Thankful #16: Talents

Today I am thankful that God supplies us with talents both the “we can accomplish something” talents and financial talents. Hopefully we are open enough to recognize and use those talents to glorify God and walk in the steps of God’s son.

These scriptures used were: Judges 4:1-7, I Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30. The title was, “Hiding Our Talents.”

It absolutely never ceases to amaze me how we are able in our world to get from point A to point B in a matter of hours. I say this thinking of driving to Minneapolis from Herreid by leaving at 7:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning and returning at about 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night, and we had accomplished everything we had set out to do. I can’t imagine what the life of jet setters is like.

I am guessing that I spent way too much time with my nose in the plot of frontier type books and that is why all this travel at today’s speeds amazes me. Yet when you think about it, other than the covered wagon type travel, the people of the frontier age didn’t exactly travel at a snail’s pace or sit around where they were born either.

There are plenty of stories about how they traveled across the country on trains or stage coaches, and the distance didn’t seem to bother them. The only real difference between then and now is the amount of time they spent at a place. We can go much more quickly, so we go more often at least for me, and for lesser amounts of time. Or, at least it seems they stayed longer. Maybe the stay is just in proportion to the time spent traveling.

The parable we read for today has a bit of a story about traveling in it, but the travel was not really the focus of the story. Jesus tells us a story about a man, apparently a fairly rich man. This man was about to embark on a long journey and so he called certain of his servants in to put them in charge of parts of his business or at least of his assets. In other words, he was going to be gone for quite a long time in what seems from the jest of the story to be a faraway place, and he needs someone to keep track of his business.

As we read earlier, the man entrusted three different servants with three different amounts of money. He gave one five talents, one two talents and one only one talent. I am fairly sure that we have heard this story once or twice in the past. Some of you might even be able to recall a message on this very passage. I bet someone is mentally trying to remember the value of a talent. According to the information in A Study of Parables that I found while shelving books on Wednesday, a talent made of silver could be worth about 20 years’ salary. Even if it wasn’t quite that much, we are getting the idea that each talent had a significant value.

As we read along, we learn that when the master returns, he finds the servant with 5 talents has doubled them and the servant given 2 talents has doubled them. To both of these the master says, “Well done.” He congratulates them and celebrates their efforts. He is ecstatic at their hard work, and rewards them, not for their amount, but for their percentage, perhaps even for their effort.

Now the third servant, who was only given one talent, that servant returns just one talent. That servant has done nothing with the talent. Initially, I want to feel a bit sorry for this servant. I can almost relate to the conservative method that this person treats money. It says that he buried the talent. I am thinking maybe the cash was stashed in his mattress or in chapter 15 of some book on a strategic shelf of his private library. He might have put it in his sock drawer in the green pair, or any of such places. The bottom line is this servant made no effort to increase the value of this talent.

On the other hand, this servant did not risk the talent. He didn’t take the chance of losing the talent. The master could have been happy that at least when he came back it wasn’t squandered. But wasn’t it? We all know that with inflation even at a low rate, an account with $1.000 in it today will not purchase the same amount of goods next year. In fact today even when money is put into a regular interest bearing account the amount generated will not necessarily keep up with the price of new goods. But this isn’t supposed to be a lesson in economics. Yet there is a bit of economics involved.

And then there is the accusation of the servant who says he was ultra conservative because he was afraid of the Master’s temper and such, but that, too, is another message.

We could walk away from this reading and say that Jesus was trying to teach the disciples about the value of what they own and how much money it will take for them to carry on his work, but this story is not about physical money, at least not completely.

This is one of the parables that doesn’t have the explanation written out. We aren’t told if Jesus refused to explain it, or if it was so obvious that they didn’t need to have it explained.

We have already established that a talent is a large sum of money, or at least it was in the time of Jesus. I will have to be honest in telling you that when it comes to investing and money, I am much more likely to be like the third servant. I could never be the person who loses everything in a stock market crash because that is the last thing that I would be able to do with my cash. Money makes me nervous, and it is probably because I have seen others close to me struggle financially, and personally I have been through times when money was more than scarce. I never want to experience life as when I was in college ever again. Also My family will tell you I am more likely to pass on a bridge while driving than take a risk with finances. (I have that bridge phobia whatever you call it.)

But we all know that a parable is a story that always has a deeper meaning. And we all know that a talent is more than just a term for money in the Bible. If we look at this story in context as we are encouraged to do by some of the authors I checked in with this week, we see that this parable is one of or possibly the last one told before Jesus is betrayed and crucified. He is speaking directly to the disciples and is trying to tell them what they must be doing when he is gone.

The deeper meaning of the talent is not money, but their talents. The definition of talent could also be: “a special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement or success.” A talent would be an ability to accomplish something. A talent might be the ability to speak to others without being nervous. A talent might be the ability to sing or play piano or at least the capacity to learn those things. A talent might be the ability to work with numbers and figure out a budget. A talent could be the ability to build a building or cook a meal, or sew a garment, or tend to a wounded animal or raise a crop or comfort an ailing friend.

Jesus was letting his disciples know what he expected of them while he was gone. See according to the scholars who have tried to interpret this parable, Jesus is the master and his disciples are the servants, and their talent is their gifts and capacities and abilities to accomplish tasks. But who are those disciples today? Does this parable just hang out in chapter 25 of Matthew as a historical fact, or is it a living breathing story for us today?

What if Jesus is the master and we are the servants. What if today, we take the place of the disciples? Where does that leave us? Are we the servant with the 5 talents, the 2 talents or the 1 talent? Perhaps individually we can feel somewhat secure in knowing that we have all been using our individual talents to keep things going. We are so small here that after all it takes each and every one of us doing our best to keep things going. Really no one is sitting in the pew that isn’t pulling their weight. From holding offices to moving benches to serving at funerals to contributing musically or financially to lighting candles or transporting others to church, we are all doing something. But…

What if today the servants are the churches collectively? In the end Jesus says to those who have, more will be given. But from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken. This is scary stuff. Where do we fit in that scheme of things? As a whole church, as the whole body of disciples, have we as a church invested and doubled our talent enough that when the master returns, as we read about in I Thessalonians, we will be commended as a good and faithful servant? Or will we be cast out for hiding our talent, the one little talent given to us.

Will we be seen as a voice of Jesus speaking out in the wilderness of today’s society, or will we be accused of keeping that talent (that knowledge of who and what Jesus is to us personally) hidden away in our own private corner of the community. These last three parables that we have been discussing over the past three weeks have been about faithfulness, preparedness and today’s is about risk. Are we willing to risk the safety and security we feel inside these doors to speak out to others?

Transportation may be far more advanced today than it was in the days of Jesus when he and the disciples either walked or rode on donkey to get from place to place, but I am not so sure that we have advanced much in terms of our willingness to share. We need to think about what we do as an individual and as a church to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. What words do we want to hear when the master returns. Hopefully it is “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christinelaennec
    Nov 17, 2014 @ 11:29:14

    I enjoyed this. So often it seems to me that we are so focused on money that, if we don’t have extra money to give, we think we have nothing to give. Whereas time and talent are also tremendous potential gifts to others.

    Like

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