Then there is the one about the man who went into the bank to take out a loan. The credit manager said to him, “Do you have any money in the bank?” The man replied, “Yes, I certainly do.” “How much?” the credit manager asked. And the man replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t shaken it lately.”
Today’s parable is something like that. Jesus tells the story of the man who divided up his property among his servants before going off on a long trip. The Bible says he gave them “talents.” In Jesus day a “talent” was a measure of weight. In this story it referred to gold. The servant who had received five talents put his money to work and earned five more talents for his master. So, also, the one who received two talents. He doubled his capital. Earned two more talents. But the servant who received the one talent simply put his in a piggy bank, so to speak. When the master came back, he shook it out and gave the one talent back to him.
Now, we no longer use the word “talent” to mean a measure of weight. We use it to mean capability – something someone is good at. One person’s talent may be athletics. Another person’s talent may be art. Making a good beef stew might be a talent another person has been given. And that’s the spin we put on this parable. Do we use them for God’s purposes? Or do we bury them?
Well, here’s the thing about talents: God has given all of us some of them. But he has given each of us different ones. For instance, on the day that God went around the earth and handed out the talent to figure out car engines or most anything else mechanical, I must have been in the shower. I take my car to the VW dealership to be worked on while I sit in the waiting room and work on a sermon outline … something that I am good at. Everybody has some talent. But some people have more than others. Some people are simply better at some things than others. In Jesus’ parable one was given 5 talents. Another, 2. Another, 1. Here’s my theory: The world has a lot more 1-talent people than 5-talent ones. I don’t know many 5-talent people. Marilyn has a cousin who is a 5-talent person. He’s an author, a composer, an actor, a musician, and a storyteller. You have heard some of his anthems here. But you and I aren’t like that. We’re always looking up to the ones who have more.
But did you every stop and think what the world would be like if you didn’t do something because someone else could do it better? What if you could play the violin, but never joined an orchestra because others could play better? What if you could play football, but never went out for it because others could play better? It was Henry Van Dyke who said, “The woods would be silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”
But using our talents takes risk, doesn’t it. One year I decided to preach on a literal interpretation of the Parable of the Talents … that is, to let the word “talent” mean exactly what the Bible says it means – money. And the entire sermon was built around how wise investments of our dollars can be a Christian thing to do. Anyone who does any kind of investing knows that, the higher the return, the higher the risk. If you want to risk your money for the more lucrative stocks you also risk losing it. No risk, no return.
Recently I enjoyed reading the account of an aunt who had attempted to play a video game with her 6-year-old nephew. She lost, miserably. Even after she understood how to play, she lost. She had to admit that she had lost some eye-hand response with age – but it had been much more than that. Age had also made her more cautious. The nephew would aggressively move around the screen defeating enemies, scoring bonuses, and moving on to new levels. And, if he had to sacrifice one of his allotted players to gain points, he didn’t hesitate to do so. The aunt had simply concentrated on staying alive – on moving from one side of the screen to the other without getting captured. .And … the entire game turned on just that: the nephew was willing to risk.
We, too can stay alive by putting our one talent in the piggy bank and shaking it out when it is needed. But, if we want to make it come alive we need to risk.
Before we head toward the conclusion, there’s one other way I want for us to think about this parable. So far, we’ve thought about talents as valuables – aptitudes and abilities we have – even money we have. But there are other valuables we may overlook. For instance, could we not think of the environment as a talent, a valuable. Each of us has been given air, water, and, in many cases, land and trees. As we leave this earth could we give back to God cleaner air, purer water, greener land? Twice as clean? Three times as pure? Four times greener?
Also, God has given us the stewardship of other people. They are gifts … talents. How will we return them to God? The homeless. Will they simply be returned with a bed in a shelter? Or will they have a home? The hungry. Will they be returned simply with food? Or will they have a wage-paying job so that they may buy food for themselves? The sick? Will they be returned better, or will they be made fully whole? The imprisoned. Will they simply be set free or will they be helped to be contributing and constructive members of society? We can give back to God simply what God has given us, or we multiply it in many ways.
Most of us can’t solve those big environmental, social, and political problems. But most of us have been given someone to look after. It could be a child or a parent or an aunt or a cousin or a neighbor. Can we see them as gifts? As talents? What can we do to help them be better than they are – physically, emotionally, spiritually? How can we multiply the talents we have been given?
What is your reward? Nothing more than your master saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Text: Matthew 25:14-30