The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 

“Your One Wild and Precious Life”

delivered on Sunday, November 15, to KCUCC by Rev. Peter Luckey

Imagine if you could do what you really really, in your heart of hearts wanted to do, with the talents God has given to you, what would that be?

Imagine that you had no barriers or obstacles or limitations.

I am learning how this can be a very powerful question. I am taking a class on how to be a coach, which is helping people to discover in themselves their fullest potential.

A question like this can unlock something deep inside a person, by hushing all those inner voices that whisper into our heads: “I am not good enough. Others do it better. I don’t really have any distinct talents. This is not the right time. I am being selfish. I should do something else.”  The list goes on and on.

Yes, all those limiting voices we whisper in our heads: I am not good enough, talented enough, others can do this better than me, it’s not the right time, not enough money.

 

And just imagine if you could quiet those voices, and for once imagine a life where you get to do what you really want to do. What would you do with what God had given to you; whatever talents and abilities had been gifted to you? What would you do?

 

My assumption here this morning is that you would not pick a selfish choice, that you are here because in a real sense what you really want for yourself is what God wants for you too. As Frederick Buechner said, "It’s about figuring out where the world’s deep hunger and your deep gladness meet."

  • Would you write the great American novel?

  • Would you audition for a play?

  • Would you start a not for profit?

  • Learn a new language, or pick up an instrument?

  • Build houses for Habitat for humanity?

  • Volunteer at the local homeless shelter

  • Perhaps you’ve had a heart for young people, or children and you would mentor them?

  • Or maybe because your thing is writing. You could write a personal note every day for a week to someone and let them know how important they are in your life.

 

What if?

 

And even though we are stuck at home and won't be going to Manchu Pichu, or the Taj Mahal anytime soon, we can still dream about what we would like to do.

 

Mary Oliver, the poet, has a way of framing these kinds of powerful questions, that gets us really thinking:  “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

And just the way she is asking the question, those words, “wild and precious” you know she is pushing us to get beyond being timid, beyond playing it safe, beyond BURYING OUR TALENT IN THE GROUND.

I don’t know why. I have had the mistaken impression this is a question for young people who are ready to embark on the world, ready to seek their fortune, make their mark.  I did not see it as a question for people up in years, as if by then you are supposed to be settled into a routine as if all the big hairy questions about your life and what you are going to do with it have long since been settled. 

On the contrary, the questions about what it is I want my life to say are more urgent than ever, the clock is ticking.

 

Now if there is one thing the morning lesson from the gospel is crystal clear on it is this: to not employ the gifts God has given you, to not risk something big for something good, out of fear or some other negative thinking, is a sin.  And what makes it a sin, is that when you do not make the most of what has been placed into your hands, you are turning your back on God, and to willfully turn your back on God is a sin. And the parable pulls no punches about what the consequences of such a turning of one’s back on God will be: it will mean being tossed into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ouch!

On the surface, the parable of the talents is about money. And I am sure you have HEARD many a good sermon on giving based upon this lesson. The talent here is in fact a sum of money, a huge sum of money, more than 15 years of wages for a day laborer, says the note in my Bible. 

 

So, a master is going on a journey, and he summons his servants (or slaves, translations differ here) and he places in their hands this huge sum. To the first, five; to the second, two; and to the third, one. And the master makes clear he will return, and he will want to see what the return is on his investment.

 

Like last weeks’ parable of the ten bridesmaids, (the five wise and five foolish) it’s about the in-between period, when will the bridegroom arrive? When will the master return? The text says he was gone a long while.

 

Remember we are talking about the Parousia about Jesus coming again, Matthew is writing to the early Christian community who expected Jesus arrival in their lifetime.

 

Like last week’s parable, this is a toughie!  Cause and effect. Rewards and consequences for our choices.

 

So, we hear of the first two servants (or slaves) who took the five talents and turned them into ten and two into four. And we hear the congratulations, the pats on the back, that atta boy, you go girl, well done, good and faithful servant. Perhaps we imagine there will be such an accounting in our lives at some point in the future, be it in this lifetime or the life to come when we will be held to account.

Sure, the talents are a denomination of money in the story, but really the reach is broader and deeper than dollar bills in your pocket. It has to do with the gifts you have been given. How did we spend the gifts that we had been given?

You are not only are a gift; you have a gift.

And something like Mary Oliver’s question will be on the final exam: “What did you do with your one wild and precious life?” And if you did not really do what you could have gone, why? Why?

And so here is the third servant called to settle with his master for the one talent given to him. And what I want you to hear, more than the fact of WHAT THE SERVANT DID---BURIED THE TALENT IN THE GROUND UNTIL THE MASTER RETURNED, BUT HEAR MOST OF ALL WHY HE DID WHAT HE DID. LISTEN TO THE TEXT.

 

That key verse 25, “I WAS AFRAID…”

 

Let that sink in, I was afraid….

 

That’s all you need to know.

 

How often is it the case that we carry with us some self-imposed limiting belief about ourselves, so more aware of our flaws than our strengths, or a fear of failure, or being made foolish, or whether we have convinced ourselves that we really don’t have any God-given gifts, nothing extraordinary, nothing precious (to use Mary Oliver’s word), and so we bury our talent in the ground because we are afraid and our fears sabotage our dreams?

   

And I understand these self-limiting beliefs because I have them too. I think to myself, am I to launch a new career in coaching at this stage in my life? Can the old dog still learn a new trick? So many ways we limit ourselves. 

 

If we really listen for the Spirit in the gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is telling us, we not only are encouraged to risk big, but we have an obligation to use our talents, for Jesus’ sake.

 

What I mean by that is at the most radical level when we deny our gifts, we deny the giver who put them there in the first place.

 

What has been placed into our hands is nothing short of precious. It’s amazing beyond belief. How can we do anything less than make the most of what has been given to us?

 

To bring this down to earth, when you think about talents or gifts, they only shine when we use them, when we don’t, they get rusty. Our musicians know this. You can be a great singer or be wonderful at playing the piano, or the clarinet, but you all know if you don’t practice, practice, practice, the gift atrophies. You need to keep risking, keep putting your gift out there week after week, and when you do this, your gift gets better, you accrue interest, so to speak, and what’s more, you are spreading your love for one another, making the world a better place.

So, friends, the message this morning is all about if we are going to embrace the gift of who we are, and how a loving God created every cell in our body, and put us on earth, to risk, to be bold, to be courageous. Because what is in our hands is so completely and miraculously precious and so we can not not go for it, risk big, grab onto this wild and precious life because it is so precious.  Thank you, God.

Or are we going to let the internalized messages of fear have their way with us? That perhaps we are not good enough, or that we don’t really have any great gifts, and that we cower in fear that we will make mistakes, goof it up.  And there too, lurking in the back of our mind someplace is an angry judging God who has shamed us, and made us feel we are not truly worthy of whatever gifts we think we might have had.

 

In a nutshell, God is saying to us this morning, is this: WE EACH HAVE TALENTS GIVEN TO US. CLAIM THEM! USE THEM!  RISK FOR THE GOSPEL’S SAKE! FOR THE HEALING OF THIS BROKEN WORLD!

 

The discovery of our gifts all begins with taking to heart Mary Oliver’s question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

Amen.