“I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
– Matthew 25:23
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus indicates to His disciples He might be a while in getting back to them. We hear, in part:
“After a long time the master of those servants returned…”
It’s hard for many of today’s disciples to wait for their Master’s return.
For Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and as such, Christians desire to be where He is in utter fullness.
For to Whom else should we go?
He is the Light on the darkened paths of the fallen world which does not recognize Him, and in Him, we are the light as well – the light for the life of the world, a city on a hill…
Where He walks, we walk – and the beginnings of the world’s transformation and the ushering in of the new Creation follow in our wake.
Planting the seeds of His Word, new communities of worshippers are created, joining the heavenly chorus from ages to ages.
This too, is His gift to us. This is our inheritance. This is our calling.
For we are the maidens to whom our Faithful One is betrothed – awaiting the final consummation of all things and the great wedding feast with people from all tongues, tribes, and nations!
This is our Christian faith!
And two of the men in Jesus’ parable seem to get this, seem energized by this…
According to the text they get to it immediately!
They leap into their work with true vigor, as indicated by the verbs that describe their actions…
We might compare their energy to a couple young Wall Street sharks eager to get out into the world and make millions under their mentor’s profit-seeking eye…[i]
But not all those we find in the church we see with our eyes feel this way. Some, for example, are like the man who says in our parable, “I knew that you were a hard man…”
I wonder if Judas, though being as close to Jesus as He was, also thought Jesus was a hard man.[ii]
“Jesus, I know you have your mission, your purposes, your goals…. But, be reasonable. You are tearing the world apart…”[iii]
If he did, he would not be unlike a great many “wise” men and women outside the church either, would he?
“Jesus… please. Can’t we just try to allow for people to ‘be authentic’ and ‘be who they are’ as much as possible? Can’t we just look to have human progress and flourishing the way that we think it should be done? Can’t we just focus on ‘peace, peace…’ and ‘safety’? Be reasonable! You are being much too hard… Difficult…”
And so we read, also in the book of Matthew, in the chapter right before this one: “the Son of Man will appear in the sky…! [excitedly]
…and all the nations of the earth will mourn…” [sadly] (24:30).
We are told in the Bible that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
And we see this morning that in our Lord’s parable, the slave says:
“’Master… I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you….”
Now, it might sound like this man did act out of fear – but is this really the case?
On the one hand, it might seem to be… Several Bible commentators think so. When I was young man, I often thought that this is what was happening when I heard this parable…
…and then I often wondered why the Master did not have some pity on His servant…
After all, didn’t Jesus say that He did not come to damage those whose faith was weak? You know, He said of Himself: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”?
“Why doesn’t this guy qualify?”, I thought…
On the other hand, does it not seem just a bit odd that this servant actually has the nerve to speak such words to the one he says he fears?
Has he just all of a sudden, after being fearful all this long time, just now gotten his courage up when He faces His Master?
And not only this, if he’s really as fearful as he says he is, why would he have buried the talent in the first place?[iv]
No, things are not always as they initially seem.
I no longer think that this servant was living in fear.
That’s not why he buried his talent in the ground, and hence, the Lord calls his bluff:
“Oh, you knew I was a hard man? Well, if that is the case, why didn’t you…?”
As one commentator puts it: “Wickedness always argues like a fool when it dares to open its mouth.”
It does us all well to remember that when the Bible speaks of sinful or wicked men and fear, it speaks about them having a lack of fear (Psalm 36). Rom. 3:18, for example, makes the accusation that “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Paul is saying man knew God but have abandoned Him. And man knows the truth about God, but suppresses this truth.
Therefore the real issue, I submit, is what it always is.
The Master is truly patient, kind, good, and especially, generous.
Fallen man is not…
Jesus Christ does not come to make unrealistic and unreasonable demands, but “to serve” and “give his life as a ransom for many.” And the greatest of His followers are those among them who serve, who have begun to give like He does! (Matt 23:11)
He says to all that He comes to offer a yoke that is easy, and burdens which are light….
He even tells us that we who have will receive even more, “and [we] will have an abundance”! (Matt 25:29)… giving us both grace and responsibilities that bring joy, love, and life.
…when He comes bidding the world to repent, bidding both “good and bad” to “come to the feast!”
…it is people like the tax collectors and prostitutes who repent, believe, and embrace “the way of righteousness” (Matt 21:32).
Perhaps though, we might think that this servant, while not afraid, was just being lazy. This, however, is not necessarily correct either (the NIV translation here is questionable).
Again, Jesus Christ is the one who at the eleventh hour hires extra workers for His vineyard, making them His servants in good standing as well!
Generous! And making the last first, and the first, last.
….and, as Jesus explicitly points out in Matthew 20:15, people are envious… envious…
…Because He is generous…
Envy, again, is the “desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to another…”
It really comes down to this: people, being envious, ultimately want to see goodness being done to their neighbors according to their own way, and not the Lord’s way…
If they “bless” other people, they want it to be in accordance with their will, their standards, their purposes… their own conceptions of what is just and fair…and just and fair for them.
And Jesus, frankly, ruins all of that…
As we see in the Gospels in fact, His chosen people, the Jews, have very, very little time and/or patience for the heralds who come announcing the good news of the Kingdom.
So it is not that the servant in the parable is necessarily lazy… It is that he simply had other things that he would rather be doing, that were more important to do.
This man, a member of the church outwardly, is much like the Jewish rulers.
You see, pre-Jesus, things were going pretty well in their world.
They were quite comfortable, they were governing things just fine, and most had the respect of the common people. They liked how people saw them, viewed them… They had the kind of status and commendation from the world that gave them a sense of purpose and meaning…
So this man is not necessarily lazy in that he is unwilling to act or participate in any kind of work. It’s just that when it comes to this work, the purposes of the Master, he is not only unambitious but wholly disinterested…
As the sixth century preacher Gregory the Great put it:
“Hiding a talent in the earth means employing one’s abilities in earthly affairs, failing to seek spiritual profit, never raising one’s hearts from earthly thoughts. There are some who have received the gift of understanding but have a taste only for things that pertain to the body. The prophet says of them, ‘They are wise in doing evil, but they do not know how to do good…’” (224)
This man who buries his talent, like the Jewish leaders, didn’t need this Radical Carpenter from Nazareth coming on the scene and turning over everyone’s tables…
On His own mission of love and in effect accusing everybody else of being the bad guys…
And, again, note that it is evidently not only the Jews, God’s chosen people, who are made miserable by Him – but the whole unbelieving world.
…when “the Son of Man will appear in the sky… all the nations of the earth will mourn…” (24:30).
Well, what should God expect if He makes people feel bad? (see John 7:7).
What should He expect if He breaks into everybody’s world and upsets their apple cart? Knocks their ducks out of the “proper” rows?
I mean, if you are God, you should just understand when people say
“Hey… thanks for the invitation to the Wedding Feast, but I’ll pass”
“It’s not like I took the talent you gave me and spent it on my own pleasures… I only buried it after all…”
God, you should just “get it” when people say…
“Look, I didn’t squander the gifts I was given on riotous living, like the prodigal son did… I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m a good person. Ask my peers…”
God, maybe you should just take it a little bit more lightly when people say:
“We don’t really want you here. We don’t need you…Well, maybe we could make something work. What’s in it for me?”
I mean, right?
God, you need to have a “come to Jesus” moment!
Get with the program!
Or maybe, understandably, you as the Master on a Mission get enraged at your useless servants and you throw that worthless and wicked lot outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…
(this what happens in this parable, and it also happens in the parable of the wedding feast to the person who gets into the feast, but isn’t wearing the right clothes…).
Or maybe, you as the Master send your army to destroy those who murder your servants and burn their city down…
(this is what Jesus says will happen to those who not only ignore the invitation to the wedding feast, but kill the servants who bring the message).
And then, of course, the world accuses this Master, the one who served in love, who paid for the sins of His rebellious people with the price of His own blood… of being the worst of impatient and authoritarian monsters…[v]
At the very least, this is what they do in their hearts… the heart which will be fully unveiled, laid bare, at the time of the final judgment…
Where their “accounts” will be settled and individually scrutinized (Origin).
