[This was shared during this morning's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]
When we look at Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel lesson, we have to be careful.
That’s because a lazy reading of this story might cause a person to think that, at the ends of our lives, God judges us on the basis of how much good we’ve done or how good we’ve been. But that’s not what this parable is about.
If we simply stop and think about it, we realize that that can’t be Jesus’ message to us this morning. After all, throughout His ministry, Jesus took pains to announce that He had come “to seek and save the lost,” the sinners of the world. (Like me and, if I may say so, you.)
He frequently went after the Scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders who thought they obeyed God’s Law and who boiled a saving relationship with God down to abiding by a list of some 620 rules. They had made themselves good people, they thought. And so, they also thought, God preferred them and loved them and didn’t like the sinners Jesus spent so much time around.
Jesus told them they were wrong.
So, we have to leave behind any notion that Jesus is talking about being saved by our works when we read this parable. We are saved from sin, death, and darkness not by our works, but simply by our faith in--our trust in--Jesus Christ. That's one message of this parable, in fact.
But faith or trust is not simply intellectual agreement. Faith is more than intellectual assent to a proposition. That too is a message of this parable.
Let’s dig into it now, Matthew 25:14-30.
Jesus’ words follow those He spoke last week. He says: “Again it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.”
I understand why the translators of the New International Version, from which we're reading, used the term bags here. They wanted to convey that the master was entrusting a lot of cash to his servants. But the word that appears in Matthew’s manuscript isn’t bags, but talenta, talents.
A talent was a Greek word for a sum of money. “A silver talent was worth c 7,300 denarii,” a single denarius being worth a single day’s wages. A gold talent could be worth thirty times that!
So, the Master is entrusting huge sums of money to these three slaves. And he does so fully intending that they should try to make the money grow. He expects them to take risks with the trust He has given to them.
Jesus tells this parable as part of a string of parables all about the end of this world and His coming kingdom. In this particular parable, it’s clear that Jesus is the Master. He’s the One Who has gone away for a time and Who will one day return to settle accounts.
You and I, His Church, are the slaves.
And the talents? This is the message of the Gospel, which promises us that all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ have forgiveness of sin and new and everlasting lives with God.
In another parable, Jesus gave an idea of how valuable this Gospel--this good news--is for us when He talked about a man who “sold everything he had” in order to possess it.
But, as we’ll see, faith resides not just in the possession of the Gospel. Faith also resides in trusting God enough to recklessly invest it in every aspect and all the people of our lives.
Jesus goes on: “The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
Something important needs to be pointed out here: Jesus gives bags of different value to the three men. He gives them a trust over his money in proportion to their ability.
You know, one of the foundational principles of this country is that all people are created equal. And, as Christians, we can affirm that all people have equal worth in the eyes of God. Jesus Christ came to be the Savior of all human beings willing to have Him.
But not everyone has the same gifts, abilities, advantages, opportunities, or even faith.
Jesus graciously does not hold us accountable for the blessings we don’t have. He doesn’t expect me to be a mechanic, for example, because God hasn’t endowed me with that gift or interest. But Jesus does hold us all accountable for how we use the freedom from sin, death, and darkness He gives to all baptized believers in Him.
The man in Jesus’ parable who doubled the two bags (or talents) with which He’d been entrusted was given the exact same commendation for doubling what He’d been given as the man to whom the Master had entrusted five bags. Now, Jesus knows full well that 10 bags are more than 4 bags.
Here’s the point: We are only accountable to God for using the faith and the life that we have. God doesn’t expect me to be a Billy Graham, or a Dan Mershon, or a John Bradosky, or a Martin Luther. But He does expect me to seek to live out my call to be the Mark Daniels His gospel has set me free to be.
All of which leads to the next part of the parable. Verse 24: “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’”
In first century Judea, where Jesus told this parable, the religious leaders of His day had been guilty of burying the truth that human beings, Jews or Gentiles, were saved not because they belonged to the right ethnic group, nor because they slavishly adhered to a set of religious do’s and don’t’s, but solely because they believed in the God revealed to Israel. (This same God has been revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ, true God and true man.)
The first century religious leaders had buried salvation by faith in a gracious God under a mountain of religious duty born of distrust. They didn’t trust God.
They didn’t trust that even if they were killed for their faith in God, God would see their enduring faith and welcome them into eternity.
The third man in Jesus’ parable didn’t trust the Master. So, instead of risking to make something more of the one talent with which he had been entrusted, he buried it.
This man is like the Christian who refuses to take any risks in pursuing the one and only mission with which those of us who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ have been entrusted. This man is like Christians who want nothing to do with making disciples. Monday through Saturday, they bury their faith in Christ in a private place.
Because of this burial, they don’t grow in faith or character or in certainty of God’s love for them. And the people they might touch with the good news of new life in Christ remain untouched.
This kind of safe living is not what God intends for us as believers. He has set us free for more than just slinking through life, heads down, fearful.
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells believers: "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
In the book of James, Jesus’ earthly brother writes: “...faith without works is dead.”
We are not saved by our good deeds or works; we are saved by our faith in the God we meet in Jesus Christ. But if we have faith--in other words, if we trust Christ to stand with us always, to bring meaning to our lives, to give us the power to forgive as we’ve been forgiven, to have life beyond the grave with God, then we will do the deeds that God empowers us to do.
They’re deeds that will bring God glory, show Christ to others, make disciples, and build God’s kingdom.
Our call is to not bury our faith and make ourselves more palatable to others in our everyday lives, but to let that faith and our Savior be seen as we serve people in His Name, offer to pray with the hurting, tell others about the hope that we have through Christ even in this life’s dark times, and to help others know Christ and His salvation for themselves.
At the end of Jesus’ parable, the faithless servant is condemned, thrown “...outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” He was separated from his Master.
Jesus here uses language that He uses elsewhere in describing hell. Truly, this was the fate the faithless servant chose for himself when he turned his back on his Master’s grace, choosing instead distance from and wariness of the master, rather than trusting relationship with Him.
In a sense, he chose death over life by choosing seeming safety and security over trust in the Master who had given him so much.
The Master in Jesus' parable was gone a long a long time. Similarly, it’s been many centuries since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. In a world that evidences everything between indifference to hostility regarding the good news that can save a life for all eternity, it’s tempting to bury our faith.
I face this temptation all the time, frankly. "Oh, no," I imagine family and friends and acquaintances telling themselves, "Here come the preacher." When imaginings like this go through my mind, I'm tempted just to bury any mention of my Lord or of the gospel hope that's mine in Christ.
Recently, we went to visit the family of a friend we have known for about thirty years who was dying. In all that years, we hadn’t really talked about Christ, though I knew there is much faith in the family. I wanted to do and say the right thing. I prayed silently that God would help me to be faithful. Then I asked before we left, “Would you mind if we all shared a prayer?”
The response was immediate, “Yes, please.” And there at what would prove to be our friend’s death bed, we prayed.
Never be afraid to risk sharing your faith.
Never be afraid of investing in others with the good news that has changed your life for eternity.
It’s only when we risk and invest in this way that God’s kingdom grows and that we grow in our relationship with God.
And in doing so, we fulfill the very purpose of our lives. Amen