Proverbs 31, 1-13. 19-20. 30-31 + Psalm 128 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 1-6 + Matthew 25, 14-30
The parable we have today comes in Matthew’s Gospel just before the beginning of the Passion. It is spoken to and directed to us, disciples of Jesus. For the leaders of the people, the Scribes and Pharisees, time is up. The focus for Jesus now is upon his own. This parable as we have it suffers from cultural and language conflicts. Just picking up these verses of Chapter 25 and hearing the words we have in English never begins to adequately set the scene.
The unfortunate use of the word “talent” sets us up for a shallow reading which results in a less than surprising and emphatic response. That word has nothing to do with abilities or skills. A talent at the time this parable is proposed is a measure of weight like pounds or tons. So with that understanding, there is a proposal here that this man about to depart has a “ton of money” so to speak. Historians, Scripture Scholars, and Economists estimate that what he has in weight would equal nine million dollars. They tell us that one talent has a value of one million dollars today.
So with that thought, the parable goes on to tell us that having taken out what he needs for his journey, this man is handing over a huge amount of money to three of his trusted servants. Notice that he left no instructions about what they were to do. He simply left these talents in proportion to their abilities, and then he leaves town. Put yourself in that situation, and this parable sounds a little more problematic. You have been given for a time more money than you would ever earn in a lifetime. What are you going to do with it until the master returns?
These were all trusted servants who knew the master well, and they knew how he operated. They understood and had likely participated in the amassing of this great wealth. Two of these trusted servants learned from the master, and they imitated his ways. They did what he did. However, the third servant was an insult to the master. The third servant ignored the master, and in some ways he shamed the master by hiding the money and doing nothing. If he had learned anything from the master, it doesn’t show in his behavior which might well be seen as a negative critique of the master himself. Actually the loss of income was nothing compared to this refusal to follow the master’s example. This third servant is really more lazy than fearful, and when finally caught in his laziness, he resorts to blame! He blames the master for being tough and demanding.
Catch the parallel here. The master is going away. We don’t know why or where, but he is leaving for a long time. He leaves his trusted servants in charge, and wants them to act on his behalf. There were no instructions, and no one is in charge. They were to continue his work. If he had wanted that money buried, he could have done that himself, but he expected to reap what he did not sow.
Matthew presents this parable to his church which is still very much aware both of the master’s absence after Christ’s ascension, and yet very much aware that he will come again. Now we tell this story on an autumn Sunday in a season that constantly reminds us of a harvest because there is the danger after all this time of forgetting that the master will return and that we have seen and learned what to do in his absence. The danger of ignoring what we have learned from the master about forgiveness, inclusiveness, generosity, and hospitality is ever present, and the culture of blame in which we live makes it all the more easy for us to do nothing and pass the blame to someone else or to some other circumstance that allows us to take the easy and safe way through these times.
When we gather next week, a complete cycle of the church’s year will be completed, and the image of Christ, a King coming in glory, ought to make us a little anxious to consider once again what we have done with what has been entrusted to us, and how well we have imitated the master in the ways in which he has initiated this royal real we will celebrate not with triumphant glory but with humble gratitude.