They only condemn themselves here. They only show how they are “projecting,” as we say today… revealing their own hearts as they do.
As the commentator Lenski puts it about the man who buries his talent…
“This fellow imagines his great and generous lord to be as envious and as self-seeking as he himself is…” (980)
And as Martin Fraanzman put it, talking about not only this parable but the message of God’s judgment of the sheep and goats which immediately follows:
“The unmerciful had committed themselves to the unmerciful enemy of God[, that is Satan,] and share his doom (the eternal fire which God did not design for man[, but the demons])” (39, CSSC, 1979).
So what is the contrast?
The wise, the righteous, are those who are about their master’s business, and will be found about such when He returns…
Let’s talk a bit more about some of the details of this parable, and some of its more challenging aspects.
Who is the wealthy man? The wealthy man in the parable is Jesus. Again, He is getting ready to leave His disciples and to go into heaven, where He will be for a long while before returning… (Lenski)
And slaves in the ancient world were teachers, accountants, and even treasurers of a kingdom. In other words, not just household slaves or agricultural workers but highly skilled business experts. (Osborne, 923)
What are the talents? Money. A silver talent might be worth 7,300 denarii (and a denarii was a day’s wage). A gold talent could be worth 30 times as much…. And just one gold talent would approximately 800,000 dollars in today’s money! (Osborne)
R.T. France says “the ‘talents’… do not represent… individual ability but are allocated on the basis of [individual ability].” (951) That’s true, though even as this parable deals with money, it also does bring our attention to the abilities of the servant. This then, is where we get the metaphorical interpretation of “talent”, and, in fact, our modern word “talent”.
The text says: “The man…went at once and put his money to work…”
Yes, and “use it or lose it” as they say, right?
Do you have wealth? Use it.
And, also, we should not assume that those who have more talents, and hence more responsibilities, could also not prove unfaithful.
This parable is not teaching that only those with the fewest talents might prove unfaithful in their abilities. Instead, we see clearly that this parable contains a warning for all of us…
It will not do at all for any of us to say, ‘I can’t do much, so it is all right if I don’t do anything. It won’t really make any difference.” (Albrecht).[vi]
Or as St. John Chrysostom put it 1,600 years ago: “Let no one say, ‘I have but one talent and can do nothing with it.’”
Do you have diligence? Can you teach? Speak? Sing? Add and subtract? Negotiate? Are you a good protector or care giver? Do you listen well?
What kind of abilities, what kind of gifts, what kind of material and technological means do you have that you could be generous with as well?
It is better to give than receive! This is the life that Christians have been blessed with!
The wise and righteous do good works, because they have oil, faith, in their lamps!
They notice the signs of the end, and they keep watch for their Master’s return!
They have and will be given more, having an utter abundance!
And this, by the way, goes along with Matt. 13, fourteen chapters earlier, where we read the following:
“The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables…”[vii]
Maybe that is, finally, the most profound way of understanding what the talents represent: the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
Above all, you have the simple and humble gospel which penetrates this world like yeast through the dough!
What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me![viii]
The talent-burier in our parable today really thinks that he is a believer… but his understanding of who his Master is is dead wrong.
So do not be like the false believer, who has a fake Jesus. Do not be like Judas who asks “Is it I Lord?” (namely, I, who will betray you?).
Let your understanding of Christ, the generous Master, be true!
Be the one who has boldness and joy as the second coming approaches!
See His great generosity… His death on the cross for even your sins! Even today!
You too can hear “Well done!” Fine! Excellent![ix]
“You were faithful with a few things, over many will I station you…”
“Enter into the joy of your Master!”
He has prepared a place for us. There are many mansions there.
You see, our Lord Jesus is eager to comfort His people with the messages about our heavenly dwellings, and yes, even our heavenly rewards.[x]
We see here, in the parable, what He says about new “stations”. This should perhaps cause us to recall Matthew 19:28 also, where He says to His disciples:
“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
I think at this point, in this day and age, it’s also important for us to say how wrong the ideas of some self-proclaimed “Christian socialists” are.
