So, apparently there’s some “How hard did aging hit you?” challenge going around on Facebook right now. I’m not entirely sure what all is entailed, but it looks like you take the earliest photo you posted of yourself and compare it to the most recent photo, and see how much you changed. And I thought this sounded fun, so I took it upon myself to do this challenge on behalf of a few of you. I call it the: “How hard did aging hit Beaver Memorial” challenge.
And finally, this is me 7 years ago. I was 19. These are three of my best friends from when I was at university: Wes, Malach, and Chase. We all played football and had a bunch of classes together, so we were together a lot. Wes currently works in insurance, Malach is a teacher, and Chase is a lawyer. And I distinctly remember we all had presentations to give in class that day, and someone commented how nice we all looked, so the only logical thing to do at that point was take a picture of the 4 of us in a classic prom-date pose.
Now, the reason I put this picture up here, is that I want to highlight a few things, namely, how athletic I am; how well-rested I look; how I’m just oozing with the fact that I’d not yet started contemplating the meaninglessness of life. And, fast-forward to now – after getting married, earning two degrees, and having two kids – and this pretty accurately describes my day to day – holding onto a kid and chugging coffee just to stay alive. Now, in all these pictures I just showed you, all the people changed a lot, and I think I can probably speak for them in saying that, over all that time, things have changed for the better. And the same is true for me. I’ve never been so tired, but I’ve also never been happier. And I think that’s probably true for most of the folks here.
The reason I bring this all up is because the reason our lives have gotten better is due to the fact that we’ve taken some risks. Maybe you asked someone to marry you; maybe you and your spouse decided to have kids or you took a leap of faith with that new job. When things are handed to us, purely out of grace, we’re faced with a choice: do we take it and run with it and try to do something with it, or do we just let it sit for as long as possible because we’re nervous we might blow it? This is the question Jesus’ parable is really trying to get at.
So, to understand whyJesus is telling this parable, we really have to go back to the first verse of the chapter: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this…” After this, Jesus tells the parable of the bridesmaids. We won’t be touching on that parable during this series, but it is situated in Matthew 25 which is often referred to as the “Eschatological Discourse.” We see in the immediate surrounding of the passage lots of this apocalyptic language and imagery, and there are a few likely reasons for that.
First, it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus probably did say some things akin to what’s recorded here. Remember: Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet; he expected the end to come any day. But also, the gospels are written decades after Jesus lived so a lot of this stuff was likely passed down through oral tradition, and then finally recorded by the gospel-writers. So, because of Jesus’ apocalyptic mindset, a lot of this stuff is probably similar to some things Jesus actually said. However, there’s something else at play here, and that’s the context Matthew is writing in. One of the biggest problems that early biblical authors — from those who wrote the gospel texts to those who authored the epistles, like Peter and Paul — one of the biggest problems they’re trying to deal with and make sense of is what’s called “the delay of the Parousia.” This is basically a fancy term for the fact that Jesus never came back. He promised he would come back, his followers promised he would come back, and he still isn’t here. And there’s a lot of anxiety surrounding that in these prototypical churches. We’ll come back to this a bit later, but it’s good to have in mind for now.
So, in the beginning of the story, we see a man going on a journey, and it says he “summoned his slaves” and entrusted his property to them. Now, the Greek word here is “doulos” which can also mean something akin to “servant”. In this context, these “slaves” are quite possibly indentured servants or something like that, especially since this man is willing to place his assets in their care. Now, it continues by saying: “to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went away.” So, what exactly is a talent? Well, first of all, this word in the Greek is τάλαντον, and it means “a balance or a certain weight.” So, we’re not talked about a minted coin or form of currency. We’re talking about a specific amount of money — similar to the way we, today, might use the term “a grand” to talk about $1000.
Now, how much exactly is a talent? Well 1 talent is equal to 6000 Denarii, and 1 Danarius, the singular form of Denarii, is about a single day’s wage for a common laborer. So, if my math is correct, and we assume someone is working approximately 300 days per year, 1 talent, or 6000 denarii, is equivalent to about 20 years’ wages, 2 talents equals 40 years’ wages, and 5 talents equals 100 years’ wages. These are inordinate amounts of money, but it’s not uncommon at the time for servants or slaves to be entrusted with certain aspects of their master’s estate or finances. And notice here, Matthew says that the master gave to each according to their ability.
