Sermon on Matthew 25 14-30 The Parable of the Talents
19th November 2nd Sunday before Advent.
May I speak in the name of the Father , Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Readings like today about the Day of the Lord, Judgement and Jesus’ Second Coming, can make us feel uneasy. Is this the God we know and love, so fearful? Is this our gentle Saviour? Judgement and punishment for sin are not things we like to think about too much. We enjoy the freedom to disobey God, but not the freedom to escape the consequences of that disobedience, and that is where we may stumble.
The reading from Zephaniah is so graphic but we see similar events in our world today. God’s Word stands true throughout time and although Zephaniah was writing in the 7th Century BC, his words do have meaning for us, God’s people today. Zephaniah’s message is tough and hard hitting, much as Jesus’ words are in the parable today.
Zephaniah speaks with passion about the dreadful Day of the Lord, but within his prophecy, there are words of hope too, God offering mercy and grace for repentance and change. There are words of the great love of God for His people and the promise of a time when all judgement will end and the King of Israel will live among them and there will be no more trouble or fear. For Christians this prophecy is seen as Jesus coming to live with His people forever, His Second Coming. Zephaniah mirrors John’s words that God’s love is so great He will provide His King to give a new kingdom of Peace for His people. Remember, “For God so loved the world that....” There is always constancy in God’s words.
Today’s parable from Jesus is quite a difficult story to get our heads round as it seems so harsh and maybe unfair by our modern thinking. Matthew tells this story in great detail, whereas Mark only mentions it very briefly with a warning from Jesus, “Don’t let me find you sleeping, watch for my return and be ready.”
So let’s put this in context to help understand it better. Jesus had been talking to His disciples about His return and gives them earnest warnings about what will happen, not to frighten them but to prepare them so they won’t be misled by false messiahs. When our King returns, there will be no doubt by anyone, anywhere on earth! He has just had some serious words with the Pharisees, and now He is alone with His disciples and talks to them about the Kingdom of God. This story is for His people, it is for us. There is so much theological discussion about this parable but I like to try and understand His words as if I were there with Him.
Jesus is clearly the Master leaving for a long but unspecified length of time. He gives His servants work to do whilst He is away. The talents given to the servants are a gift way beyond their human ability to earn in a lifetime. The talent was the largest unit of Greek money with a specific weight in silver but worth in Jesus’ day about 10,000 denarii. Elsewhere in Matthew we learn that one denarii was one day’s wages so one talent is equivalent to 35 years work for one man. 5 is like a massive win on the lottery, so this Master gave generously gracious gifts, far more than one person could use for themselves in their lifetime. These servants in the parable could never have dreamed of such earnings, it was freely given to use for their Master. However any profit would be His not theirs so although such wealth, if their own, was life changing, it was given in trust for their Master’s use.
In teaching, some people like to talk about the talents purely as money and teach about stewardship and Christian giving for God’s glory and there is merit in that. Some like to say talents are natural abilities given by God to use in His Kingdom and there is merit in that too. Some would say they are opportunities given to further the work of Jesus through the Church, and there is merit in that. There is so much to say about the talents, their value, distribution and use.
But I would like to look at the servants and what they did, because I like you, am also a servant of Jesus. We all have a story as they did so what will we share with Jesus when He calls us home or returns to see what we have done with our talents. What will we say, what have we to show? Everything we are given is for a purpose and one day Jesus will look at what we have done with the gifts He has entrusted to us.
Now for these men, their gift was obviously money and that is what the disciples would have understood by talents. The first two respond in the same way. They gladly accept what they are given, they don’t compare, there’s no hint of jealousy or greed. There is simply a happy acknowledgement and then they go at once to put their money to work and grow it. They are eager and excited; they are both thrilled to have been entrusted with so much. They both know, love and trust their Master and have faith that He knows their capabilities and has given to them what they can best handle. Whatever God gives us, He wants us to respond with eagerness and joy.
But what about the third servant. He is also a servant of the Master, but his response is so very different. The Master knows him well and understands He cannot expect as much from this man. But He does expect something and the amount given is still very substantial, more than this person could even dream of earning in his lifetime. He clearly didn’t understand or appreciate this wonderful gift but he took it as an empty gesture because he did nothing with the money, just buried it so it was kept away even from thieves. He was truculent and lazy and didn’t want the responsibility; it was too much effort for him. So he lived his life just as he wanted to, as he always had in the past, the Master was away, why should he change, he wouldn’t keep the profits anyway. And when the Master returned, this man blamed Him for his actions! He said the Master was a hard man who takes the profits. He didn’t know His Lord at all, but assigned to Him a nature which justified his own disobedience and wickedness. How many people do that today? Blame God for every bad decision and everything bad that happens in the world, never looking at their own responsibility or poor judgement, selfishness or lack of understanding. When we ascribe to God what are really our own failings, like the lazy servant, we will be condemned by our own words and actions and then judgement follows.
But the other two, the Master is delighted with them and rewards them further. He praises them and promises them that they will “Enter into the joy of their Lord.” What a strange thing to say! What is the joy of the Lord? Paul tells us in Hebrews, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the Father.” Jesus is talking about heaven no less.
So what a challenge for us all and what a goal. But what are our talents and how do we get them now? How do we use them for Jesus? I would like to end with this little story.
There was a servant of Jesus who loved the Lord but whose life was just overtaken with problems and loss. Like locusts strip a field ripe with crops, she had let her troubles leave her life barren, without even the seeds of hope to renew her faith. So the Lord reached out through a dream. He took her to heaven and how she marvelled at the beauty and wonder of it all. He took her to a huge storehouse and she saw that it was filled floor to ceiling with gift boxes, all sizes, some brightly coloured, some plainer. She gasped with pleasure at such a sight; it was beyond anything she could imagine. “Who are these gifts for? “You!” Jesus said, “These are my gifts to help you through life, each box contains something you will need on your journey for me. This one is protection when attacked, this is strength, this is for your physical needs, this is healing and this one is peace for when you feel alone. So many gifts, why don’t you open them and use them. Come to me and chose what you need, or they will remain forever here, unopened and unused. They are unique to you, from me, to meet your own special work for me and bolster your own special talents.” It is fair to say that when the servant awoke her life took on new purpose, direction and joy which blessed not only her but everyone she knew!
Our God is so bountiful, longing to give to all His children, His storerooms are overflowing and beyond our dreams. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to say to Jesus when He asks us, “yes Lord, with the strength you gave me I was able to help someone in dire need, with the extra money I was able to provide food and clothing for my brothers and sisters who had lost everything, because I suffered loss, I was able to share the comfort you gave me to help my friend through his. You gave me healing and I gave my time and faith to pray for others and the peace you gave me calmed so many during a terrible trauma. Your love was shared with many who came to love you too, because they saw you cared. And the courage you gave me enabled me to stand up and preach your word! We can all see where God’s gracious provision to us has brought untold blessing to others.
All of us long to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come into the joy of your Lord.” And when we get there, I think Jesus will smile to tell us that our storehouses are now empty but the return is beyond price.
Margie Gall at Llanos on 19th November