Matthew 25: 14-30
Parable of the Talents
When I was in my first year of Engineering there was a requirement that we did a 4 week placement in an Engineering firm. We needed to apply for summer or Easter holiday jobs and there was a careers advisor in the Engineering faculty to help us. I remember taking my CV in to visit said careers advisor to help me in applying for these various roles. Coming from a different country I wanted to make sure it made sense to a British employer. He read through my CV and told me to take out some of the volunteer experience I had from coordinating camps and youth groups in various churches. He explained that they didn’t really demonstrate any real experience because everybody in the church will simply agree with each other. I think I should have suggested he spend a bit more time in a church before he made such claims!
From outside the church, People think anything that has a smell of faith is about escapism – about checking your brain at the door and not engaging with the reality of the world. Sure we have a common belief that brings us together, but I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities for Christians to disagree. When I was a teenager I was going off to lead kids summer bible camps across the province of Quebec. Needed to raise money – did so by selling ‘shares’ in my ministry – a parishioner gave a donation (I think I asked for $5 each) and they got a little laminated card and information about what I was doing and a request that as part of owning a share in my ministry they would pray for me. I remember one person complaining to my parents that this was buying in too much to the capitalist models of the world. People from inside the church would also like to believe that we as a church can live outside of the models of the world around us, like some kind of untarnished pure community. And there are those from outside the church who look at every example of the Church or a Christian failing to live a devout and perfect life, without error, as evidence that it’s all a bunch of rubbish. But we, the church, are not a home for angels, we are a refuge for sinners. We are not here because we are perfect, we are here because we know we aren’t.
Today’s Gospel is a parable. Parables are like old dusty chests we find in the loft. You know the ones which have been bashed about. You don’t quite remember what’s in them, but you know it’s meant to be precious to somebody.They’re locked and the key doesn’t always open them up for us, but you keep trying and eventually they might let you see inside. So in today’s parable Jesus tells the familiar story of the talents. The master is going away and gives to his slaves some of his money to one he gives one talent, to another 2 and to another 5. Each according to their ability. He comes back and the slaves he gave 2 and 5 talents to have doubled their money, so he trusts them with other things. The slave who got only one talent had hidden his talent and returned it as it was. The master is disappointed and, as is a bit of a repeated line, he gets thrown into the outer darkness where their is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Lets take a pause for second. When we read scripture we always need to ask ourselves what is this saying that is Good News. It is easy to get caught up, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, with the focus on damnation. But what is this saying about the Good News. And what is this saying about how we live our lives.
The Good News we know is that it is not through our own work that we achieve salvation, there is nothing we can do to earn our place in God’s Kingdom or in this church – it is a gift from God, revealed in Jesus. In the time that Jesus was speaking there were various groups looking for a messiah, to lead them into the wilderness to live a pure life, or to lead them into war to defeat the occupying Roman army, or simply to lead them into the after life. Here again, Jesus doesn’t fit their expectations. As a church we are inherently engaged in the real world. We have real property, real buildings, real lives. And so we should, because all those things are made by God – they are intrinsically holy. And we have to engage in the real systems by which money is used and mis-used. The challenge put in front of us is not how can we go off into the wilderness and live a self-sufficient life, but how do we engage with the world around us without becoming beholden to it, without making money, and the world in general the object of our worship and of our affection. And we do it by engaging our real gifts, and by trusting one another to use theirs. I often read this passage and think what if the servant who was given the one talent was given two. Would that level of confidence in his ability encourage him to at least risk using one of the talents to go and make another. Likewise, how true it is that if you don’t trust somebody you work with to do something, they’ll never really take the risk to go and really try to apply themselves to it.
And so it is with us a community. We need to be willing to take risks, to use our resources, and to engage with the world around us in ways that may sometimes make us feel unsure or uncomfortable. Because taking those risks is when we plant seeds in new soil, as we engage with those who least expect us to be involved or care about them. That is when new growth and flourishing can really take hold in us and in our community.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams