How could a show like New Zealand’s Got talent have anything to do with the parable of the Gold Bags that we had read out to us today?
Well this parable is where we get our English word ‘talent’ from. The NIV talks about bags of Gold but in actual fact the servants are each given multiples of a specific weight of money … that weight is called a talent… the story is also known as the parable of the talents.
The parable of the Gold Bags is part of a wider section of Jesus teaching in Matthew’s Gospel, a section we call the Olivet Discourse. A section of Jesus teaching, at the end of his ministry, in response to the disciples asking about his comment on the destruction of the temple, when he would be coming as king and when would the age come to an end.
Why are working our way through the Olivet Discourse? ... Well there is a lot of speculation about the end of the world at the moment...like the Mayan calendar supposedly predicting that the world will end on December 21st2012 . Maybe we are still so interested because we are still living in the hangover of the turn of a new millennium, maybe it’s the fact that we are living with the reality that we humans for the first time in history just might be able to destroy ourselves, be it with atomic weapons or our impact on the environment. Maybe it’s that the world as we know it is changing so rapidlyall the time that its a natural reaction. Maybe it’s all of those things. And in the face of that it’s important to look at what Jesus has to say. Because Jesus says that in the end being ready for his coming is not a matter of being able to interpret certain signs and deduce a time, in fact Jesus saysno one knows the hour or the day, rather it how we live, that we should liveready and be watchful: Faithfully following Jesus all our lives and on…until the end of the world.
We saw with the parable of the wise and foolish servant that this meant we carried on doing what Jesus had told us to do, that we love one another. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins we saw it meant continuing to stock up on the things that kept our faith ablaze: that relationship with Jesus that comes from continually being filled with the Holy Spirit. Today in the parable of the Gold Bags we see it means continually investing in the Kingdom of God.
The parable tells the story of a man who goes on a long journey; he gives large amounts of wealth to three servants. He knows their abilities and personality so well that he entrusts different amounts to each of them. Now you may think that he is being stingy with the third servant who only gets one bag. The truth is that the master is amazingly generous, a talent was the biggest measure used of money, we are familiar from other parts of the gospel with the denarius, which was the equivalent to an average days wages. A talent was equivalent to about ten thousand denarius, so even the servant who gets one talent is being entrusted with a great amount of wealth.
The man goes away, two of the servants set to work using the money that they have been entrusted with and they see it doubled. Just in case we think they were just lucky enough to find a get rich quick scheme that worked, Jesus says that the man was away for a long time so there is time for careful long term investment.
The servant, who was given one talent, buries it, which was a very effective way of keeping things safe in Jesus day, if you managed mark the place very well. Jesus parable of the kingdom of god being like a treasure buried in a field is testament to the fact that it was common practise.
When the master returns he calls the servants in to settle accounts. The servant with five talents presents him with not only the five he had been entrusted with but the five he had earned as well. The master is very pleased with him, he says well done good and faithful servant and invites him to come and dine with him and makes him responsible over many things. Likewise the second servant had faithfully doubled what he had been given and receives the same reward.
The servant, who had been given the one talent, has a different attitude to the master. He sees his master as a hard task master, a tough hearted business man and was afraid that if he lost the money we’ll there would be hell to pay. So he tells the master he buried it. He is able to simply give him back the money but no gain. Now the Master seems to respond to the servants misunderstanding of his character and says that the servant hadn’t even acted in a way that misunderstanding of the master. If he had then he could have easily put it in the bank and got interest. So the master gives what little he had to the servant who had ten talents and excludes him from his household, to a place of darkness and regret.
Well what is there for us from this challenging parable? What does it tell us about living ready in our time and place, to be watchful for the master’s return?
Firstly, is what it tell us about the master. The master is a generous person who is willing to entrust his wealth into the hands of his servants. These are significant amounts of money we are talking about. It speaks of a generous and gracious God who is willing to entrust us with so much. It’s interesting that this parable comes at the end of Jesus ministry almost in the shadow of the cross and there is the reality that Jesus had invested three years into the group around him on the Mount of Olives and after his death and resurrection he is going to entrust them with the task of going to the nations and making disciples teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.’.
Note that the master also knows his servants and their abilities. He sees who they are and entrusts amounts in them accordingly. It’s not a fluke that it is the servant intrusted with the one talent who lets him down. It was the risk the generous and gracious master was willing to take. God knows us and our abilities and our capacity and gives us what he knows we can handle. God gives his people resources, gifts and tasks according to what he knows we are able to do. But you know God knows us and our abilities a better than we do. Mother Teresa once said ‘I know God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.’