And this is often a sticking point for people getting involved in churches, because, for one reason or another, there’s some expectation of the way someone has to be or the talents someone has to have in order to contribute to the ministry. Maybe you’re not a communicator or speaker like me. Maybe you’re not passionate about being involved with Christian education like Lisa or maybe you’re not musically inclined like Tim. And so, you just kind of throw up your hands and say, “there’s no place for me here.” But nothing could be further from the truth. The church is a body made up of many parts. Paul speaks to this idea in his first letter to the church in Corinth: 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
What we’re doing here isn’t about a particular set of gifts that are better than another set of gifts, or there being a particular, elite group of people who have all the responsibility while others have none. That’s not what we’re about. What we’re about is everyone here, using whatever they have, to contribute to the cause. For some, it will be particular skills or trades. For others, it’ll be prayers and tithes. For others, it will be donating time to lend a helping hand wherever we need one. Whatever your ability, I guarantee it’s something that the kingdom needs. The key is being willing to do something with itfor the kingdom, and not just let it sit and deteriorate.
This is what we see happening with the three slaves in our story. We see the first two, who were given 5 talents and 2 talents, going off and doing business, and ultimately, they double what they had. The one who had 5 made 5 more, and the one who had 2 made 2 more. But the slave who received 1 talent didn’t do anything with it. Instead he just hid it in the ground because he was too afraid to take a risk. And if this doesn’t describe churches today, I don’t know what does.
Christianity has become more and more irrelevant. And I know that may sound harsh, but it’s the truth, and we need to hear the truth. Christianity is actively dying. But rather than trying to evolve and take risks and meet people where they’re at, the church has become increasingly more inward turning and almost exclusively focused on just keeping a pulse. I don’t know how many times I had parishioners at my last church bend my ear about “keeping the doors open.” Like…really? That’sthe goal? That’s what we’re reaching for? Just keeping the doors open? I mean, I know it’s cliché, but if we fight for our limitations we get to keep them. Comfortability is not a measure of success; institutional security is not a measure of success.
As much can be said for the slaves in our story. Two took risks and it paid off; one favored security and avoided the risk and it didn’t work out so good for him. Now, the text says, “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” Remember earlier when I was talking about “the delay of the Parousia?” Well, this is a very parabolic way of speaking about the second coming of Christ, right? “After a long time…” – Jesus hasn’t come back yet and people are concerned. “Settling accounts” – this speaks to the final judgement where everyone will be assessed. These images would have been at the forefront of the minds of the initial audience who still expected Jesus to come back in a very physical, cosmic way.
And so, we see the master settle accounts with the first two slaves who doubled their investments, and the master says to them, “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.” I think I’m right when I say that this is something we all probably want to hear. We want to hear that we’ve been faithful and trustworthy. As a church, we want to be faithful and trustworthy in the few things we have so that God may grace us to be faithful in many things; in many ministries with many people. But, in order to get there, we have to try. As the church, we can’t sit back and expect people to flock to us, merely because we’re the church. That’s not how it is anymore, and that’s not how it was in the ancient church, either. It’s hard work to be faithful with the few things we have – but it’s also the responsibility that’s been entrusted to us. If we’re not trying to be faithful in what we’ve been given – if we just want to take what we have and hoard it and protect it and keep it safe -- then we don’t really know who we are and, consequently, don’t really know who God is.
This is the bind the third slave gets into. He comes to the master and says, “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.” And, keep in mind, this is coming right after he’s rewarded the other two slaves for their efforts. So, not only did the slave not do anything with what was given to him, but he also doesn’t really know the master as well as he thinks he does. But we can imagine this third slave, handing over a damp and muddy pile of silver to his master, and the kind of inner conflict he’s experiencing as he does so.
Now, I’m going to be quite honest about something, and I don’t think this will come as a shock to many of you, but I’m pretty agnostic about the idea of a conscious afterlife. I would love to be pleasantly surprised, but there’s not much that currently leads me in that direction. But, for the sake of the sermon, let’s say there is. I don’t want to stand face to face with my maker, prepared to settle accounts, and then hand over a talent that’s damp and muddy because I was so afraid of failure in life that I just dug a hole and buried it. We shouldn’t be so paralyzed because we somehow feel caught between the goodness of the gift and the potential wrath of the giver. Yes, there’s some apocalyptic judgement language toward the end of the story, but this story isn’t ultimately about the wrath of the giver; it’s about the way the giver so generously and liberally shares what he has.
God has given us much as a church; God is providing us growth because we’re doing our job of watering. And if we want to continue to grow, we have top continue to water. Earlier this week, our new Leadership Board met and identified some goals that will be pushing our ministry forward for the next year, and one of the goals is to get more folks involved, whether it be in building maintenance or small groups or visitation. There’s a place for everyone, here, and there are plenty of opportunities to get plugged in.
So, if you’re one of those people who has buried your talent in the ground because you’re too afraid of using it or you’re too afraid of being committed or whatever, there’s only one thing I have to say to you, and that’s “go dig it up!” Dig it up and start using it. The master is on his way back to settle accounts, but we still have time. And time is something we will always be running out of. Who you are, and what you’ve been given, is a gift, and it’s a gift that’s meant to be shared with the world. And there’s no better time to start sharing it than right here, right now. Let’s pray.