Risking Trust – Br. Luke Ditewig

Matthew 25:14-30

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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  1. John G. on November 9, 2022 at 09:21

    Brother Luke, I regularly have spells of fear and inaction which snowballs until God and his representatives break the cycle. There is salvation in service, I find, but there may be little success or reward. Perhaps that is because I expect too much of the recipients; perhaps I attempt what is too difficult for me. Your sermon calls me to an honest assessment of my talents. What am I drawn to? What am I interested in? Why? Is it only to puff up my ego in the eyes of others or am I truly called to serve? I don’t expect to reach certainty. As you point out, trust is necessary in the midst of risk. The outcome is not assured. But the Holy Spirit moves in mysterious ways. I come back again and again to the sermons of SSJE because they move me, nudge me, even frighten me, into attention. I find the Spirit moving, cajoling, challenging me not to hide but to stand up, stand up for Jesus. Amen

  2. Mike Stevens on May 12, 2022 at 20:53

    Luke, this was part of my prayer today, and what a wonderful paradigm to look at our gifts and what we do with them. I hadn’t look at this parable and the role of risk this way before. I have frequently reflected whether I have used the gifts God has given me. Upon reflection after your homily, I think I have done so more than I thought. Thank you for this gift.


  3. carol carlson on May 12, 2022 at 13:59

    What an inspiring sermon on a difficult text, Br. Luke. Yes, the master is a crook; yes the slaves (might as well use the right word…) are scared witless; but Jesus’s stories are never easy equivalences of things that ‘stand for’ other things. The master isn’t God, and his crookedness is beside the point – this is how the rich in every generation act, and everyone listening to the story, then and now, knows that. Given that reality, we’re supposed to keep our eye on the slaves (Matthew likes that word for us) and note what makes a ‘good’ one.

    In an alternate version of this story in one of the non-canonical Gospels, one slave invests the cash, one hides it, and the third spends it on ‘flute players and dancing girls’! Neater, 1-2-3 progression, good to bad; but in Matthew’s version there’s only a 1-2 option, good vs. bad: sitting on the riches we’ve been given is just as bad as wasting them. In a parish discussion of the things we do, a member once cried out in mock dismay, ‘This place is a lot of work!’ That’s the Kingdom for you – our Master’s ‘harshness’ is simply the expectation that we USE what we’ve been given….. But what a good place to be, where much is expected of us, and such abundance is given to meet the need.

  4. David B Damon on May 12, 2022 at 06:34

    Dear Brother Luke – thank you so very much for this message about how to live as disciples of Jesus. I have always found the parable if the talents vexing and frightening; in general my “fear meter” outweighs my “trust meter” and my natural inclination is to hesitate rather than risk failure. Your words encourage me to recall the times I have worked through my fears (with God’s help) when presented with new calls to share my talents.

  5. Maida Broudo on May 12, 2022 at 05:44

    Dear brother Luke-

    I love this invitation-
    To be engaged and trustworthy
    To anticipate and participate
    To risk
    To share
    To bless others


    Thank you so much for giving me something to reflect on this day as I wake to birds chirping and spring unfolding!

    With love and gratitude,


  6. Rick on November 10, 2021 at 07:34

    Brother Luke, what a wonderful and thought provoking sermon. It reminds me of an elderly man I worked with. He was in a care facility with 24/7 caregivers, He was in diapers. He had to use a walker at first and then a wheelchair later. He was far from his home and familiar surroundings and friends and he was depressed. He expected to not wake up each night when he went to sleep.

    But God had given him a wonderful and thoughtful personality. One day he awoke to the awareness that God was not through with him just yet. He became aware of how his attitude impacted all of the caregivers who had to be with him and all of the other residents he interacted with. He turned on the smile and natural sense of encouragement God had given him at birth. At 85+, this was the talent he was given by God. And he used it abundantly the rest of his life to spread a feeling of goodness to his small circle of souls. The Lord touched him and regifted that smile and care for others. And he lived a blessed life in his diapers and wheelchair. He obviously inspired me to seek to find and use the talents God has given me.

    • Eunice Schatz on November 9, 2022 at 08:58

      Rick, you spoke to me, for. Me, as I live out my “talents” in a nursing facility, unable to walk on my own. Anaude stood by me as I read your piece, and love flowed thru me. Thank God for you, my brother.

      • Rick Porter on November 9, 2022 at 11:33

        Keep steading your love. You will be in my prayers.

  7. Jennifer Lester on November 22, 2020 at 09:58

    A wonderful sermon, which has given me a lot to chew on as I figure out if it’s time for me to make a big change as I near retirement age. I also heard another and very different take on this gospel last week. The preacher pointed out that Jews were not to lend at interest, and that the man who had been given the one talent called his master out regarding his business dealings. His fear was more about being sucked into an unjust system that profited at others’ expense, and he refused to participate. There is a painting that illustrates this view, The Parable of the Talents, by 17th c. Dutch painter Willem de Poorter, which was printed in the service leaflet for that day. It’s amazing how both interpretations have strong lessons for us.

  8. David Searle on November 19, 2020 at 21:35

    Best sermon I have ever heard on this parable which to be honest frightened me! Makes perfect sense to me. And I find your approach complements beautifully Br. Curtis’ recently highlighted sermon on ‘Our Being Ingodded‘. Most grateful to you Br Luke. God bless!

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