Risky Business

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

It’s called the Parable of the Talents… Jesus tells this story of a man who was going on a trip, and turned over his assets to three of his servants. The trouble is, most of us don’t really know what a Talent is… at least in this sense. We think of a talent as being a gift or a skill that each of us has… and while that definition is purely coincidental, it’s not a bad thing to keep in mind. In this context, a Talent was an unimaginable pile of money. In one estimate that I read while pulling this sermon together, a talent was the cash equivalent value of 200 pounds of gold. I looked it up, that works out to about $4 Million in this week’s market.

So… with that in mind, the parable: Jesus describes the kingdom of God is like a man who goes on a journey. Before heading out he hands over portions of his estate to his servants to look after it while he was gone. To one of them, he gives $20 Million, to the next he provides $8 Million, and the last he hands over $4 Million. With the estate in their hands, he immediately sets out on his trip.

No sooner has he left than the one who had received the largest amount goes and puts the money to work. He plays the stock market, trades with the capital, and eventually doubles his investment

The second servant does likewise, also doubling his investment.

The third, wanting to play it safe, takes the money that he is entrusted with and secures it in an underground vault.

After a long absence, the man returns and calls his servants together to settle up their accounts. The first, who had received $9 Million came forward and produced another $20 Million with this report: “Master, you entrusted me with $20 Million, but as you can see I made you another $20Million.” His master’s face lights up and he replies, “Well done, you have shown that you are both competent and reliable in small amounts… I will put you in charge of large amounts!”

Likewise the second servant comes forward, showing that he has doubled his original trust of $8 Million. Once again, his master replies “Well done, you have shown that you are both competent and reliable in small amounts… I will put you in charge of large amounts!”

The one who had received $4 Million came forward and said, “Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest crops where you haven’t scattered seed. I was frightened and went out and hid your money in an underground vault. Here is your money, every cent of it.”

The reply is unexpectedly harsh, “You lazy good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don’t plant, and gather crops where I haven’t scattered seed… you could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have at least earned the interest on it! Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant who doubled my nine million.”

This parable leaves us stunned… how is the kingdom of God like this? Remember, this is how Jesus starts off this parable. Jesus uses this story as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. It should leave us uncomfortable. We should be squirming in our seats. This is so off-putting to everything we know… In this parable, the one person who plays it absolutely safe and takes no risk gains nothing… and in fact… loses everything. But it also shows us how little we have learned in 2,000 years… that we still find this parable to be troubling and even revolutionary.

Over the years, there have been attempts to soften the edge of this parable by saying that in fact the last servant had gone out and squandered his master’s money. If such were the case, then his punishment would be appropriate, and we could sleep better at night. Yet this is not how it ends. The one person who takes the safe route, is the one who loses. Jesus does not present the story with a morally acceptable climax. Jesus reminds us that his purpose is not to speak of human justice, but the kingdom of God.

But even so, it’s hard for us to hear. We have been taught to play it safe. Come and rest in the safe harbours of the church, and all will be well. Don’t take unnecessary risks, because we want to make sure that we survive. This is how we’ve been taught, it’s how we’ve been raised… and yet this is not what Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God.

This is a troubling parable. It does not deliver what we, the audience wants. But, while it alarms us, it also brings us to where we must think of discipleship. As Matthew’s gospel makes repeatedly clear, it shows that the discipleship is not easy. Think of it this way… The third servant, by taking no risks whatsoever in burying his entrusted money, ironically takes the biggest risk of all. If we look at it this way, all three of these servants end up taking big risks. Choosing not to invest for the third servant, in the end, is just as risky if not more so than the others. By choosing to play it safe and to do nothing with this huge gift that was entrusted with, he ends up losing it all.

We risk more by doing nothing than we do by taking enormous, seemingly irresponsible risks. It’s a call against complacency. It is a call for discipleship, and to be actively involved in the kingdom of God. BUT this parable is not about earning our keep… it is not about producing enough so that God gives us a place at the table.

It is too easy to get hung up on the end result; on the rewards or punishment that is earned by the servants on the merits of their work, or their lack of it. Remember what happens at the beginning of the parable? Each of these servants is handed an unimaginable amount to begin with. The money is simply handed over first, they don’t ask for it, they don’t earn it, and no conditions attached to it.. Jesus is pointing out to us that the kingdom of God is like being handed a huge sum of money to begin with… and how we respond and make use of that gift. The gift of God’s grace is already given to us… what we choose to do with that gift is up to us.

The real twist and shock with the parable isn’t so much the conclusion as it is the opening… Can you imagine being given a gift so valuable, so vast? Yet Jesus points out to us that we already have it. The kingdom of God is like receiving a huge, unimaginable gift… and guess what? It’s already in our hands! As much as the Biblical “talent” is very different from how we understand it in English, the play on words works for us on some level. God has given each of us gifts and talents that are a part of who we are… God doesn’t make junk! This is an amazing gift, if we get right down to it. We call it grace… we can’t imagine how much God loves us, and yet it is already in our hands. The gift that God has given us is already there. Our gifts and talents are to be celebrated and exercised … not buried. The point is not the outcome of the investments; the point is that we are given them in the first place.

Amen.

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