Make the Most of your Gifts – Lectionary 11/15/2020

Matthew 25: 14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’

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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 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? 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.

 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Sermon Text

            We are all given certain gifts in life. Material, spiritual, or otherwise. Every aspect of our life overlaps in a way that makes it difficult to separate them out from one another. Our beliefs about faith overlap with our beliefs about politics with our beliefs about economics with our beliefs about et cetera and so on and even what-have-you. All these complex networks of belief interface with our God-given abilities and our learned skills, and then are worked out in the resources we have available to us.

            In the same way that we can not separate the sapiential aspects of our life – those invisible qualities of mind and soul – we cannot separate out easily the resources that are available to us. Perhaps we have been given the gift of a good mentor, or of a family with enough money to put us into programs that let us learn more efficiently either job skills or academics. Beyond our developmental years, we have infinite junctions of providence and chance that see us to the place we are in life. Sometimes our innate abilities mesh well with the circumstances we have been handed, sometimes they do not. Think of all the mathematicians who were unable to practice their trade because they lived in subsistence farms. Think of all the amazing craftsmen who were forced to work in a gig economy.

            The interface of our skills – learned or innate – and our resources to work those skills out is where our life occurs. In the liminal spaces where the world within us, encounters the world around us, through the life we live. It is impossible to discuss how we as Christian’s must act, without examining the resources available to us. The Saint with all the fruits of the Spirit, but no material wealth, will have a different role in life than the person with few of them and a great deal of wealth. The life of the Christian does not enjoy a one-size-fits-all job description but must be understood based on all aspects of our life.

            Wealth, whether in the form of paper money, our credit, fiat money, or land holdings all consist of the greatest peril to the Christian life. Jesus spoke a great deal about money throughout his entire ministry on Earth. Mammon, the personification of wealth, was spoken of by Jesus as a false-God that rivaled the God of Israel. More than that, Jesus’ teaching implied that, while it was impossible to truly serve God and Mammon, most people did so. Christianity was a movement that grew primarily among the poor and disenfranchised, finding little purchase with the wealthy – except for those who gave it all away to live in poverty. Jesus was very clear – money in itself was not evil, but it was a sword hanging over the head of any Christian, at any moment threatening to take their eternal life in exchange for a love of material goods.

            The Parable of the Talents is a testament to the need for careful stewardship of wealth. The scenario is drawn in which three slaves are given various amounts of talents. One receives five talents, another two, and finally another receives one. The exact measurement of a talent is unknown, but based on a composite of sources a basic estimate of 33 kgs can be made.[1] Because we are dealing with weight, the talent could be made up of any material but was usually gold or silver. For our purposes, we will assume a talent of silver – a more common currency to use.

            Using this amount, we can come up with several valuations of a talent of silver. For us, in the modern world, 33 kg of silver would be worth $26,929. Not bad at all, most of a year’s wages for a good deal of people. However, in the ancient world, the silver denarius was the base currency of the Roman empire, so it would be better to see how many of those a talent was worth. A talent was worth almost 5,000 denarii, or at least 13.3 years’ worth of salary for the average wage worker. While, again, an interpolation, if we replace one denarius a day with the minimum wage in the US, we will come to $311,000.

            In the ancient world, and to most of us present, to have that much money at one time would be an impossibility. Now imagine that someone else is handed $611,000 and $1,555,000. The extreme amount of money given in each case, to slaves – people with little to no property of their own – was meant to make the eyes of the crowd water. The parable of the talents is not about a small investment being handled by a few servants; it is a massive investment that is to be carefully attended to.

            It seems that the amount of money, being as ridiculously high as it was, was meant to put at a distance the amount of money in the parable while simultaneously bringing the meaning closer. If Jesus had said, and I will use modern money for our example, that one person was given $75,000 the next $50,000 and the next $30,000 then we as the audience would fixate on those dollar amounts. We would say, “Well, I make $40,000 a year, so not much is expected of me.” If we made less than Jesus’ estimate, we would not even think about what responsibilities we had.

            However, by making the amounts of money untenable to most people, Jesus was saying that the amount of money is inconsequential. What we receive in life, whether it be $5 or $300,000 is something we must be responsible with. We cannot waste it, but neither can we let it rot – locked away and gathering dust. The material goods we receive – whether for our wage or as a gift – all rightfully belong to God at the end of things. Not just in tithes or gifts to Churches, but in service to all of humanity, and the denial of our own selfishness.

            We see in this Parable, two slaves who are able to use their money well. Though the Parable imagines a business dealing, our faith demands we see something more grounded to our daily life. The wise slaves give freely to those in need, they invest in programs that help the poor and powerless of the world. They spend their money to benefit those around them, to better themselves for ministry and service through education and training. They live their life with one hand on the pulse of the world around them, knowing exactly what it needs, and the other reaching into their pockets to make sure that that need is met.

            The third slave, they are not so wise. They are afraid of mishandling money, so they store it away. We can imagine they take some out here and there, to pay for expenses or occasional purchases, but they always make sure to replace it as quickly as possible. They sit on a mound of dirt that hides a fortune, and they never let it see the light of day. The precious metals become tarnished and worn, and at the end of his time as steward he has nothing to show but the initial investment that was made.

            We often tie this parable to our modern understanding of, “Talents,” that is the skills we innately have. This is apt, because the word we use today, comes from an interpretation of this parable that comes about in the middle ages.[2] However, if we remove the economic context of this parable, we miss the point of it. Jesus is using money for a reason here, we should think of the parable in economic terms, at least in part. To focus only on God’s immaterial gifts, is to deny the fact we have a financial responsibility as Christians.

            John Wesley wrote a beautiful sermon on how we are to handle wealth as Christians, and it is usually summarized in three bullet points.[3] Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can. The Christian should be industrious, as much as they are safely able. They should be thrifty, enough to ensure they have the means to provide for themselves and their family. However, they must be willing to turn over their wealth to the purposes of God, whenever they present themselves. Despite receiving a salary of something like $150,000 a year, and despite handling much more than that as the head of Methodism in England. John Wesley died with about $20 to his name, if that.[4] He did not die poor, he died having wasted nothing and given much.

            While a separate sermon could be given on action based responses to this parable, we will sit in the monetary considerations today. Not because I want you to tithe more, our churches are pretty faithful about that. Not because of any particular need to guilt anyone about recent purchases or bank statements, I have no idea how anyone here spends their money. However, I lift up this economical reading – that asks that, regardless of income we think of how we use our money, because it is a necessary teaching.

            Jesus told us that we are to live a life divorced from love of wealth. Not only that, but we are told that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. While we think of ourselves as people of little means, we must acknowledge our global wealth. Very few gathered here, though I will not deny it is possible, will find themselves below the top 1% of global wealth. We are rich in terms of the world, and though we live in a society that demands much of us and our pocketbooks, we must remember that we are not people given one talent or even two. To the rest of the world, we look like we have five all together.

            So, think about the weight of the money in your pocket, in your bank account. Be responsible in using it, in saving it, and giving it. However, remember that our love is not for the clinking of coin or the accumulation of wealth, but the salvation of souls and freedom of the oppressed.


[1] John William Humphrey, John Peter Oleson, Andrew Neil Sherwood, Greek and Roman technology, p. 487.

[2] “Talent” in The Online Etymology Dictionary. Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/talent

[3] John Wesley. “The Use of Money.” In John Wesley’s Sermons. (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1991.)

[4] Charles Edward White, “Four Lessons on Money from One of the World’s Richest Preachers” Christian History 19 (1988): 24.

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