Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” ~ Matthew 25:29
Now I don’t know about you, but if I weren’t in church and heard that verse quoted out of context, I might just think it was something that came out of the mouth of some giant of Wall Street or Bay Street. It sounds like something wealthy western business people might say, as they benefit from the capitalist system at the expense of others.
It seems that Jesus is once again talking about money, but this time if we take it out of context it seems that Jesus’ teaching about money would fit right in with 21st-century economics. The King’s words at the end of Jesus’ parable are markedly unfair though thoroughly modern, after all, we so often say ‘the rich get richer’ – but why should the rich get richer? Why is Jesus telling a story that seems to underline the disparity between those who have and those who do not have?
But here is the rub, this is a parable, and as we know from Jesus’ other parables there is so much more than what’s on the surface. So while we cannot neglect the fact that Jesus speaks a lot about money – so much so that we need to pay attention and learn about Jesus’ approach to Kingdom Economics – today we focus instead on the Economy of Grace which is front and centre as well in the parable we heard.
Our parable today is essentially the second last teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, it is followed by the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and then quickly by the plot to betray Jesus and the last supper. Additionally, Matthew situates this parable is Jesus’ discourse around the future Kingdom of God and Jesus’ Second Coming. These give us hints to how Matthew wants us to understand Jesus’ teaching here – while there is certainly implication for the present, we cannot avoid the future implications. All throughout these last chapters, Jesus is pointing us to the understanding that our actions today matter for the future.
And that can be a little tricky to navigate because one of the essential truths of the gospel is that we are saved by grace alone – no action we do can change the fact that Jesus has saved us from the power of sin and death; The cross and the resurrection are effective and powerful apart from any action on our part, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t involved. In between now and the time when heaven and earth are united together forever, we still need to live and perhaps that is how we can understand the parable of the talents we heard this morning.
The late, great Eugene Peterson once described the Christian life as like a river: “We are saved by God’s grace alone, but then we are given the opportunity to jump into that already flowing river of grace. The river and everything we get a chance to do while floating in it is ultimately all the work of God. Our actions in the river would not be possible were it not for God. But what a joy and privilege it is to be in that river at all!”
Whether we realize it or not this parable is all about this kind of grace. After all, how else would one describe the Lord of the parable giving over vast sums of money to his servants, if not grace?
In ancient Israel, one talent would have been equivalent to a lifetime’s worth of wages for the servants, so in the process of entrusting his property to his servants, he was entrusting them with vast amounts of money – sums beyond their wildest dreams or their expectations. This act itself is pure grace, the Master has confidence in these people, he trusts them completely to deal with his most valuable property.
This kind of trust and responsibility was an act of pure faith, and so it was up to each servant to choose what they would do with that trust and responsibility. The first two servants recognized the sheer grace of it all, they took the grace that had been offered and worked to multiply it each of them doubling the amount they had received and because of that they are welcomed into more responsibility and trust and invited to enter into the joy of their master. Their reward is a place of honour and joy.
The third servant, however, had convinced himself that there was no joy to be had, that the trust and faith of the master wasn’t grace but rather a millstone around his neck. And so he buried the talent, afraid of the Master and his offer of grace and responsibility.
When it came time to settle accounts the third servant accused the master of harsh treatment, of injustice, shady business practices – even though the rest of the parable is pretty clear that the Master is anything but harsh he had just blessed the previous two servants with riches beyond their wildest dreams, he had bestowed upon them the responsibility that no servant in ancient Israel could have imagined.
The third servant refused to acknowledge the grace of the Master, he instead lived in a fantasy of his own creation, choosing to give in to fear and mistrust and not believe that there was any joy possible in service to the Master. And so the Master allowed him to live in that hell of his own making and stripped him of talent he had received and threw him out into the outer darkness, matching the reality of the darkness that the servant had already chosen to live in.
As we follow Jesus, each of us has a choice, the same choice that the servants in the parable had.
Do we see the grace of God as a burden, do we see the responsibility and obedience that are essential pillars of the Christian life as burdensome and allow our lives to be dominated by fear?
Or like the first two servants, do we accept the responsibility and trust of God, do we take the Grace of God expecting joy and multiply it?
We can demonstrate that we understand this joy when we throw ourselves into Christian living wholeheartedly without fear or reservation for what God might demand of us.
We can demonstrate our understanding of the responsibility and trust that God has put in us, when we are motivated to get busy with our talents, with the gifts we have each been bestowed and hope to multiply the grace and joy we have experienced at God’s hands.
So often in the church, we fear that our efforts won’t make a difference, or we worry that our resources are too thin, or that people won’t experience the joy of the Gospel and we decide the risks aren’t worth it. We can not let fear dominate our life as a church, just as each one of us cannot let fear dominate our lives following Jesus.
What if we approached all of our decisions, as a church community and as individual disciples, with the knowledge that God intends joy for us as we take risks for the Gospel?
What if multiplication of grace was the driving factor behind what we do – from how we serve our community, to how we spend our time and money, to how we speak and treat one another in this community?
God is pouring grace upon grace upon us, God intends joy for this community and for each and every one of us. Take hold of that grace, embrace his joy – that is secret to the Christian life, today and forevermore.