Risky Business: To Do or Not to Do
Lets start with a prayer:
Jesus, be among us this morning or evening or whatever time it is, and be with us wherever we are, in our car or on our couch, for place and time is no barrier to you.
We plead for your presence, your Emmanuel, for your church, your ungathered gathered ones, without your presence it is no church or gathering at all.
You, oh Lord, are the head, you are the goodness, and we gather apart in your name. Heal our land, heal our hearts, heal our church.
Be present to each one of us as we pay attention to your words. Amen.
Matthew 25:14-30 is our text today. In it, we can assume the master going on a trip referred to by Jesus is Jesus himself, and the servants left to take care of things are the disciples (in our day, you and me and all who follow Him). Jesus tells this parable shortly before the crucifixion which is followed by His accession into heaven.
Jesus is preparing His disciples that they have a huge responsibility once he does ascend to the heavenly realm. Jesus has not yet returned in what we call the second coming.
We could look at this story as in our time now waiting for his return—that Phil preached about—that we are to care for His kingdom; He has given us something and it’s called “responsibility”. This is part of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, as that is the theme we are looking at these Sundays as life as a disciple. Two of these guys in this story really know what “living as a disciple” means.
Last Sunday Melanie preached on the parable of the 10 virgins, which comes right before today’s parable. These stories are linked. The ten wise and foolish virgins story reminds me that I need to keep ready, keep oil in my lamp, keep the fire burning by being continually filled with the Holy Spirit; and without that there is no way I can do what today’s parable asks of me. Jesus doesn’t give us responsibility without giving us His Holy Spirit to help us.
What is this responsibility? The master gave talents—five, two, and one talents to three servants respectively. These talents here are not “super gifts” or skills like on the show “Who’s Got Talent” but, rather, pieces of silver, of money. He who possessed five talents of silver was a multimillionaire by today’s standards. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker or servant. Silver meant livelihood, wealth, land, food, health, power. Silver was precious. I don’t think that the talents actually mean money, per se, but the money represents something very prized.
Matt Skinner suggests, “Think about it more as a parable about callings, the positions in which God has placed you to make a difference; opportunities to be influential.” I think he is right. I’d call it the responsibilities God trusts you with.
The talents were not actually given to the servants, rather entrusted. I like that word, entrusted—like “trusted with”. If you babysit, you are entrusted with someone else’s irreplaceable treasured children because they trust you. The talents were still owned by and belonged to the master. The servants were the stewards. I am babysitting someone’s piano in my home right now and I am stewarding that piano more carefully than if it were my own. I want the owner to be pleased when it gets returned. The master expected that the talents would actually be better off, shinier, worth more when he returned. Both pleasure and disappointment lie ahead in this story.
The master went away for a long time so the servants had enough time. They had what they needed to make this silver shine. They had freedom of choice as they weren’t micro-managed, they had opportunity, they had the raw materials, and they had plenty of time. They also were given what was not beyond their skill level as the five and two and one talents were given to each, as the story says, according to each one’s ability. The one talent guy was not expected to produce the same as the five talent guy.
Talent five and talent two guys, immediately went to work. I imagine their lamps were filled with oil already. They were ready and didn’t hesitate. They knew who they were and they knew who they served. When the master returned, they had both doubled what had been given to them and the master was as pleased as punch.
Then the master’s disappointment, or actually anger. Talent one guy was not a wise guy, he lacked character. He had issues. He panicked, had an anxiety attack and dug a hole in the ground and hid the silver and probably thought, like the nursery rhyme, “Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie, he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plumb and said, ‘Oh what a good boy am I.’” But oh, what a good boy he was not!
When the master returned, he gave the master back exactly one talent. No decrease, it didn’t get lost or stolen. No loss but also no gain. The master was disappointed and the servant got unfavoured. He got an F on his report card.
This one talent guy, what was his problem? Firstly, he responded with, “I knew you to be a hard task master.” Truth or a lie? Was what he knew really knowing the master or just what he thought he knew? Is God really a hard task master, a mean boss who can never be pleased?
Talent one guy really thought the master was an awful guy, a total twist of the truth. He didn’t believe the master could be pleased easily.
Secondly, talent one guy said, “I was afraid so I hid the talent.” Doesn’t that sound very familiar to what Adam said in the garden when God came looking for him after he sinned in Genesis 3? Adam said, “I was afraid so I hid.” Fear is a natural response when we think God as a hard task master. When we don’t perceive the truth of God we create a false idea of who He is, which is a lie. We don’t like this God we create in our minds and then run and hide. But it is a fabrication. When we don’t know God truthfully, it has big ramifications. Talent one guy dug not only the silver into a hole, he also dug himself into a big hole, and everyone who would have been affected by his obedience also missed out.
Thirdly, talent one guy probably had let the oil in his lamp burn out and never refilled it. He wasn’t ready. His lamp had gone out and he was no longer shining.
Fourthly, I think he might have taken the master’s talent and claimed it as his own. He took ownership instead of stewardship. In his mind it was his, not God’s. What happens when we take what belongs to God and claim it as our own? Maybe some power, pride, misuse. We sin. I think I’d try to control my own life if I claim it as my own instead of trusting God with it and I’d mess it up for sure.
Some say this parable is about taking risks for God. We all know investments can be risky yet talent five and two guys did it and did it immediately. I think they knew the truth of the master, loved the master, and trusted his character which enabled them to take a risk. Talent five and two guys took risks but talent one guy actually took the far bigger risk.
This parable shows that it is more risky to not do what Jesus tells us to do. The one talent guy thought, “It’ll be safer in the hole” but it wasn’t safer, it was the far riskier thing to do nothing. He ran scared from responsibility.
