The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 25:14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. 16 Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money 19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and *settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ 29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NASB)
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson was the parable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins. In that parable we learned that we are to be ready for the long haul, while at the same time be ready for the possible Second Coming of Christ at any moment. We learned the five wise virgins are Christians who, from the time they are baptized and made Christians until the time they depart this vale of tears, make use of the Word and the Sacrament ministry, which God has given to the church to create and sustain true Christian faith. The five foolish are those who do not do the same and as a result, are ultimately locked out of the heavenly banquet.
This morning we consider the Parable of the Talents. Again, this parable was told during holy week, probably on Tuesday. Like all parables it is about the kingdom of heaven. It is a story about how God and the church go about their business in contrast to the way the world goes about its business.
Most misunderstand and misuse this parable. One webpage connected to the “By Faith” magazine, a Presbyterian publication asserts that this parable teaches us five things.
- First, this parable teaches us that success is a product of our work.
- The Parable of the Talents teaches that God always gives us everything we need to do what he has called us to do.
- The Parable of the Talents teaches that we are not all created equal.
- The Parable of the Talents teaches that we work for the Master, not our own selfish purposes.
- The Parable of the Talents shows that we will be held accountable.
If this list of lessons isn’t enough to cause concern, read what the author says under each point. You should be able to see the problem. It’s all law. No Gospel here. Jesus is about to die for the sins of the world and what does He do according to these of interpretations? He sends us off to a life of law.
Some Christians even use this parable as principle of financial investing. Seems strange doesn’t it? Jesus is just hours away from being betrayed, beaten, mocked, and crucified and He decides to give Christians financial advise to hold us over until He comes again?
That brings us to the parable and it’s proper interpretation and use. Jesus said, “For it [the kingdom of heaven] is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.”
The word talent began as a unit of weight, like the word “pound.” We don’t know the exact weight of a talent, but scholars think it was someplace between 80 and 120 lbs.
There are three factors that determine the value of precious metals when they are used as currency. 1. The kind of metal, 2. The weight of it, and 3. its availability. Just think of the British pound of Sterling Silver, which became simply the British Pound.
Under Roman rule in the 1st first century in the Middle East, people measured their precious metals in talents. A talent of silver weighing in at around 100 pounds was a significant sum of money. A talent of gold was wealth beyond a person’s wildest dreams. How wealthy would you be if you had a hundred pounds of gold hidden in your house? (If you do, let’s talk. We need a new boiler).
Here Jesus used the currency of talents to represent the gifts and abilities that God pours out on His church, thus the contemporary meaning of the word “talent.”
At the end of last week’s parable, Jesus issued a warning, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matt. 25:13) He follows that statement up with this parable as a way to explain what the church is to be doing between His Ascension and second Coming.
This is the first and proper interpretation of the text. Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, the church. You, as in singular you, are not the kingdom of heaven. You are a part of it. You are in it. You belong to the church and are to be about the work of the church.
Last week’s parable was about Christians maintaining readiness by remaining in the church and making use of the means of grace. This week’s parable teaches that the servants of the pastors, teachers, leaders, and members of the congregation are to be busy and active doing the work Christ has given the church to do.
Jesus asked His disciples to imagine a very wealthy man who was leaving on a long trip–Jesus, of course, is the very wealthy man. The first slave is given five talents. The second two talents. The third one talent.
The first two put the talents, the commodity of the church entrusted to them to work and earned a return. The third servant hid the talent in the ground and waited for the Master to return. When the master returned, he called the slaves to provide an accounting. The two faithful servants received a reward, while the unfaithful servant received the most severe judgment possible.
The servants/slaves are churchmen. As to the meaning of the talents, in the kingdom of heaven the chief and ultimate talents that we are to put to work is the Word and Sacrament ministry. Secondly, there are other talents God gives to the church to help support and carry out its Word and Sacrament ministry.
The first two slaves go to work managing the talents they had been entrusted to them. The talents do the work they were sent and intended to do. The third slave did not put the talent to work. He simply buried it.
Why? Why did the third slave do as He did? Why did the Master deal with Him so severely? In verse 24-25 the slave offers his “explanation.” 24 “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.”
The truth of the matter is–the servant completely misunderstood the nature of his Master, much like Martin Luther originally misunderstood the nature of God. Luther was raised to see God as only a angry Father who had to punish sinners; sinners who could never appease the anger of a Righteous God. That is how the third servant saw the Master. Thus, he operated out of fear not faith, at least that was the excuse given.
If you listen to the words of the Master in verse 26, you can hear the disbelief in His voice. 26 “You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed?” Some translations rightly put a question mark at the end of verse 26. “Really? That’s what you think of Me? Seriously?!” This churchman didn’t know the Master at all.
There’s another point to be made here. If this churchman truly believed that his Master was ruthless, he would have worked his butt off to bring in some kind of return on the talent and keep himself out of trouble.
In the Stanford house when I grew up, my brothers and I worked a lot harder when father was angry. “This better be done before I get back.” In those days, when parents could parent with common sense and without fear of some noisy “do gooders” interfering, such a command was taken seriously. Thus, by the time dad got home the work was done, at least 9 times out of 10.
The third slave was a lazy and apathetic churchman, a churchman of mediocrity who did not know what his Master is really like. He didn’t put the Word and Sacraments, the talents of the church to work. The church is plagued with such men today.
I have lived in both worlds. I have worked in and outside the church, often at the same time. I have been self-employed and I have worked for others. I am here to tell you, the modern day pastor doesn’t work nearly as hard as they use to. They certainly don’t handle the talents (Word and Sacraments, preaching and teaching–doctrine) as they ought.
But pastors aren’t the only lazy servants in the church. The “well that’s good enough” attitude plagues the work of the church in all of its various aspects. Now listen carefully to what I am about to say. The “well that’s good enough” attitude usually translates into, “I have done enough to make me feel like I did something good–that’s a form of works-righteousness. God doesn’t care how we justify our mismanagement, apathy, and laziness. Lazy apathetic parents don’t usually produce industrious and helpful children. A lazy and apathetic congregations and pastors do not fair well under this parable. The truth is, we all are found wanting in this regard.
God has given His church all the talents and gifts needed to carry on its proper work, which are chiefly the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confession and absolution, and the worship service.
Ephesians 4:10-12. “He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. 11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ.”
1 Corinthians 12 teaches that we all belong to one body, the body of Christ, but that the body consists of different members, each having different functions. Here in this congregation, little Immanuel, we are living out this parable today. Before Jesus ascended and went on His long journey, He meted out His talents, the Word and Sacraments of His holy house to His Apostles and church. In addition to these life saving and eternal life giving riches, He also provides His church with the Apostolic Word, pastors, teachers, and evangelists. In support of these offices. He also raises up in our congregations, officers, singers, organists, ushers, cooks, and other talented people to care for the people and things of His church.
The Master of the Kingdom of Heaven is exactly opposite of what the third servant thought He was. He is condemned, not because of His failure to “double his money,” but because he did not know the Master.
The Master is the same Master who fed five thousand with just a few loaves and fishes. It is God Who sends out His word so that His Word will accomplish the purpose for which He is sent.
It is only in the Gospel, living in God’s grace, forgiveness, and love that we become like the two faithful servants. It is only through the Gospel that we see a Master who is also our loving, kind, and gracious Father.
Ephesians 5:5 “For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. 6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. . . by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. 9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Chief and First servant is Jesus Christ Himself, Who was faithful even unto death on a cross. By His work He makes faithful servants. He entrusts His the church’s ministry and all of His gifts to us to put to work as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His whole Christian Church on earth.
In and through the Gospel, we confidently approach our Father knowing He is not a ruthless task master, but a kind and gracious Father Who will speak to us the words He spoke in the parable. ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen