust and his expectations cannot find us.
God has made us and set us upon the earth to grow and to increase in faith and in ability.
We have been given talents to serve Him and one another with. Let us not keep the Master waiting.