Parable of the Talents
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, February 7, 2021
Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30
In this morning's epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul exclaimed, "We are poor, yet we make many rich. We have nothing, yet we possess everything!" This exclamation leads directly to today's Gospel, where the virtuous servants make many rich through their wise investment and come to possess the love and praise of the Lord.
If we follow the structure of the parable, the first two investors are rewarded. Then the one who buried his talent is punished and "cast into outer darkness." I wish I could invert it, giving cover and offering mercy to the burier, and then rewarding the industrious at the end, like those who all receive the same reward no matter what time they began their work.
But a talent is a lot of money. I'm told it equals about 20 year's wages or nearly $500,000, so two talents is a million and ten talents is five million dollars. It's a lot of money. Given that, doesn't it seem reasonable that the servant who received one talent, went ahead and saved it, not wanting to lose it? Hiding money for safekeeping is normal. So you can imagine his surprise, his fear and his shame when the master berates him and takes his talent away. It does not seem fair. So in verse 25, the one talent man says, "I was afraid, (notice how fear is his guide) so I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, take it back. I don't want it anymore. I have no faith in any good outcome, and I certainly don't want the responsibility of holding onto it. The Lord names him wicked and slothful. The one talent man never raises up his heart. He knew his master was hard, but he was unwilling to work and he was afraid to invest. Fear was his guiding principle. He was weak and unwilling to improve his life. Living in a seemingly unjust society, he remained silent. So, he became a part of the supine mass filled with deadly energy, resenting those around him who accomplished great things. He thought he was free of trouble, but if this kind of liberty means doing whatever you want, then that's living in a Never-Never Land where no one is responsible and no one wants to be held to account. He wanted to remain a child, but that was not to be.
In contrast, he who received the five talents went and traded them at once. He wasted no time. The traders were good and they were devoted. They were faithful, persistent, and adventurous. Their labor was good work. And ultimately they received their crown of joy. The servants with five and two talents kept a guard over their hearts, and accomplished astonishing things.
The Lord said to them, "You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much." Think of Abraham who left his home in faith and was granted as many descendants as the stars in the sky. Abraham was a faithful servant, but his life and his legacy required a first step of faith. To be faithful in little things is to enter into the joy of the master. The Gospel also says, "For to everyone who has, will more be given, and he will have in abundance; but from him who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away." This sounds like, "the rich get richer," and it seems unjust. But it is an observation of truth. The Lord simply promises, if you use your gifts with diligence and practice, there will be a reward, and a return on your investment. Our talents will be multiplied like a single violin in an orchestra. Or like a small gift of loaves and fishes which can feed a whole congregation. But all of this takes a first small step of faith. So let us peer into the unknown and try something new, and the Lord will reward our adventure. As Charlotte Bronte says, "Better to try all things and find all empty than to try nothing and leave your life a blank."
So what is the Lord asking from us in this parable? He is asking us to be prepared for his return, but he is also asking us to take risks, to think beyond the day to day, and yes, to invest in the future. What will we do with the talents that have been given to us? We all have gifts. We can use our talents of friendliness to our neighbors, our warmth and our welcome. We have the talent of prayer in quiet times, and with this comes a responsibility for making the Kingdom of Heaven come alive in this world.
God gave us hands and feet and speech, and strength of mind and body that we might use all these things for our neighbor's advantage. Let us contribute what God has given us, our wealth, our diligence and our care giving for our neighbor's advantage. As St. John Chrysostom said, "Nothing is so pleasing to God as to live for the common advantage." Each of our talents has value, whether it's providing protection, or teaching, or building something new. Yes, we are loved and we are needed. Of course we have many talents. We can pray. We can speak. We can work. We can vote. These are the gifts that God has given us. And the Lord can use them to make the world a better place. As St. Paul writes in Ephesians, "We are God's handiwork, created in Christ to do good works." We pray, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" and when we put our neighbor's well being above our own, that is the will of God. We are responsible for each other; we can take care of each other. Let us then, cooperate, and add labor to our talents. Or as Cornel West writes, "Justice is what love looks like in public." I'll say it again...
We may not seem that great in our little white church at the corner of Mass Ave and Inman St. We may be tempted to say, "What can I do to make a change?" We may even be content with the daily routines of our lives. But we can make great change. Once I heard about a priest who sent a bus around to Allston and Brighton to pick up kids and families who didn't have any transportation so they could come to church. That's a good investment. The congregation knew that someone cared enough to come and get them. Here at St. Mary's we have just invested in a new sound system so that people can hear the services more clearly. And we invested in new iconography in the entrance so that when people enter the church they feel that they are entering the Kingdom of Heaven. I heard another story about someone who helped his grandmother get a vaccination recently. She could never have done it on her own. Then he told her to please tell him to have anyone in her building call him if they didn't have a computer, and he would help get them signed up for a vaccine as well. Now that's a gift that we can continue to offer. There are so many other untold stories of grace and generosity in this parish. These are good investments which will certainly be returned with interest: life added to life!
The parable of the talents also reminds me of the parable of the sower. We sow seeds in expectation of growth, and expecting a return on our investments is basically the same idea. We can no longer be content with "things as they are." Rather, let us take a risk, invest in others and "enter into the joy of our master." Let us enter into his overwhelming joy, a gladness that radiates and overflows with goodness, where there is no place for envy or pride, where everything is a gift. This is the joy of our heavenly dwelling. We have been brought into the joy of our eternal home and joined with the company of angels. And this is not just something we have to look forward to, but something we are doing right now. Right now, our lamps are lit and bright, we are not hidden, right here in our heavenly home at St. Mary's in Cambridge. Thanks be to God.