Sunday the 19th of November 2017
This morning I am going to preach on the Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 25, which is known as Jesus’ parable of the talents. One of the interesting things about this parable is where Jesus told it to them. Jesus told this parable to his disciples whilst they were on the Mount of Olives. And this was a part of his talk to them about his second coming. In other words, he is giving his disciples a parable to think about which applies to the time between when he ascended to heaven and when he returns the second time. Of course this is for us, as we live in this time.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, our Lord had spoken to these disciples and told them to wait in Jerusalem until the promise of the Holy Spirit was given to them. He said to them that they were to be his “witnesses . . . in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our Lord Jesus is like the man in today’s gospel reading; he has gone to a faraway place and he has left his servants, us as his disciples, behind to use our gifts that have been given to us through the Holy Spirit to do his work. This work which he has given us is to announce the good news of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, to the world around us.
It would be easy for us to just hear this parable and think that everything had been left to us to do. In other words, to think that Jesus is gone and he has left us here on earth with a task to do in which we will be judged at the end of time. In a way this is true; however, our Lord has given his Word and his Sacraments through which he brings people into his Kingdom. This emphasis is important because it is not all about us. Having said this, our Lord who has provided these means has also chosen to use his people to proclaim this Gospel throughout the world. This requires gifts and abilities, money and energy. So in this parable of the talents, Jesus is impressing upon his followers that he has equipped us with the material and personal resources that are needed to carry out kingdom work. The capital has been supplied, as it were, and the Lord has given us opportunities to invest that capital of gifts that he has given us.
He gives us all that is needed to do what he asks of us. I believe that this is an important thing to think about, because I wonder if so many of us look at ourselves and see all that we lack. All that we don’t have. Maybe all we see is our sinful natures, or our struggles and doubts, and wonder surely God can’t use me. But he can and he does. But it requires trust. Trust that God knows what he is doing.
The man in the parable did not give out the talents in an ad hoc manner; rather, he gave them with a great deal of wisdom. He gave each servant according to that servant’s ability (v. 15). The Lord asks us, as his disciples, to manage no more than he knows we can handle. Something has been given to each one to work with.
This is hard to grasp, because we live in a society that puts so much focus on the autonomy of our lives. We choose what we want to do. However, when it comes to the Christian’s life, our lives are not our own; they belong to our Lord. The gifts and talents that we have been given are not our own. They have been given to us, and they have been given to us for a purpose. And this purpose is to use them for him. This does not mean that we can’t use the gifts that God gives us for own personal lives, but he wants to make it clear that these gifts are to be understood as gifts that are to be used for his work.
When we put these gifts into practice, his promise is that they will do what he has given them for. The men who had received five and two talents proceeded to trade with the money which had been given to them. Each had a high degree of success, for each doubled the capital which the master had given (vv. 16-17). The results are not so much about the men, but the giver, as we are reminded in Isaiah 55:11 “My word . . . shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” They acted in faith, took the risk, and the results came. We are to do the same with what God has given us and we can do this because we know that he is the one who is doing the work through us.
This should be a great encouragement to all of you. In our worldly way of life, we often invest time, money, and energy without the least assurance that our labours will have any success. Often, we can be unsure because there is so much risk. But when it comes to our Lord and following him this is not the way things work. It is not this way as we work and follow him. The blessing of the Lord rests upon our faithful labours. He wills that his purposes be carried out through the use of the talents which he has given.
Now this sounds all good. But we must remember that whilst God does give us these gifts he does also expect from us as his children, accountability. This was the issue for the third servant in this parable.
For the third servant in the parable, the master’s return was not good, for the servant had been wicked and lazy. He failed to exercise good judgment by neglecting to deposit his one talent for interest with a banker. The servant had been given by the master what he needed according to his ability. And yet he was lazy and did not use what was given. When the master returned, he tried to make excuses for his laziness and negligence by alleging that the master was a harsh master.
The thing is that deep down, the third servant didn’t want to work for his master. He was happy to be a part of the household but was willing to leave the doing to others. This kind of thinking is picked up by James in his letter to the Christians, where he says: “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
The reason that he was cast out is because at the end of the day he had been given all he needed, but he did not put it into action. This is the rather shocking and disturbing warning to all who refuse to let their faith come into a life of action. And it is a reminder for all of us that because of our sinful natures, we have never been perfect in living our faith by taking advantage of the gifts that he has given to us. This is why we need to confess our sins and seek Jesus’ forgiveness. But at the same time, we also receive the renewed strength and the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us into the future to live out our faith.
I encourage you all as you think about this parable to hear the heart of God in it. He is the one who gives out his gifts; he is the one who works these through us as his children. He is the one who gives us the grace we need to walk and live out our faith in him and as we do this, results will come. It is because of these things that we can rely on him to do his work, as we participate with him in growing his kingdom on earth. I encourage you all to be wary of making excuses for not wanting to serve our Lord with your actions. I also encourage you to pray so that you may see the opportunities that God gives you each and every day to serve him.