Year A, Pentecost 24 Matthew 25:14-30
This is one of those parables that’s a bit confusing. It starts with Jesus telling a story about a man he refers to as a master. In this story the master went away and left enormous sums of money in the hands of three of his slaves. He left 5 talents to one, 2 to another and 1 to the last. Jesus was known to use hyperbole in his parables and this was a huge sum of money that the master left to his slaves. In Jesus’ time a talent was equal to 20 years of wages for the average worker. It’s impossible to know exactly what that would equate to today, but 5 talents would have been at least a million dollars.
The first two slaves traded with the master’s talents and doubled their money. The last one buried it in the ground to keep it safe. The master commended the first two and punished the third because he didn’t invest the money and make more money for the master. It is understandable that the master chose to reward the first two slaves who made him more money. What always troubles me is the reaction he had to the third slave who chose to bury the money to keep it safe. The master was so angry that he threw him into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth—which seems like a bit of an overreaction. I mean, this third slave could have lost it. He could have run away with it and never returned. He didn’t do anything like that. He saved it and kept it secure. Granted, he did not display the business savvy of the other two slaves, but at least he didn’t lose the money.
If we simply read it as a story of financial risk taking, then it would indeed seem like an odd story for Jesus to tell, especially in this part of the Gospel of Matthew. This story comes grouped with a number of parables that directly precede the story of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. According to the Gospel of Matthew, these were some of his final words to his disciples. He was preparing them for life without him. While life with Jesus was certainly no cake walk for the disciples, life without him was an extraordinary challenge. After Jesus died it was the disciples who had to carry out the Gospel. That must have been a huge and terrifying endeavor.
The Gospel of Matthew was written in about 80 AD. Most, if not all of Jesus 12 apostles were dead by the time this story was actually written. Jesus had been dead for about 50 years. There were small groups of Christians across the land, but it was barely even considered a religion at this point. We often talk about persecution of Christians in the early church. But the Romans weren’t persecuting Christians at this point because they were so insignificant in numbers that they were not even a threat. It was assumed this group would disappear in a generation or so.
That certainly could have happened—but it didn’t. Why? Was it because Jesus had left them with a clear structure for church governance? No. Was it because they had money and powerful people leading the movement? No. It was because they were bold, tenacious, and convicted. The early Christians were confident in their belief that Jesus was the one true God and believing in him was essential for this life and the next. They also believed that he was coming back and was probably coming back fairly soon, which is why there are so many references in the Bible to being ready. That meant that there was some urgency in their actions.
The Gospels were not merely written to educate people, they were meant to inspire. Many Christians felt it was enough to simply practice their faith in the comfort of their homes. They saw no reason to try to share the message with others—partially because while Christians weren’t necessarily persecuted, they weren’t respected. The authors of the Gospels and early church leaders knew that this faith would only survive past the 1st century if every believer was willing to share the Gospel. This story of the master and the three slaves isn’t about investing money, it’s about investing in your faith and the faith of others. It’s about a willingness to take risks for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the master returned, the 3rd slave told the master that he buried his talent because he was afraid. His own security was his priority, not his service to the master. He didn’t want to take risk because it wasn’t his money and it was all going to the master anyways. I still think his punishment was a little extreme, but the stakes were high for the early Christian community. They believed that Jesus was the way and the truth and the life. By keeping that Gospel message to themselves, they were saying that they didn’t care about the souls of others. They only cared for themselves. If that were the case, and they kept it to themselves, we would not be Christians today. There would be no Christian faith.
Each one of us has taken some risk in our lives. Maybe you went against your parents to pursue your own dream. Maybe you started your own business, and took a great financial risk in doing so. One of the riskiest things I ever did was going through the adoption process, knowing that there was always a chance that the birth mother could change her mind. What I didn’t realize is that parenting in general is a huge risk because you become responsible for the life of another. Marriage is a risk because it’s a commitment you make for the rest of your life. Most things in life that are worth having demand risk. Yet for some reason, we have decided that our faith should not demand risk and courage. We have decided that our faith should enable security and comfort. I wish that was true, it would make things a lot easier.
We worship a God who risked everything on a helpless baby being cared for by a teenage, unmarried mother. We worship a God who asked his son to risk his very life. And all he gave him was a promise, a promise that death would not be the end. We worship a God who demands that we too take risks, that we be willing to have our lives a little disrupted for the sake of the Gospel. I can’t tell you what that will look like for your life. It looks different for all of us.
Right now, it seems like the last thing we need is more risk in our lives. Even going to the grocery store carries risk. Most of are afraid of either getting sick ourselves or seeing someone we love sick. Therefore when I tell you to take risk, I am not encouraging you to do lick a door handle of a public restroom. I would even discourage touching the handle. Perhaps, we can each take some time to pray for direction from God. Risk your own assurance of what and who you are supposed to be right now. Admit that maybe, you don’t have all the answers. You don’t even have most of them. Sometimes, actually listening to God is the riskiest thing we can do.