A chapter before, the disciples ask, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answers with stories; one of a wedding with bridesmaids who’d invested in oil reserves, and bridesmaids who did not, now one of servants entrusted to invest in God’s kingdom. Before, five uninvested bridesmaids got left in the dark, now someone else gets bounced. Is this about, “makin’ the cut?”
Last week’s oil incident and this week’s talent incident make us wonder.
Does following Jesus ask more than we expect to risk? Is everlasting life prepared in Jesus too pricey? Isn’t being good enough how we make the cut?
Language is funny, we hear “talent” and think ability. Back when Jesus used it, “talenta” meant riches; five talentas are riches of a lifetime. One talent is valued around 20 years of wages. Here the master entrusts mega-bucks to servants.
20 centuries have changed the meaning of “talent,” creating a poor theology leading us to believe and teach—“Talents—Use ‘em or lose ‘em”— foolishness reducing the message of Jesus to human “ability.”
The story isn’t about ability. It’s about investment, and that means our real focus is:
“What are you willing to risk so you gain the maximum return on kingdom investment?” Be mindful that we invest riches already entrusted to us by the Master.
So–what has been entrusted to us?
Is it faith? Doesn’t Jesus say, “if you have mustard seed sized faith, you say to this mountain, ‘move and it will move.’” Some are more faithful than others, see their faith grow because they invest richly. Others not so much. And that doesn’t square with a servant cast into outer darkness. Doesn’t that servant have a relationship with the master? Have faith?
Maybe what’s entrusted isn’t faith.
What if the riches entrusted to us, are more than faith because they are the rich truth that we are God’s children, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and thus the story of Jesus is our most priceless treasure?
Risky investment in God’s kingdom tells the story, so that others come to know and love Jesus; living into our faith, shares this story with God’s world and this grows God’s kingdom. This story, if it’s riches buried deep within us, rather than riches shared through us, is useless. And sharing always involves risk.
Two servants get it, risk it all, double the investment. One hides it, risks nothing, gains nothing. Before we judge this talent burier, keep in mind that they did the pragmatic thing. 1st century Jewish law says burying is the best theft protection around. Egypt’s pharaohs thought so, too. Even my grandpa thought so; John J. Howard said he never could trust banks, buried his money in mason jars under a ligustrum bush. Any of you know some zero-return jar-burying investors?
Two risk and double the investment. One follows protocol, does what should make the cut, except it doesn’t make the cut. When it comes to following Jesus, and obeying the teachings of Jesus, don’t we have to live into it for it to cut through the idols of our age and make any lasting change?
Isn’t living the values of Jesus the point of Christian life? When all’s said and done, won’t the only values left anywhere around be those of Jesus?
Last Sunday I mentioned relationship with God— we must see that value in relationship shapes the servants’ response to the master’s trust. Two trust the master enough to risk it all. Trust between master and servants empowers two to invest without fear. Yet one servant seems less trusting than the others, fears what might happen if any investment is made at all.
Which begs a relationship question—“How do you see God? When you were small, what did God look like? What did God’s face look like? Did God love, laugh, or smile? Or look harsh, strict, or tough?”
How we see God shapes us. If God’s seen as harsh divine disciplinarian, then fear of God will make you bury your talent 6 feet deep in your own grave. But if we see God as smiling, loving, laughing, the God we see in Jesus, then trust in God’s tender, forgiving mercy empowers us to risk full investment in God’s kingdom. How much do we entrust ourselves to the One who entrusts us with the priceless story of Jesus?
Trust permeates this parable, shows that it isn’t about abilities, shows that it isn’t about faith, because it’s about trust. What if it’s not about making the cut, because it’s about being invested enough? Isn’t it about trusting the One who knows you, who creates trusting faith in you, which empowers you to place yourself at risk? Will you risk yourself to invest risking it all in the work of God’s kingdom? God’s not seeking admirers; God seeks disciples who risk it all to make other Jesus-following disciples.
We can’t create, what we are not, can’t give what we don’t have, can’t make disciples if we are not disciples. And if we’re not being disciples, let’s confess that we’ve buried our talent, and settle for being admirers of the master rather than followers of the master. Yet if we’ve risk-it-all-full-investment-trust in Jesus Christ our Master, people will look twice, see their need to invest in Jesus, too.
The master trusted three servants. Two trusted the master. One, not so much. Faith is trusting in God and risking it all, risking it all to hear the master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.” Isn’t that what Jesus does? What Jesus asks us to do?