One for example, in an article I read, says this:
“Our struggle is not to raise ourselves above our enemies, but to love them fully [good so far…], because to abolish class means abolishing what makes them our enemies at all.”
Thinking like that is disastrously wrong.
Actually, as I noted last time I spoke with you, God appreciates hierarchy. And He ranks and rewards accordingly. We can even see that there will be different classes or “statuses” in heaven….
There just won’t be envy any longer, like there is so much of it here….
Had the servant with only one talent fulfilled his responsibility, there’s no doubt he would have been equally commended by His Master.
He would not, however, have received all of the exact same rewards as his fellow believers…
And not only this, but all of us, and any “Christian socialist” friends we might have in particular, should see that Christ’s message is not about attaining absolute economic equality on earth or in heaven but is ultimately about the joy of simply being in good relationships with the others God blesses us with…
All faithful servants will enter into their Master’s joy, with Him being their true Wealth.
For the greatest of the gifts God gives is love, and God Himself is love….
So, here, for example, we should think of Paul, who says these tender and powerful words to the Thessalonians:
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (I Thess. 2:19)
So again, take into account and do not be like Judas who asks “Lord, is it I?,” but trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His plans for you!
You, who reach others with the joy of this message, and they, who reach you with the message of Christ!
And may we, may all of us, like the good servant go forth in God’s work and be confident: “Master, you delivered to me five (or two, or one) talents; here I have made five (or two, or one) talents more…”
And let us do so always keeping in mind that the good works we do are never meant to be for our own salvation – Jesus has fully won this for us – but for the benefit of our neighbor to our Lord’s glory.
Hence, the Apostle Paul also says:
“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load….”
Before we say “Paul, that’s not Lutheran!”, let’s realize that he is writing this in one of his greatest epistles explaining justification by grace through faith… the book of Galatians…
So, why would anyone, particularly a Lutheran…
[Try] to Get as Many Heavenly Rewards as [They] Can?
Well, why would we not want our own rewards to be greater and greater?
Such a thought need not be for selfish or evil reasons, but can indicate proper self-interest and concern.
For if our rewards are greater and greater, what does this really mean?
It means that God and His Christ, His Gospel, have been glorified in the world through us all the more. And even though this is not our main priority, this also means that we too will be blessed to know the joy of serving our God all the more in this life….
Just like a man kissing his wife experiences pleasure in that “good work”…[xi]
Our Lord is good. For we know, in our heart of hearts, that we are unworthy of all of the great love He has for us.
“We are unworthy servants” but of Christ we sing “love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be…”
And so, we are compelled by this love and strive. The Apostle Paul puts matters well:
“My dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
We will never get beyond the fact that it is only in, with, through, and by our Lord Jesus Christ that we inherit—not merit—any and all of these blessings.
And… our efforts will not be in vain…
[i] Luz, per Osborne: “The best way to make money quickly in the antiquity was dealing in commodities or speculating in land” (924). The talents, do, after all, literally mean a large sum of money. “[T]his [parable] is not about domestic management, but about high-level commercial responsibility…” “The ‘talents,’ however, do not represent that individual ability but are allocated on the basis of it.” (France, 953, 951). The mood of the parable is definitely far from the reasoning found here: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2020/09/was-jesus-a-socialist. Also vs. Carter and Reid. Carter specifically, per France, “criticizes the parable for taking ‘the perspective of the wealthy elite’ and ‘punishing the one who subverts the system…” The third slave should be commended “for not adding to the master’s wealth by not depriving others”. He is the “honorable one because he unmasks the wickedness of the master.” Matthew is “a creature of his cultural context.” (p. 951)
[ii] BAGD (756) says this means “hard, strict, harsh, cruel, and merciless” (Osborne, 926). One commentator I looked at said this could also mean “strong” as in “powerful”. In other words, it could be a complement of sorts. Perhaps the servant is being deliberately ambiguous.
