Sermon; 24 Pentecost/Proper 28A; Matthew 25:14-30
Once again we get a story from Jesus having to do with the kingdom and the end of the age. Once again we get a story about judgment, who's allowed to be part of the kingdom, and who is excluded from the kingdom. This story happens to be the third in the series – the first about a master who returns to find his slave taking advantage of his absence, the second about the ten bridesmaids, and now today's story of the talents.
Our pledge campaign this year was based on the idea to “Be Bold in Christ.” As it so happens, this idea is also the underlying message of today's gospel story. A man leaves his estate and calls three servants to run it in his absence. He gives each one a number of talents – five, three, and one – each according to his ability.
First, we often get sidetracked by that term, talent. It has been used over the ages as a way of talking about our personal gifts and talents. But first and foremost it was an amount of money – an exceedingly large amount of money. One talent was approximately equal to 20 years of day-wages. Thinking about it this way tells us that the slaves received enough wages for 100 years, 60 years, and 20 years. So not only was the master exceedingly wealthy, but he also trusted these slaves with his own personal wealth.
Second, notice that the master didn't give an equal amount to the servants, but gave amounts “each according to his ability.” Getting back to seeing the word “talent” as our own personal gifts and skills, it's important to remember that we are not all given an equal number of talents. Some of us can do five things well, some three, and some only one thing. But remember, this isn't about how many gifts or talents we have, it's about the fact that God knows what we can do and what we can handle, and gives us an appropriate gift at the appropriate time. This isn't about comparing gifts, it's about faithfully using what gifts we have.
Third, what the previous two observations – that the master gave huge sums of money and that he gave each according to his ability – lead us to is that the master trusted the servants with that money. Also notice that the master never actually told the servants what to do with it; only that there is an assumption (based on the end) that these three talented people would do something with it.
In essence, we have large gifts being given to people of varying abilities and an unstated level of trust that those abilities will be put to use in the utilization of their gifts and talents. With no instruction, order, or mandate, two of the three servants took bold steps to double what they had been given.
Whereas the first end-time parable, which we didn't hear, focused on religious leaders, and last week's could be said to have a focus on long-term mission, today's parable focuses on us. More specifically, it focuses on whether or not we want to take bold steps for God.
All of us have been entrusted with talents. All of us have been given gifts of great value by the Lord of the estate. We don't all have the same gifts, it's true. And it's also true that we don't all have the same abilities. But we all have been given gifts and talents.
As an example, I was talking with a parishioner after services last week. This person was commenting on how beautifully the flautist from St. James played. They went on to make the comment, “she has more talent in her little finger than I have in my whole body.” And while I understand the sentiment, with all due respect, that is not true.
This person made the mistake of comparing one talent with a perceived lack of talent. One is not better than another, just different. There are things this person can do, and do much better, than the St. James flautist can do. We all have been graced with an abundance of talent, each according to our abilities. For instance, there are people in the choir with fantastic voices, but that doesn't mean you would want them to preach; and you certainly don't want me singing. I shudder to think what this parish would be like if we were all fabulous flautists.
So even if we think of ourselves as the servant with only one talent, that is still more than no talent. And, as we learn from today's parable, we have a responsibility to put that talent to use.
Today this parable is about stewardship and boldly doing the work God calls us to, to boldly use our abilities and put our talents to work.
The flip side of being bold and stepping out to use our talents is reflected in the third slave – that of having an attitude of fear. Despite no indication anywhere in this story, the third slave is fearful of the master. That fear paralyzes him. That fear causes him to not act, even in a minimal way. That fear causes him to hide his talent.
For us, this is not the time to be afraid. This is not the time to bury our talents for fear of what might happen. But this is the time for us to make use of the gifts we have been given. This is the time for us to step out boldly in the name of Christ and put our talents to use.
As our pledge drive comes to an official conclusion, and as we move forward as Christians and as a parish, this is the time to consider this question: How will you be bold in Christ?