Year A Proper 28 Matthew 25 2011
The Parable of the Talents
Jesus once told a story of a wealthy landowner who was preparing for a long journey. He called his three servants and divided his money between them, each according to their ability. To one servant he gave five talents, meaning a sum of money, to a second two, and to a third one.
Why is life like that? I don't know. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution. In an election our votes are all equal. But when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be. God simply did not make us all the same. There are some people who can handle five talents; there are some who can handle only one. There are some persons who have great intellectual capabilities, and some who do not. There are some who have the ability to project and articulate their thoughts, and there are some who cannot. There are some who have physical prowess and attractive looks, and there are some who do not.
The important thing to remember is that each servant was given something. No one was left idle. You may not be a five-talent person, but you have some talent. We all do. And you know something. I think that there are a whole lot more one and two talent people in this world than there are five talent people. Oh, there are some people who seem to have it all. I won't deny that. But most of us are just one or two talent servants.
The landowner now went on his journey. When he returned he called together his three servants and asked them to give an account. It seems that the five talent man had invested his talent and was able to return an additional five talents, a 100% return. So, too the two talent man doubles his money. Well, done good and faithful servant. "
But what about the one talent man? He stepped forward and said: Sir, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow. So he returned that which he had originally been given him. The landowner, incensed, uses words such as "slothful" and "wicked." Angrily he took the talent back and gave it to the servant who now had ten.
It is interesting to note that in the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel there are three parables told in a row: The Parable of the Bridesmaid, The Parable of the Sheep and Goats, and the Parable of the Talents. Essentially the same phrase is used in each: after a long time. The bridegroom comes after a long time. The landowner returns after a long time. The judgment comes after a long time. Perhaps this is Matthews's way of saying to us: Our master may be delayed in his return, but, in the meanwhile, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you. Let us be clear on one issue. God expects a return. We had better not simply bury that which has been given us and return it when he comes.
Well, it is obvious that the star, or we might say the villain, of the story is the one talent man. The salient question is: why did he choose to do nothing with the one talent that had been given to him? We are not really given the answer. We are left to speculate. And that is precisely what I would like to do this morning. Let us speculate about his inaction...
- Is his inaction due to the fear of failure?
- Is his inaction because of the ‘What if" game?
- Will one little talent make a difference?
Be Prudent or Productive?
In the Pacific Northwest there are three common prickly plants that populate the hedgerows and fence-lines — blackberries, salmon berries, and brambles. All three flourish without care and create impressive thickets for hiding all sorts of small critters. All three sport impressive thorns.
But only one of them is valued and hunted down every fall. Brambles bear no edible fruit at all — lots of snagging, snarly vines, but nothing to eat. Salmon berries produce pretty salmon colored gems that are beautiful to look at. Unfortunately salmon berries are almost completely tasteless. It is possible to make jam out of them, but they have so little real flavor it is basically like making congealed salmon-colored sugar water.
Blackberries, on the other hand, are loaded down with plump, dark purple-black fruit by late summer. The most delicious pies, the most jammin' jams, and the biggest bowls of berries, are all offered to those who brave picking at the blackberry vine. Landscapers feel no qualms ripping out brambles and salmon berries. But everyone wants to save just enough black berries to guarantee a fall harvest. We want blackberries to "be fruitful and multiply . . . and have dominion." It is their fruitfulness that encourages us to let them multiply and master their domain.
Do you ever get so frustrated by inanimate objects that you yell at them and accuse them of plotting against you?
Do you ever pound on your computer keyboard because you keep getting an inexplicable error message?
Do you ever rip apart "re-sealable" packaging because it is impossible to open in the first place?
Do you ever feel the urge chuck your phone off the nearest bridge because it drops every important call you have to make?
While it is definitely NOT a good idea to crush your keyboard, shred your food storage containers, or drop-kick your "Droid," that frustration we all feel connects us with one of Jesus' biggest "pet peeves" — the fruitlessness of that which should be fruitful.
Once when Jesus was hungry he approached a fig tree and searched its large, leafy branches for fruit. But the fig tree had no fruit. It was nothing but leafy greenery. All "show" and no "go." It has always been a little difficult for commentators to explain Jesus' immediate rage and reaction at this fruitless tree. Instead of shrugging off his disappointment and going to find a falafel, Jesus roundly curses the unsuspecting shrub, condemning it to death (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 19-25).
Is this just Jesus indulging in the frustration of the moment? Or is this "fig tree fiasco" really demonstrating the same principle that is described in today's parable?