In Luke’s account of this parable, the Master tells the servants what to do before going on a journey, in this parable he simply leaves in fact there is a lot of debate whether they went at once in verse w6 refers to the master leaving rather than the servants actions. But when you read the parable there is a sense that each of the servants acts out of their understanding of what the master is like. The first two servants have a sense of gratitude that the master has entrusted them with such a precious gift, so they set about using it and making sure that the master gets a return for his investment. At the heart of our faithful use of what God has given us is the understanding of who God is. We willingly invest and use what we have been given not for personal gain but for God because of the graciousness of the one who has given us life, resources, talents and spiritual gifts. Again it isn’t about earning reward or avoiding punishment it is about relationship.
The focus of the parable really is the servant who received one talent. Now early understandings of this parable were that this was a condemnation of the religious leaders of Jesus day, in particular the Pharisees. It comes after Jesus long condemnation of the Pharisees at the temple in Matthew 23. They had been entrusted with God’s self-revelation in the law and to keep it safe had built a hedge of rules and regulation round it, and by doing that had moved that revelation of God away from the common people, they had turned the gracious gift of God into a burden too heavy to carry. Even the little they had, the temple and Jerusalem were going to be taken away from them.
It’s challenging for us because it’s easy for us to find ourselves in the same danger; To see ourselves as the religious people of our day. We are called by Jesus to be salt and light and given what we need to do and be that, but the danger is that we may very well simply hide that light under a bushel, bury the treasure we’ve got to try and keep it safe.
Using a different analogy, Leonard sweet says we can try and hunker in the bunker waiting for the rescue as we face the storm and cultural tsunami round us or we can unfurl our sails and let the wind of the spirit lead us out on the wild water.
The parable does have some practical application for us.
It calls us to see all we have as gift from God, and in response to what we have received from God to live in a way where all we have been graciously and generously given is used for the glory of God. We finished a series looking at the Sermon on the Mount and there Jesus had told his first disciples that they were to put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and let God take care of the rest. This parable seems to capture that way of living in light of the return of Christ or at the end of our lives.
Secondly, all of us are known so well by God and he has entrusted us all with resources, talents and spiritual gifts that God hopes we will invest in the kingdom. In Corinthians Paul will say you are the body of Christ each of us has a god given role to play and gifts so that the body will function properly and, if I may extend that metaphor to where I think the spirit intends it to go, embody Christ in the world. Can I say it is easy to bury what God has given us to use. Under a inferiority complex, under a feeling of low self-worth, under the valuing of only certain gift and abilities, or resources. This parable invites us to see what we have as graciously give to us by God and therefore of great value, and may I say given to each of us because God knows who we are and we are called to invest them and see them grow and bring a return. Compassion, mercy, what great gifts to give to people, generosity and service, administration, encouragement, stewardship, I could go on. Think of all the wealth of resources we have been given as well. Because we can’t lose sight of the fact that talent here is a weight of money.
Can I also say that one of the best ways of seeing thing doubled and multiplied is investing those things into other people, Long term investment. The thing that keeps me going often as I face hardship in my life and ministry are the people I’ve invested time and energy into whose faith has blossomed and grown and who themselves are taking up leadership and ministry round the country and the world. Is there one person today maybe that God is lying on your heart to invest who you are what God has given you to see that multiplied?
I believe there is a challenge for us as a church from this parable. To be faithful with God has given us and through the power and presence of God’s Spirit to use it to see the kingdom of God grow. I just want to share with you in closing some of the thinking that the parish council has been doing along those lines. At our meeting this month we did a bit of a visioning process. We are looking at things we want to invest in doing next year. There are so many good things we could do and be doing… but what are the things that will bring the best return for the resources, energy and people we have here? At the end of the day we could just end up running ourselves ragged. We could do heaps of things and still go nowhere, at least we need to know where we are going you’ve worked through a mission statement last year that at St Peter’s we worship God, support each other and reach out in love, wonderful, so we asked ourselves the question where are we wanting that to lead us. We’ve come up with this vision for our church, I just want to share it with you, it’s a bit long and sorry it’s not pithy but we hope it is catchy…
We have a vision to be an authentic, vibrant sustainable community, that is growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey’.