Matthew 25.14-30. Here's the passage, first:
‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
I’m sure that most of us who have heard a sermon on this passage will immediately associate it with money – and especially with giving money to the church! But I already do quite enough begging for God’s mission in Havant! So I’d like to broaden things out a bit.
As many of you will know, I teach that context is everything. We need to understand the context of the original speaker of any words, the context of the person who wrote them down, and our own context as hearers. Context, context, context – the three C’s.
For the first of these (the context of the speaker) let see where this passage figures in Jesus’ story. The Parable of the Talents is part of a long sermon from Jesus about the end of the world. From the beginning of chapter 24, Jesus does these things:
- he foretells the destruction of the Temple,
- he describes the signs that will be seen at the 'end of the age',
- he predicts the persecutions of the Christians,
- he foretells the coming of false messiahs and prophets
- he describes the 'coming of the Son of Man'
And then he tells a number of parables to illustrate and underline the kind of behaviour that he expects from his followers while we await the end of all things.
- He uses the illustration of a fig tree, whose tender leaves foretell the coming of summer to encourage us to be watchful.
- Then Jesus talks about the kind of lives that he expects his followers to live, while awaiting the end of the age. They are to be those whom the Master finds 'at work' when he arrives - not eating and drinking with drunkards, but 'at work' about their Master's business.
- Then comes the story of the Ten Bridesmaids, that we heard last week - another encouragement to be prepared and watchful for the coming of the Lord.
- Then - at the end of all that! - comes today's story of the parable of the Talents, which we'll deal with in a moment.
- Finally, the whole section concludes with Jesus famous story of the end of time, when the sheep will be separated from the Goats - when those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, and who visited the sick will be separated for all eternity from those who did not.
Can you see the context in which the Parable of the Talents sits? The narrative force of the whole section is one of pointing us to the end of days, the end of the age, the Second Coming of the Messiah. And this is where the second context comes in – the context of the writer, or the recorder of a person’s word. Matthew seems convinced that the end of the world was going to happen very soon. He even records Jesus saying that the end of the world will take place while some of his followers are still alive. (Which is an interesting theological conundrum that we’ll leave for another day!).
According to Matthew’s understanding – Matthew’s context - Jesus is coming again! Let me say that one more time...Jesus is coming again! It’s something we declare in the 'mystery of faith' during every Communion service...'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again'. It is a central tenant of our faith that we believe the Kingdom of God to be both among us now, but also yet to come in all its fullness. That, of course, is a subject for a whole sermon of its own. So we won’t dwell there for now.
The point is that while we wait for the Master, according to the parables, we are to be busy about our Father’s business. And that, finally, is OUR context. Whatever skills and abilities we have, whatever wealth we have been given in financial terms or in terms of abilities, Jesus the Master expects us to use them in his service. We are not to bury them. We are to grab every opportunity to use the gifts we have been given for the work of the Master.
What does this mean in practical terms? Let me quote theologian, Fred Craddock. He says this…
“Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home...teach a Sunday School class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice and feed the neighbour’s cat. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much”. (Fred B, Craddock, Luke, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990. 193))
So, I want to encourage each of you to spend some time this week thinking about that very question. Go into a quiet place, and let your mind wander free through God's mission field. Is there a homeless person who needs your care? Is there a friend or family member who would be SO uplifted to receive a call from you? Is there a function within the family of the church that you could carry out...but which you have ignored for a while? Is there some money you could give to alleviate the suffering of another human being, or expand God’s mission in Havant?
And let me finally, ask you to ask that question with the kind of urgency that Matthew wants his readers to hear. What will the Master say to you when he comes? Will you be one of his 'wicked and lazy slaves'? Or will he call you his 'good and faithful servant' and cry 'well done! Enter into the joy of your Master!'?