This past Sunday I spoke from the story in Matthew 25 that those of us who used to read the KJV know as the "Parable of the Talents." I hated this parable as a kid. If you grew up in the Naz Church in the 60's you were subjected annually to an event called "Teen Talent." (If you're younger than 40 think of this as "America's Got Talent" without the cameras, or Howard Stern. This was a great time of year for three or four teens and an annual reminder for the rest of us that God gave "talents" to some people (like them) and not to others, (like me.)
But, of course, this parable has nothing to do with "talent" at all. The servants hadn't been given vocal or athletic ability that they were expected to develop and use before the second coming. They were given bags full of money, lots of money, and, according to the text, left to their own imaginations to determine what they should do with it. (That's right, the "boss" dropped a life-changing amount of gold in their laps and then walked out of the room and went on a trip.)
Most sermons I've heard pass over the two servants who would later hear the master say, "well done," and spend their time trying to get the potential "wicked servants" in the congregation to get up off their butts and do SOMETHING with what they've been given before Jesus comes back, takes it away from them, and sends them to a place where there's nothing to do but weep and gnash teeth.
It's true that the text gives us more information about the "wicked and lazy (W&L) than about the "good and faithful (G&F)" We only know what the first two did. We find out, in detail, not only what the last one did, but also how he "felt." about what he would do.
And this is why the G&F get to spend their lives sharing in the "master's happiness and the other guy gets to spend his crying and gnashing. What the "W&L" servant "felt" was fear. He was afraid of the marketplace, but most important, he was afraid of the master. All we know from the text is that this was not an issue for the first two. They feared neither the potential loss of their initial investment nor the response of the master when he returned. In other words, these three servants KNEW two very different "masters."
I was reminded immediately of this quote (which has become incredibly important to me) from Thomas Merton's Life and Holiness.
What the two G&F servants knew is that they had nothing to fear from the Master, and if they had nothing to fear from the master they had nothing to fear from the marketplace. And so they took their stuff into the marketplace and spread it around and watched it grow.Our spiritual attitude, our way of seeking peace and perfection depends entirely on our concept of God. If we are able to believe he is truly our loving Father, if we can really accept the truth of his infinite and compassionate concern for us, if we believe that he loves us not because we are worthy but because we need his love, then we can advance with confidence. We will not be discouraged by our inevitable weakness and failure. We can do anything he asks of us. But if we believe he is a stern, cold lawgiver who has no real interest in us who is merely a ruler, a lord, a judge, and not a father, we will have great difficulty in living the Christian life. We must therefore begin by believing that God is our Father: otherwise we cannot face the difficulties of the Christian way of perfection.”
It really didn't matter what the W&L servant thought about the marketplace. His fear of the master made it impossible for him to do anything but "dig a hole" and try to preserve what he had received.
And this is what really ticks me off about what the church has told people about this parable. We've told folks for years that the "master" was coming back someday to check up on them, and that when he got here they'd better have more gold to give him than he had given them, and if they didn't, well, let the weeping and gnashing begin.
We want to say that we've done this because we want people to be "ready when Jesus comes." But that's simply not true. We've done this because we want people to teach Sunday School, and serve on the church board, and give regularly so we can keep the doors open and the staff payed.
Merton was right. A church full of people who see the Master only as a
We may very well get people tithe and teach Sunday School, but they will be scared to death of the "marketplace." The "church" is a great "hole" to keep your "talents" in if you want to keep them safe 'til the "harsh, cold master" returns, but the marketplace is the place to spread your "talents" around if you want to see them grow."Ruler, a lord, a judge, and not a father, we will have great difficulty in living the Christian life."
One more thought. There is no real guarantee that "taking our talents into the marketplace" will result in amazing growth. I've found myself wondering, since Sunday morning, how this parable might have gone if the third servant had come to the master and said, "Master, I took the bag of gold you gave me into the marketplace. I invested it where I thought it would do the most good, and make the most profit, but then the "housing bubble" burst and the economy collapsed and what I've got left is this bag. I wonder if the master might have said, well done, good and faithful servant, you've gone into the marketplace and invested what you had, here, let me give you a couple of bags from these other two guys. Come and share in the Master's happiness."
American Christians are a frightened lot these days. We're afraid of almost everything in the "marketplace" so, we dig holes, put crosses on top of them, and call them "chruches." We live in fear. We vote from a position of fear. We make our "plans for the future" from a position of fear. I think I used to think this was because of all the "scary thing" in the world. I'm not so sure anymore. I'm coming to believe it might have more to do with the way we see the "master" than with the way we see the "marketplace."
Merton was right.
If we are able to believe he is truly our loving Father, if we can really accept the truth of his infinite and compassionate concern for us, if we believe that he loves us not because we are worthy but because we need his love, then we can advance with confidence. We will not be discouraged by our inevitable weakness and failure. We can do anything he asks of us.