A master entrusts property to slaves before going on a journey: five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to the third. Some scholars say this is a huge amount, a talent as a lifetime’s wages.[i] It’s extravagant, an amazing invitation. I’m entrusting you with all of this. Either way it is a surprise, a gift, and an invitation to act. They are differing amounts, “according to the ability of each.” The master trusted with particularity, noting the unique ability of each.
After a long time, the master returns. The first two say: You entrusted me with this amount, and see I have doubled it. “Well done, [you are] good and trustworthy.” Having been trustworthy, I will give you more. The master doesn’t say: You are successful. Rather: you are good and trustworthy.[ii] You stepped out on my behalf buying and selling property, investing what I handed over. It appears that engagement and participation are more important than a particular return.
The third one says: I know you to be harsh. I was afraid, so I hid your money. Here it is, everything exactly as you gave me. The master is furious: “You wicked and lazy slave.” You should have at least put my money in the bank, so that it would earn interest.
This is a hard word of judgement. We might ask: So what exactly is a talent? How did they invest it? What did those first two do? I don’t want be called wicked. I don’t want to be thrown out. Give me specifics. What then should I do? Those are fearful, clutching questions.
Do you know what it’s like to be trapped by fear? To not accept a generous invitation? To not risk doing something new or challenging? To not take action except perhaps to dig a really great hole and carefully hide something—or yourself—so that it is seemingly safe and prevented from changing?
Fear is a common experience. Throughout scripture God says: Do not be afraid. This story says to not act because of fear is also disobedience. Kingdom life is one of participation. To not act is just as bad as to overtly do something wrong. This parable puts it more starkly with judgement, as do the parables on either side. The foolish bridesmaids are locked out of the party. The one who hid the master’s money is thrown out. What we do or don’t do matters. God gives gifts. We are to receive and use them. It’s about engagement and participation, not a particular result.
What is your talent? It’s anything and everything God gives, given as free gift, often given uniquely according to you. What are you thankful for? That question helps me notice what God has given: being alive, my relationships, place, and work. All of these are gift. All are to be used, not hoarded, not put away, not kept safe and secure put to the side. Eugene Peterson wrote: “The kingdom is here. We are in it. The ‘sum of money’ that we are left with is not something to be guarded, protected, and kept safe, but put to good use.”[iii]
Those first two servants put the money the master entrusted them with to good use. They immediately went off, traded, and made much more. It appears easy. Were they afraid? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were and yet acted through fear. Had those two been given such an amount before? Had they stood out and traded in their master’s name? Perhaps. I imagine it’s new for all of them, that the first two had courage, and the third did not. I imagine that the first two stepped through their fear and did something new, risked sharing, and found they could make more talents.
Perhaps a question for us is: Where are you invited to risk and act with what has been entrusted to you? It might be money but it might be relationships, and actions in your everyday ordinary living. What has God given you, and what does it look like to participate, to take to risk to bless others? Perhaps you will know by asking: Where are you tempted to hold back, to dig a hole, to hide? Turn that around and what would it look like to step out with courage instead of hiding?
Beginning with our parents Abraham and Sarah, we are blessed to be a blessing. This is not about doing the expected, like the five bridesmaids in the preceding parable last week who brought a typical amount of oil. In the kingdom of God, the unexpected happens. It’s like an extremely late wedding party. It’s like a master who entrusts thousands of dollars and then goes away on a long trip. In the kingdom of God, the wise bring along an absurd amount of oil because anything could happen. The trustworthy step out in the name of their master and trade property, risk making deals that extend their master’s realm.
The wise and the trustworthy act not out of fear but in anticipation and trust of the good. In anticipation of a wedding. In trust of a good master, not one who is harsh but who is generous and expansive. Here, I entrust you with all of this. I believe in you and your ability, your power. Paul encouraged Timothy in his second letter: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you … for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”[iv]
In response to amazing grace, don’t freeze or hide in fear. Be courageous. Step out to take risks. Live your ordinary life to be a blessing with what you’ve been given: time, talent, treasure, all gift, all grace. Participate in life risking trust.
[i] Frederick Dale Bruner (2004) Matthew: A Commentary, Vol 2. The Churchbook, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, p553.
[ii] Kenneth E. Bailey (2008) Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: cultural studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, p400.
[iii] Eugene Peterson (2008) Tell It Slant: a conversation on the language of Jesus in his stories and prayers. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, p154.
[iv] 2 Timothy 1:6-7
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