Have any of y’all ever reaped where you haven’t sown…? or gathered where you haven’t scattered seed? I bet you have.
Though the news media might wish you to believe otherwise, the times in which we live are, arguably, among the most civilized and peaceful in the history of the planet. People are living longer, healthier and more productive lives than in previous generations. The arts and sciences are flourishing. Big business is beginning to develop a social conscience. And we’re privileged to live our lives in the wealthiest and most just country in the world. Though the U.S. is far from perfect, there’s no place else I’d rather have grown up and worked and raised my family. And I guess my genes, and the color of my skin, and the way I was raised by my parents and grandparents didn’t really hurt my chances either. And none of this was earned. It was all “the luck of the draw.” Now, I’ve always tried to make the best of the hand I was dealt… and I’ve done OK… thanks be to God. But the point is: I didn’t earn the hand I was dealt. It was given to me. So, any thought of merit or entitlement goes out the window. Everything’s from God. So, what do you think? Haven’t we all, at one time or another… in one way or another… been un-worthy beneficiaries of God’s largesse?
And that’s the first point Jesus is making in today’s Gospel story. Just to circle back and provide a little context: we’re in Jerusalem during the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He has exited the Temple for the last time after having, once again thoroughly alienated the Jewish religious leadership (as was apparently his habit)… also, for the last time. The mood is tense. Jesus has predicted for the third time that he will be betrayed and turned over to the chief priests and scribes, who will then condemn and crucify him… but that he would be raised on the third day (Matt 20:17-19). And now, Jesus and his disciples are on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the City. The disciples have been listening, with growing alarm, as Jesus spoke not only of his own death, but also of the destruction of the temple, the end of the age… of persecutions, desolating sacrilege, and of the coming of the Son of Man (Matt 24:1-31). “When will all this happen?” they ask. “How will we know?” “How shall we prepare?” But instead of giving his disciples a concise “survivors’ guide” for the coming apocalypse, Jesus spoke to them in parables about… fig trees, thieves in the night, wicked slaves, and bridesmaids caught off guard. And today, we hear of wealth entrusted to the servants of a man going on a journey. Can you imagine the disciples looking at each other thinking, “There he goes again… I hate it when he does this.”
Now, y’all probably know that a “talent” isn’t a coin. A talent refers to a weight and a volume of precious ore or coinage, usually silver or gold. And back in Biblical times, before Spain flooded the world market with South American silver in the 16th century, gold and silver were valued similarly, as precious metals go. So, a “talent” of gold weighed around about 75 pounds and would have been worth about 1.25 million of today’s dollars. So being entrusted with a talent of the master’s wealth was a big deal. And five talents? That was a really big deal! And what did the master ask of his servants? Well, we don’t really know, do we? Jesus leaves that to his disciples’ (and our) imagination. I guess it’s safe to assume that the master didn’t want his wealth to be squandered. That’s kind of a no brainer, isn’t it? But, if read the passage closely, we see that the amount given to each servant wasn’t arbitrary… it was given to each according to his ability. And this connotes some sort of expectation about how this abundance of wealth was to be used: husbanded. To each… according to his ability. And the master was gone for a while. Again, Jesus doesn’t spell it out for the disciples… he leaves them in a degree of suspense in this regard. All he said was that it was… a long time. But there came a day when the master returned to settle accounts… the day of reckoning.
Man, wouldn’t it be easy to interpret this as a parable about stewardship? And I guess it is about stewardship… but not in the conventional “church” sense of the word. The parable doesn’t really have anything to do with money, does it? Jesus tells us in another passage from Matthew’s Gospel to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s… and to God that which belongs to God” (v. 22:21). So, what was Jesus talking about when he spoke of the abundant wealth entrusted to the servants while the master was away? What if… Jesus is talking about love. Love is the currency of the New Testament, after all. The overarching theme of loving God and neighbor was central to everything Jesus said and did during his three years of active ministry. And while we all have “stuff” going on in our lives, we have—each of us—also been blessed… so richly. And it’s not as if we deserve to be so blessed, or that we’ve somehow earned God’s special favor. No! So, that’s Jesus’s first point. And his second point was that we have been blessed, each according to our abilities, for a purpose. And that purpose is to be the light of Christ to a world in great need of hope, preaching the Good News of God’s amazing, inexhaustible love to those who are far off and those who are near (cf. Ephesians 2:17). That’s the “wealth” with which we’ve been entrusted, and it’s more precious than all of the gold and silver in the world.
So, here’s the thing: our God is not a God of the “status quo.” God has invested in us, and it’s up to us to give God a return on that investment. It’s not enough to be a good person, whatever that looks like. It’s not enough to not cheat on your taxes, be kind to animals, say your prayers at night and come to church on Sunday. All that’s great, don’t get me wrong, but unless we’re actively paying forward God’s amazing grace and the wealth of love with which we’ve been entrusted—everyday—then not only are we reaping where we did not sow and gathering where we did not scatter, we’re actively squandering the fruits of God’s once-for-all sacrifice for the whole world. And in so doing, we run the risk of losing… everything.
The hour is late, and there’s no telling when our day of reckoning will come. But it will come. And on that day, we’ll want to enter into the joy of our master… not into that other place. You know the one I’m talking about. No one wants to go there. So be faithful… shine your light… and speak love—everyday—each of us… according to our abilities. In the end, that’s the only currency that matters.