Sermon 19 Nov St Chad’s
Are you recognizing your talents?
Jesus was a great one for using exaggeration to catch people’s attention! We are told that 1 talent equals 15 year’s wages for a labourer – in our money maybe about $600,000! What a huge amount of money!
So Jesus starts off his parable with a humorously large number. The guy who was given 5 talents to invest, then, had about $3 million in our money, and that’s on the low side! The people knew that whenever Jesus started a parable this way – and there were quite a few with this great Jewish story-telling exaggeration- there would be a good story to remember and to mull over in the days ahead.
He certainly got their attention!
The rich landowner entrusts some of his wealth to three of his employees to care for while he is gone, and expects them to make it work to his advantage. The first two do just that, investing wisely and making a profit, so that they double the original amount. But something has gone wrong with the third employee. He doesn’t just do what is asked – he decides that his employer is an unjust man, who reaps where he does not sew, and is generally not to be trusted. He was fearful of him, and decided that the best course of action was to do nothing at all – to hide the money and pretend it didn’t exist. That way he wouldn’t have to have anything to do with the ill-gotten gains of his employer, actually his soon-to-be ex-employer. He made a judgement about the character of the boss, and didn’t follow instructions.
What can we take from this? That if we are asked to do something, we should do it well, and double the investment? Maybe. It certainly had been a traditional interpretation that we should use all the abilities God has given us and grow them.
The parable of the talents can be interpreted as talents such as giftings, abilities, rather than a particular item of currency. Let’s look at the original word used, and what it meant in its context. The original word in Greek is talanton – a weight of silver representing a huge amount of money. This word entered the Latin language, then English, still with its meaning of a large amount of money, but over the years, and partly as a result of this parable, it came to be associated with attributes we now think of as talents – for example Judith’s talent at playing the organ, or Carole’s at knitting. When we come to the end of the story we can see how this extension makes sense –
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. This is a bit of a perplexing saying too- but if we wanted clarity we wouldn’t be reading Matthew’s Gospel!Those who have will be given more, those who have nothing, will lose everything. Does this sound like Jesus’ upside-down , challenging teaching? It doesn’t fit well with ‘blessed are the poor, and the meek, and all those teachings from chapter 5!
When you have talents, you do receive more. You receive thanks and gratitude from those who share your work, those who enjoyed your performance, or appreciated the gift. I have certainly received more when I have shared my singing with people. Many have told me how much they appreciated it. Some of my kids even tell my how much they appreciate me stopping!
Some can make a living from their talents, and flourish in that way.But how about the last bit?
Those who have nothing, even that will be taken away. The third servant had a smaller amount. It wasn’t actually nothing, but he treated it as if it were nothing. He buried it in the ground, ignored it, didn’t do anything with it. He didn’t even put it in the bank where it would have grown a bit.
I think that is the message here for us. If we regard what we have as nothing, we will lose even that. People who have low self-esteem think they have no talent, no ability, no particular reason to exist. But we have a wonderful reason to exist – because God made us in God’s own image, and God loves us! That is enough reason to hold our head up high and be grateful. The devil takes away our confidence if we let him- those thoughts of having nothing, being nothing, are an area where prayer can help us, can strengthen us to remember who we are and whose we are.But what can I do? You may ask. Even those who are very restricted by ill health can still share their talent, their God-imaged ability. Remember, you don’t stop being made in God’s image of you are sick, or dying, or disabled, or tired, or lonely. Or all of these at the same time. You are still made in the image of the Creator. Well, that doesn’t mean you can throw away your walking stick and perform the gospel reading in interpretive dance. If there is nothing else you can do, you can always pray. Sometimes it comes as a last resort, but it should always be first really. Asking God for help, for ideas, for a change of focus. Asking God to hone your appreciation of the world and people around you.
That is a talent, seeing the beautiful in those you meet. It can be really hard with some of those people too-a real God-given ability sees through the difficult ones and the annoying ones too, and loves them anyway, just because.
Our third servant couldn’t do that. He was so paralysed with fear of the owner, fear of using money that he didn’t think was legitimate. But it wasn’t his call to make. He had no right to judge how the money came to be there, his job was to do as he was asked.
Sometimes we are asked to do things that are too hard. The task seems Herculaean – a bit like cleaning out my kitchen. “How could I possibly achieve that? I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just pretend that I don’t have that task to do.”
Have you ever buried a difficult task in the ground like the third servant did with the talent? Unfortunately that’s never the end of the problem though is it? It stays with you, niggling at the back of your mind, until you toss and turn at night and get grumpy, and everything grinds to a halt. The best thing to do in that situation is to pray about it. God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, God who makes the universe, has the power and resources to solve our problems, and to help us deal with the difficult tasks.
Have you found that? I know for myself that whenever I pray about a task that seems insurmountable, God gives me the strength and the wisdom, and in stepping out in faith to start doing it, I discover that the whole task is way easier than it ever seemed.
It didn’t end well for the third servant.30” As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Just as Jesus started the parable dramatically, he ended it with a flourish too. Not enough to sack the servant, but wailing and gnashing of teeth? That is so extreme it’s comical. I think that was the point. Images like this help the story to stick in our minds.
Now, some homework for us all – here’s a thing we can do, using a talent we may not know we have. And it’s from the Thessalonians reading.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
You may not think that encouragement is a talent, but it certainly helps those encouraged. It shows them they are noticed and appreciated, loved and seen in God’s image.
May you discover more and more of your God-given talents every day, and may you ask God to help them grow.