When I was in college I was a member of the Dana College Choir. We would annually take an extended Choir trip singing in churches and venues along the way. This particular choir tour we were headed to the west coast and San Francisco was on our list of places to visit.
I’m a Midwestern boy, whose only experience with seafood was freshwater fish or frozen fish sticks, and so when Kip (my best friend) and I heard about the San Francisco stop, we made plans to save up for a blow-out seafood feast. A lunch on our own on Fisherman’s Wharf was on the itinerary.
This was our highlight event!
Accompanying us was another choir member who seemed to be just as excited. We made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf, perused a number of high-end restaurants, and chose one with a view out the big glass windows toward Alcatraz.
While Kip and I drooled over the possible selections, commenting on the catch of the day, Tom, our third-party joiner, was muttering about the prices and complaining about the lack of affordable entrees, and how he didn’t really feel like fish right now.
Kip and I both told him not to worry about the cost, we would spot him anything he needed. We had been planning this for months and were ready to feast!
When the wait staff came to take our order, Kip and I proceeded to lay out the fare. “We’ll start with crab cakes, we want to try the Calamari, and Kip ordered the Salmon, I did the Pacific Cod and then she turned to Tom, and he said..
”I’ll just have a grilled cheese and fries.”
You can guess how the rest of the meal went.
While Kip and I feasted sumptuously and commented on the various dishes, the flavors and sampled the accompanying sides, Tom crunched on his lone grilled cheese and French fries looking miserable.
There was no joy in his meal on Fisherman’s Wharf!
I tell you that story to help you see this Parable of the Talents in the way in which I think Jesus meant for us to see it.
The peculiar thing about this parable is that we tend to get all twisted up in the stewardship elements of it, distracted by the numbers or the financial matters.
A Talent was a huge sum of money!
One Talent was estimated to be the equivalent of 20 year’s worth of Salary. The one who received the least in this parable received that!
Five Talents would have been more than you could ever earn in your lifetime.
Three Talents would have been the wages you might be able to earn over the entire span of your life.
The Master entrusts these huge sums to his slaves, for an indeterminate amount of time.
Entrusted, by the way, with no other directions but “here, I am going away, take care of this.”
This parable therefore is about what you do with an incredible opportunity that has been placed in your trust.
Do you make something of it, or do you bury it?
Do you treat is as your own, or do you worry about to losing it?
And above all in the parable, do you find any joy in it!
If you find joy in what has been entrusted to you and lavishly use it to your own advantage, then you are (in the end) invited into the joy of the Master who will then entrust you with even more!
If you do not find joy in receiving this lavish amount given to you, then there is no joy found in the end, nothing to enter into!
There is no joy to be invited into by the Master.
We look at the end of the parable and are struck and stung by how nasty, vindictive and harsh the punishment seems to be for this slave who buried his portion, did what was safe and acceptable at that time.
“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.’
We are distracted by what appears to be the vindictiveness, the unfairness of the Master.
But here’s the thing.
The servant who is cast out is only living in the way he had already chosen to live. This is the lot he has chosen because he could not find joy in the opportunity presented to him!
This is Tom crunching his grilled cheese while the chef brings around samples for us taste from the kitchen, “Hey, have you ever tried?” because the Chef recognizes people who delight in trying new delicacies, and so we who already have much, are given even more!
Being consigned to the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth is only in the end lying in the bed you have already made for yourself.
Why is this parable told in Matthew 25?
Again, all of these parables are told in the context of Matthew’s community and they are all about what the Kingdom of God will be like.
Just as the wise bridesmaids were the ones who were ready for the celebration when the Bridegroom showed up and enjoyed the party, so also those who find joy in what is entrusted to them are invited into the joy of the Master, and given abundance. Abundance lavished from the Master who understands that such abundance is to be enjoyed and used to increase the joy and blessing of others.
It is striking that the third slave makes a comment that is really nonsense based on the character of the Master seen so far.
“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.’
Why is it that we take this slave’s words as the truth?
How many skinflints do you know who would have given lavish gifts with no expectation of return to his slaves?
How many “harsh men, cheats” do you know who would be giving out large sums to administer in his absence?
Yet, we are led to believe this one, slave, who lives in perpetual fear knows this Master’s true nature?
It is more likely that this slave knows nothing of the gracious nature of his Master – the gracious nature of Jesus!
He can’t fathom it, and so makes up the excuse of being afraid as the reason why he did not joy in the opportunity given to him.
So, what are we to do with this parable? Let me suggest three things that we should take away from this in these Covid days when we are all wondering if this is the end of the world as we know it.
The first is this, that you have been entrusted with much more than you possibly imagine.
I think right now that it is pretty easy to get sucked into the “poor me” mentality.
“I can’t go out to eat.”
“I have to wear this mask.”
“I can’t go to happy hour.”
“I can’t.. I can’t… I can’t….”
It’s pretty easy to get sucked into a mindset that so much has been taken away from us by this virus and its implications that we cannot see how much we have been given!
Here we are given a chance to think of the welfare of our neighbor, and not just ourselves.
Here we are given the opportunity to give thanks for all that we have, and all that is entrusted to us, and we discover now that the more we survey what is truly ours — the more abundance we see!
Covid has given us eyes to see the blessings in the ordinary that we used to take so much for granted.
We do not thank God for this virus.
We thank God for what we have had all along but could not see because of our own attitudes that distorted our vision.
What we “thought we knew” — which was not really the case!
The second take away from this parable is “Fear of losing something can become a preoccupation in and of itself.”
I cannot for the life of me get that image of Tom joylessly nibbling on his grilled cheese in a miserable fashion while we feasted, not even some thirty years later.
He was so consumed with not having enough to make it through the trip that he threw away an opportunity to feast when it was offered to him!
How many opportunities do we miss because we become preoccupied with what we have to lose, what we can’t afford, what we can’t risk, or worry about what people will think about our actions.
Fear of losing is a powerful thing for us humans. It is employed to manipulate us on all levels.
It is the reason why we get duped into taking out too much life insurance.
It is the reason why we vote in certain ways.
“They’ll take away your guns, they’ll take away your freedom, they’ll take away your social security, they’ll take away your ability to choose your own doctor…..”
On and on the litany of fear of loss can go and can be employed to deceive you into not seeing the blessings in life, or considering the needs of the neighbor, but rather keep you living in fear of the unknown.
That is simply no way to live.
That is the way that leads to wailing and gnashing of teeth!
God will have no part in that, banishes that way of thinking from God’s midst and God’s people.
The third take away is this: “Entering into the Joy of the Master is worth risking everything to find!”
There is an unexpected outcome in this parable!
The “settling of accounts” does not go at all like any of the slaves thought it would go, does it?
The Master doesn’t just take back what had been entrusted to leave the slave in their previous situation.
For two of them, they are “welcomed into the joy of the Master.” They are freed by their own faithfulness! They are given more because they have been found faithful in what had been entrusted to them.
No one expected that, not a one of the slaves thought that the end of this entrusting would be freedom and joy!
But there it is, for all except the one who did nothing with the opportunity.
He took no risk.
He got no joy out of the resources entrusted to him while he had them.
He had no experience of anything because he risked nothing!
The parable invites us to imagine not a God who is harsh, or who punishes, but rather a God who gives abundantly just to see what the heck we would do with it! And then this God, delights with us when we do something besides bury it or squirrel it away!
No one finds joy in just sitting on things, not you, and particularly not God, so dare to risk living, even extravagantly, for a lesson in extravagance, abundance, and trust is what God intends life to be!
Beloved in the Lord, Enter into the joy of the Master! See all that you have been given, and freely use it for life, that you may be given a commendation for having lived your life well!
There should be no ordering of a grilled cheese when the bounty of the sea lies before you!