Sunday, November 16, 2008

Matthew.25.14-30; 27th Sunday after Pentecost; November 16, 2008


image “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Uh Oh! I know that story. We’re about to be hit with a “stewardship” sermon. Pastor is about to tell us the church needs money. He’s about to tell us that this parable tells us not to waste the “talents” we’ve been given. Here we are in the middle of an international financial crisis and we’re going to be told to open our wallets and give to the church. Well, the truth is, the church does need the money and you shouldn’t waste the talents that God gives you. You will hear soon here about how the church does need money to operate. But, in fact, this parable isn’t about money or stewardship at all. It is probably one of the most misinterpreted parables of all time. That’s because, in spite of how you might have heard it before, this parable isn’t a stewardship parable. One reason for the trouble is the word “talent.” In Jesus day a “talent” was an average daily wage. We confuse that word with the things that we are able to do. The varying gifts we’ve been given to do this or that. I think we would better understand this parable if the word “talent” were replaced with the word “coin.”

One pastor I know always says that a parable is a story that’s not talking about what it is talking about. You know a parable about shepherds and sheep isn’t talking about how you are to be a shepherd. A parable about plants and gardening is about how you get to be a prize winning gardener. A parable about a father and his two sons isn’t about parenting. A parable about money isn’t about finances. So this parable about money isn’t really about money.

So what is it about? Matthew, the Gospel writer, tells us, but we have to go back to verse three in this chapter. The disciples and Jesus sat around talking. The disciples ask a question and Jesus answers it. The question is,

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt 25:3, ESV)

The guys want to know what the signs that Jesus is coming again will be. He tells them by stacking up a bunch of parables. This one about the “talents” or “coins” is one of them. So, according to Jesus, this parable is really about Jesus and his return, not about us and how we are to be faithful with our talents. That fits the rule I told you about parables too. If we find a way to make Jesus the main character then, then we’ll be much closer to understanding what the parable is all about.

In this parable then Jesus is the man who went away and left his servants in charge of some of his money. Some invest it and one hides it in the ground. When the master returns he has praise and criticism for them. When Jesus praises people it is always because of faith. Jesus criticizes unbelief. The guys who invest the money do so because they believe that the master will return. They have faith. They’ve been given something to do and they do it because they believe the master is coming back. The servant who buried the coin in the ground lacks that faith. The task they’ve been given is to take the master’s money and use it in the community on behalf of the master. When they invest it has to be in the master’s name. The guy who buries the coin is unwilling even to put it on deposit, because that too must be done in the master’s name. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s connected to the master. Better to bury the coin and forget all about it. He can go about his own business in his own name. He doesn’t really believe the master will return. He has no faith in the master. He doesn’t believe he will have to be accountable for what he’s been given.

So this parable is about faith and Jesus. Faith shows itself is the fruit it bears. We either work for the Jesus, who has given us good gifts to share in his name, or we work for ourselves. We either anticipate Jesus return to earth with joy or we will see him as a cruel judge when he does return.

But I think one thing more than anything else makes this parable come alive. And that’s pushing the coins as far away from the word “talents” as possible. If we look at the gifts, the coins given freely, as the forgiveness that God gives us freely for the sake of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, I think it all comes clear. When we see it this way, the gift and the giver become the most important thing in the parable. The master who goes away is Jesus who gives us forgiveness of sin. He is going to return. Each person receives, by God’s grace, the forgiveness that is needed. It’s not about the amount but the grace, the giving, the gift. The gift flows out of us to everyone around us. We pray this in The Lord’s Prayer, forgive us as we forgive. When we believe we are forgiven, when we receive the coin, forgiveness flows out to others. Two coins turn into four. Five coins turn into ten. It isn’t our work at all, it is God’s work. It’s the coin doing what coins do; forgiveness doing what forgiveness does. (and much of it we don’t even know is happening. But that’s left for a fuller discussion next week with the parable of the sheep and goats.) All the modern translations hide this point when they add the word “done” to the master’s reaction to the increase (it isn’t in the original Greek). ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,” Would be a much better translated, “Very well, my good and faithful servant.” “Well done” places the work in our laps, and puts us at the center of the parable instead of Jesus and his forgiveness.

So what about the guy who buried the coin? He is rejecting forgiveness. Dear Christians, make no mistake about it, this is us when we are shown our sin and refuse to see it clearly. This is us when we carve out exception for our own sin. We think God makes exceptions for us and our sin because we’ve earned it, because we are good church members, fill the collection plate, or through our hard work and perseverance have keep the church doors open. “If I come to church faithfully on Sunday, I can do whatever I want on Saturday.” And this is us when we think that our suffering, our trouble, or our pain entitle us to continue to live in sin. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy? This is about love not rules.” This is just burying the coin, rejecting forgiveness. And let’s be clear here. You are probably looking around to your favorite target of this condemnation. “Go get ‘em pastor. I know someone who really needs to hear this.” But before you point your finger at your friend / neighbor / relative point it first at yourself. You are guilty of burying the coin, rejecting God’s forgiveness, continuing in your pet sin, and wanting to live for yourself. You and I live every day as if we really don’t believe we are accountable for what we’ve been given. We live every day as if Jesus really isn’t returning. And what does Jesus say about that?

‘You wicked and slothful servant! … take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Hell bound. That’s me. Hell bound. That’s you. Well, at least that’s what would be true, except for the gift, except for God’s grace, except for God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This is exactly why God’s grace is grace. We are lost on our own. We would reject the gift of forgiveness completely, out right, because we have no faith without it being given to us. We would have no way of holding on to forgiveness unless the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to show us our sin and our need for it. And that he does.

The coin, forgiveness is given to you. God has given you faith, first to see that you need it for yourself, and then to see that what you need your neighbor needs, your children need, your parents need, your pastor needs, in fact the whole world needs. And here is where five coins makes five more. Jesus is really returning. He has given us the greatest gift we could ever have. We have it for ourselves. We have it for our neighborhood, and town, state, nation and world. As we share what we’ve been given, God makes it grow. It will be seen clearly when Our Savior returns and says, “very well, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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