[iii] Or maybe, as some have suggested, Judas belonged to the party of the Zealots, and he would have been upset that Jesus wasn’t tearing the world apart the way He should have been doing it to counter Rome.
[iv] France: It’s about self-interest and slave perceiving he would not get much out of the deal. “He may also have been afraid of how such a master might react if his commercial venture failed, but, if so, he has chosen his words badly…” (France, 955).
[v] And in order to get the evil authoritarian, who serves us so that He actually can rule us, to try and trick Him… to undermine Him… to subvert him…. some try to crash the feast.
Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 22 – right after telling the momentous parable of the tenants where the tenants kill the Master’s own son. In the wedding feast parable, they are actually going to pretend, in spite of their faithless hearts, that they actually belong there in the same arena with Jesus (related to this, note also what they do next: first, in chapter 22, the Pharisees go on to ask about taxes and Caesar, the Sadducees about marriages and the resurrection, and the Pharisees again about the greatest commandment ; finally, Jesus asks them about “whose son is the Christ”… and goes into the “Woes!” in chapter 23. Chapter 24 begins to get into the “Signs of the end of the age”…).
They don’t realize that they need the wedding clothes though, and face the consequences, as so many do in these chapters where we read of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”…
Again, as noted above, “it really comes down to this: people, being envious, ultimately want to be “good to their neighbors” in their own way, and not the Lord’s way… If we “bless” other people, we want it to be in accordance with our will, our standards, and our own conceptions of what is just and fair.
Jesus, frankly, ruins all of that…His chosen people, in fact — have little time for the heralds who come announcing such good news…
They, after all, have other things to attend to: one “his field, another… his business” (Matt 22:5)
So, naturally, they kill the heralds, including the Master’s own son.
[vi] Most of us would place ourselves in the category of the servant who received only one talent. That may be where most of us belong. But that surely is no excuse for being unfaithful with the talent God has given us. It will not do at all for any of us to say, ‘I can’t do much, so it is all right if I don’t do anything. It won’t really make any difference.” (Albrecht, 364)
[vii] “Those who have accepted Jesus’ gift will receive revelation in abundance; those who have rejected it (the Jewish people) will lose even what they have, namely, their place as the recipients of divine truth. Here it has the broader sense of the reality of the kingdom. He followers of Jesus will have the kingdom in abundance, while the leaders and the Jewish people who have opposed Jesus will lose it…” (Osborne, 928)
[viii] 1 What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure
When You, and You alone,
Lord Jesus, are my Treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
My soul’s delight shalt be;
You are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!
2 The world seeks to be praised
And honored by the mighty
Yet never once reflects
That they are frail and flighty.
But what I truly prize
Above all things is He,
My Jesus, He alone.
What is the world to me!
3 The world seeks after wealth
And all that mammon offers
Yet never is content
Though gold should fill its coffers.
I have a higher good,
Content with it I’ll be:
My Jesus is my wealth.
What is the world to me!
4 What is the world to me!
My Jesus is my treasure,
My life, my health, my wealth,
My friend, my love, my pleasure,
My joy, my crown, my all,
My bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare:
What is the world to me!
[ix] Fine, Excellent (Lenski) “No higher commendation can come to any believer from the lips of Jesus…”….
[x] Sometimes, we are afraid to talk about rewards, but as he gives to “each according to his ability” he is also ready to “reward accordingly” (Fraanzman). As Gregory the Great put it:
“All the good deeds of our present life, however many they may appear to be, are few in comparison with our eternal recompense. The faithful servant is put in charge of many things after overcoming all the troubles brought him by perishable things. He glories in the eternal joys of his heavenly dwelling. He is brought completely into the joy of his master when he is taken into his eternal home and joined to the company of the angels. His inner joy at this gift is such that there is no longer any external perishable thing that can cause him sorrow…”
Finally, it is not reading too much into the parable to see heaven as a state “not of indolent pleasure,” as one man put it, “but of active cooperation with the purpose of God as well as enjoyment of his favor” (see France, 955).
[xi] Rev. Christopher Jackson: https://twitter.com/revcjackson/status/1309155090792681473