The more I look at this talent one guy, the more I see myself in him. Taking on responsibility scares the eberjeebers right out of me, like why would I preach? I could blow it, teach heresy; I could easily run and hide, feels safer.
So what happens next? For talent five and two guys there was reward. The master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things: enter into the joy of your master.” The master was well pleased. Their future changed forever.
Can there be greater reward than that, to enter into the joy of Jesus? I can’t even imagine that. My own joy is hard to fathom, but partaking in God’s joy, there are no words.
The 11 disciples of Jesus did end up being the five and two talent guys. After Jesus ascended and entrusted to them great responsibility to preach the gospel and make disciples they took risks, they shone, they invested, and yes, they were martyred for Christ’s sake but entered the joy and the ever increasing joy for all eternity. Their future changed forever.
As for talent one guy, what he did have was taken away. He had no joy of the Lord to enter into, but he entered the hole he dug as a deep dark place of eternal regret. His future changed forever too.
The master’s response was that he called talent one guy “a wicked and lazy servant”. Ouch. No one wants to be called that. It seems that the master’s response is so severe but we’ll see later that the servant’s inaction had severe ramifications far beyond his own self. He was a wicked and lazy servant.
Perhaps we could say that talent one guy’s big problem was that he had “wicked and lazy” thinking about who God is and what He is like. This brings us back to the first point of the one guy’s issue, he thought bad of God. This is where it all started. This wrong thinking led to wrong response which led to, well, let’s just say it led to his future changing forever.
When we hold untrue beliefs of who God is, when our God is distorted, then everything else becomes distorted. Who we think God is influences our responses to Him, affects our worship, our obedience. How we think about God affects our actions. How we view God affects what we do with the responsibilities, His silver that He gives us.
What lens do you see God through? I feel like I’m always needing to clean the fog off my glasses and ask, God are you really like that? I need to make constant truth adjustments.
If God is a hard task master we respond in fear and hide from Him.
If we see God as unjust we respond in anger.
If we see God as distant we don’t draw near to Him but pull away.
If we see God as uncaring we don’t bother praying and we start treating ourselves like we are not valuable.
If we see God as vengeful and mean we run.
If we see God with distorted lenses we believe those distortions and become distorted ourselves. When we have a distorted view of God our wicked and evil thinking about Him inflicts inner wounds on our own souls. We hurt our own inner being and then we hurt others.
When we don’t see the truth of God we don’t love Him. When we don’t love Him we don’t serve Him and the talent He gives us loses its shine; we becomes ineffectual to please the master because we fear and hide. It is so, so important to know who God is, the truth of Him.
Well, what is this master really like? What is God really like? Is He easy to please?
Talent five and two guys pleased the master according to their abilities. The master wasn’t just half pleased but completely pleased.
As you read scripture, as you experience life, as you talk with others, be asking “what is God like? Who is he? Is God really pleasable? Is He good?”
Talent one guy got God wrong. I, like him, need constant truth adjustments about who God is. Lies about God are abundant, they can just sneak in your mind like a slippery snake whispering in your vulnerable ear. Did God really say? Is God really good? I don’t think God cares about you? See, He abandoned you again? God doesn’t mind if you sin just a little.
What truth adjustments do you need to make? A big one I’ve had to make—and am still making—is that God can be trusted. I don’t need to be a control freak. Another truth adjustment I’m working on is my view of God as a disciplinarian above all else and if I don’t do right I’ll get the strap or have to stand in the corner (punishment for behaviour modification). I had to learn—and am still learning—truth adjusting, that God wants to do life with me, be with me, bring out the best in me, and be my friend rather than my hard task master.
We need constant truth adjustments, by getting to know Him, by being students of God, disciples, always learning; and it will take eternity to do that because He is infinite, heaven will never be boring.
Back to the talents; they were precious to the master. I think that the master’s entrusting of the talents, is to care for what is precious to God.
What is precious to God? What is God’s silver? Well, since you asked, there is a third parable coming right after this one that I think answers that question. I won’t get into it today but I’m hinting that it tells us that what is precious to the master is people.
Our view of who God is will determine how we treat people, God’s silver, make them grow and shine or dig them into a hole. It is so, so important to know God rightly so that we don’t injure our own souls and so that we don’t injure others. A truthful view of God will help us make what is precious to God to be even better than what it already is.
It’s a huge responsibility and it is a huge responsibility to not have “wicked and lazy” thinking about God, but right and true thinking about God.
People are precious to Jesus. It is us, you and me, other people, who are His silver. It is us who are His inheritance. It is us whom He gets when He returns. And it is us, increased and multiplied—us and others.
If People are God’s precious silver talents, then people are the wisest and best investments. When we invest in people they become more like Jesus, and then they invest into the silver talents that they are given and it grows and multiplies.
When you invest in people entrusted to you you will enter the joy.
Do you see now that the ramifications of one talent were too huge? He lost so much more than one talent. He missed the multiplication and he missed the joy.
You are God’s silver too. Jesus has invested His whole heart in you to the point of dying for you. You are what is precious to Him and He joys over you. He considers His investment into you worth it. May you know who He is more and more and the serve Him well by serving others, and also enter into His increasing and inexpressible joy.
May the Lord make His face to shine on you and give you His peace and may you know Him more truly and know His great pleasure. Amen.
Questions for reflection:
- What truth adjustments about God do you think you need?
- What is the silver that has been entrusted to you?
- Have you ever run from something God wants to trust you with? How have you dug holes?
- Has there been a specific time when you felt God was pleased with you and entered His joy?
- What risks for God’s kingdom have you taken that you weren’t sorry about? Were there some risks for God that you are sorry about?
- How do you see what God is like in this text?
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
Other texts for study: