[READ Matthew 24:14-30]
Last Year, Yvon Chouinard decided to retire. He wanted to do some traveling and to do some good in the world. But first, he had to decide what to do with his $3 Billion company. That company was Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company. Yvon had spent his career and shaped his company to fight climate change, so rather than giving his company away to an individual or to public investors, he decided to donate all future company profit to fighting against climate change. We won’t be surprised with what he wrote on Patagonia’s website:
One option was to sell Patagonia and donate all the money. But we couldn’t be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep our team of people around the world employed.
Another path was to take the company public. What a disaster that would have been. Even public companies with good intentions are under too much pressure to create short-term gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility.
Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own.(https://www.patagonia.ca/ownership accessed May 12, 2023)
It’s worth remarking that this very wealthy person recognized that it was too dangerous for him to trust his legacy to any particular person and that he refused to trust the general public. This is the real world! People who are purposeful with their money and ethics are very, very slow to trust others. Frankly, it makes Jesus’ story about a rich man going on a trip all the more remarkable!
First of all, let’s get some context. This is a parable, so a story, about a master going away on a trip and giving away 8 “talents” of money. I say “giving away,” but really it is a trust. He is asking his servants to steward his money and to look out for his (and their) best interests. Jesus is not saying this happened, he is saying, “this is what the Kingdom of God is like!” I hope you haven’t heard the same sermon I’ve heard on this topic, but if you have, it’s very important that I set you straight. TOO often, someone reads this passage and makes the jump away from money and straight to what the English word “talent” means. So right away we’re talking allegory: God, the master, gives different people different abilities, different gifts; and we should all use our time, our energy (and our money) for Jesus. Sermon done! Are you ready to go home?
I hope not.
A Parable about (A LOT of) Money
This is a story about money! But it’s not a story about bags of money. The NIV is doing a good thing here, trying to correct the problem above, but it doesn’t really help. If you imagine a bag of money, you image maybe a bank robber, loading up several bags of cash. The servant who goes away with two bags of money can easily carry them, one in each hand. But that’s wrong too! The word Jesus uses here is talent, which in Jesus’ day is a weight of precious metal, usually gold or silver. A talent is not a unit of currency, it’s an amount of weight. And one talent is equivalent to roughly 75 lbs or 35 kg. Imagine trying to carry around two bags of gold, each weighing 75 lbs! You would not get far. By contrast, a good wage in Jesus’ day was a denarius, which weighed 4.5g or 1/72 lb. In other words, if you were a good worker in Jesus day and you never took a day off and you never spent a cent, you would have one talent after 5400 days of work.
But money is about more than just conversion rates. Money is always relative.
Let me give you another point of comparison: the total amount of gold used to build the Tabernacle in the Old Testament was just under 30 talents. This businessman, this master who goes on a journey, has 8 talents that he gives to his servants. Obviously, he has more besides that as well! This is just what he has in “cash” (as it were). So Jesus tells a story of a man who has as much money as about 1/3 as the value of the Tabernacle, the heart of ancient Israel. This man is the 1%. He is not a “kind of rich” guy; he is among the very few mega-wealthy. This is a story about somebody like Bill Gates or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet. The master is not giving away a few bags of gold coins—he’s entrusting today’s equivalent of tens of billions of dollars to his servants.
Can you imagine any of those big businessmen entrusting their company and value to someone else? It’s one of the things that make Yvon Chouinard’s story so remarkable! You might have said to yourself before, “why doesn’t Bill Gates (or whoever) just retire?” They have enough money! But many rich people feel very attached to and even controlled by their money. They would never give it away. Even Yvon Chouinard decided exactly how his money and legacy would be used. Now think about what Jesus is saying here about who God is! God is far wealthier than any person, yet God chooses to share his wealth with people. He has entrusted some of the wealth of the universe to you!
You Have Been Entrusted With MORE Than You Think
What would change if you actually saw your life that way? What if you saw yourself as the recipient of even some of the vast riches of the immeasurably wealthy God? Someone else may be given fifty billion; someone else may be given twenty billion, but you are given TEN billion dollars while your master is away. If this was your situation, you are in no way put out by your master’s gift. You will not have time to be angry or competitive with those others who received more. If you want to do anything with your money you will have to start right away.
Can you imagine how you would feel if your boss trusted you to manage ten billion dollars? It is an unimaginable sum of money, far beyond our ability to sit down and actually count it. Jesus is in the middle of telling parables about the kingdom of God and Jesus says, “This is what it will be like” (25:14). The first thing in this parable that we miss is what an amazing shock it is for us to receive anything from God, let alone the vast riches that he lavishes on us. Even those of us who have less money than others have still received vast amounts from the treasury of our Almighty God!
The generosity and trust of the master is shocking! The master honours his servants by giving them so much of what is his and trusting them to do their best with it. This is financial grace! If you or I walk into a bank, we might wait in line. But if a billionaire (or their representative) walks into a bank, the red carpet is rolled out, they are ushered to a private office and given champagne and snacks—just for the privilege of banking there, before they do anything! The master is sharing his wealth—and the privileges that come along with it. This is what makes the actions of the third servant so shameful.
The Warning Example of the Third Servant
The third servant receives this incredible gift and trust, then turns around and treats it as if they were commonplace, unvaluable. The camera (focus) in this story is on the third servant. He receives far more attention than the first two. He is the one who buries the money, keeps it exactly as it was given to him. But what other choices could this person have made?
- He could have invested it; earned passive income.
- He could have used his money in order to feel good about himself! People with money often feel over-confident. They are eager to tell others how to invest or what to do with their money, their energy, time, or priorities. Even a servant, who, everything he has is a trust, might still feel over-confident.
Here’s where we get to the payoff: because Jesus wants us to imagine this scenario and imagine ourselves in it! Ask yourself, “how do I fit in the story?” Am I like this third servant? What is my attitude toward what God has given me and others?
If and when you look at what you have, do you even recognize that it is a trust from God? The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What do you understand by the Providence of God?” And the answer is (in part), “…fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand” (Q&A 27). Do you recognize that everything you have comes from God? Furthermore, when you look at the stuff you have, the money you have, how you spend your time, what are you investing in? Are you working for the good of the master, or are you worried about caring for and preserving yourself?
There are so many applications to this parable, but I want to consider just one in terms of our life together as a congregation. If what we have together is a trust from God, then some of us will always be tempted to “bury” what God has given us. In other words, we will look at some moment of time and say, THAT is exactly what it’s supposed to be. We will not want to change or grow or remain open to new ideas. When someone tries some new investment or idea or tries to follow God’s leading, we will respond with shock! “Don’t you see how recklessyou’re being?” we might ask, “That money, that capital should be kept safe!” But this is not the master’s words; these are the worries of the third servant.
Others of us, also like the third servant, will become passive. We are overwhelmed with all the goodness in our lives, and so we withdraw. We try to do everything, everywhere, all at once! And we become exhausted. We are of no use to the master and no use to our loved ones, nor even to ourselves.
Still others of us will look at the trust that we have received and instead of thanking God, we will pressure others to do exactly what we have done: to see God the way that we do and to use God’s gifts exactly how we do. We show our lack of confidence in God by believing that everyone should be the way that we want them to be, not the way that God has led them to be.
When the master returns, he judges all of these attitudes. Why?
The Generosity of The Master
Because the Master has not given his talents to one person, nor to one kind of person. He had diversified his investment in all people. And when we read the story of scripture, we see that, even though, in the beginning, God created everything good, that he was not satisfied to leave it “good”, but that he expects his image-bearers to cultivate and work for something greater! And God has given his image and his wealth to all people!
“This is why biblical faith is the most transcultural and translatable religion of all time, because ideally it is not a transmission of religion (which is largely cultural), but a transmission of faith. This has always been God’s heart and intent—to reach people where they are and allow them to maintain their cultural identity and express their faith in him from within that identity.”Steffen, Tom; Bjoraker, William. The Return of Oral Hermeneutics: As Good Today as It Was for the Hebrew Bible and First-Century Christianity (p. 282). Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
God expects that all people will do something—and do something different—with what he has given them! He does not want passive robots, nor does God want clones. Instead, God shows us in Jesus exactly what it means to receive and use the riches of God! And the more that we follow the example of Jesus, the more we become the great and diverse people of God, showing God’s Kingdom life the way he intends!
There is a saying in English, “Good is the enemy of great!” We sometimes try to preserve what we have because we are worried about risking anything—even for something better. And we have all been given something from God, but there is no disagreement among Christians about whose wealth and status and glory and goodness are greatest! It is Jesus. Jesus was and is the human who God gave the most to, whom God entrusted with the most! And Jesus never once treated his humanity like it was only good to be buried in the dirt. He lived his life with intention, with care, with passion and power! And what’s more, Jesus grewwhat was given to him. You might imagine that because Jesus is God’s son, that you can’t improve on “perfect”. But the Bible doesn’t claim that Jesus was “perfect” in our western enlightenment view of perfection. Jesus, the sinless son of God, fully God but also fully human, “…grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus took what he was entrusted and he developed it, while also caring for and lifting up others!
The main way Jesus does this is he always reminds us of his Father. In this parable as well, he points out that God has not first given himself and his wealth to only one person. He has given himself to many people from the beginning to the end, from every corner of the earth. And everyone is given the same task: make something of what God has given you!
Conclusion: Is My Master a Hard Man?
One final observation before we close: Jesus does not say that the master is a hard man; the servants who invest their talents and make great returns do not say it! Only the servant who does absolutely nothing is the one who suggests that the master is a hard man. Should we trust the judgment of the third servant? I suggest that we should not. He has disrespected and dishonoured his master and shown himself to have a selfish perspective.
By contrast, we hear no complaints from the people who are busy working with and for the Master’s best interests. They don’t figure into this story, this controversy! They are busy investing! Before we close, I want you to understand that when people are busy with the work of the Lord, they do not have time nor energy for self-centeredness. They do not have energy for bickering between them. I do not mean to say that they do not have complaints or that they don’t have hardships. What I mean to say is that those who are not actively working for the master are the ones who are the quickest both to be lazy and to cast blame and complaints. Let this be a warning to you!
If we heed the warning of this parable, we will look always to the example of the one who was given the most by God the Father. He is always pointing us to the Father, and always holding out a better way for us to move forward together. As we explore what the master has given us and as we use what the master has given us, our hearts will be softened—to God and to others—and we will begin to see more and more of the glory, wonder, and honour that is ours in the Kingdom of God already today.
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