- About DPC
- Children & Youth
Our text today is a challenging one. It’s one of the parables we find in the gospel according Matthew and it’s placed between another challenging parable…the one about the bridesmaids…and a section called the judgement of the nations. In chapter 26 the lead up to the crucifixion begins. Here in chapter 25 Jesus is speaking. He’s talking about the kingdom, what it will be like, and what it ought to be. He’s talking about how the disciples should prepare themselves for his departure. He knows what is coming and they do not. All parables are challenging, I think. As I mentioned during our summer series on parables, we’re not really accustomed to learning through stories but the original hearers of this text would have been. I think it would have made more sense to them. So, we are tasked with the interpretation of a learning device with which we are unfamiliar. Never an easy task and often done poorly. We’ll try to do a good job today. I’ll be honest, this parable is an odd one. Is it about kingdom economics? Stewardship? Our own images of God? Perhaps all of the above? We’ll see.
Listen now for the word of the Lord:
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 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.’ 23 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.’ 24 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 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? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Holy wisdom, holy word. Thanks be to God.
A traditional reading of this text would treat it as an allegory and cast God or Jesus into the role of the man. This is troubling to me. It may be troubling to you.
Last month it was my great privilege to teach both of our Presbyterian Women circles. We have two: one that meets during the day and another that meets in the evening. This year they’re using a study on the book of Hebrews. The lesson I was charged with teaching had an opening exercise that asked the groups to name attributes of God, the first that came to mind. So, I asked the groups to call out some attributes of God. Forgiving, loving, merciful, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, kind, gracious. These were some of the words each group used to describe God. Harsh, judgmental, unforgiving, merciless, mean, punitive, punishing. None of those words were called out in either group. And after a first reading of this parable in the Wednesday morning FIRL small group, more than one person said “That’s not my God.” It turns out, we, too, instinctively treat this text as an allegory and cast God or Jesus into the role of the man. Jesus is telling the story, after all, so maybe that works? It does cause me to wonder. I wonder, what images of God you hold? If I asked you to name some attributes of God, the first that come to mind, what would you say? And would you give the Sunday school answer or your own honest answer? When you consider the totality of Scripture and what we think it tells us about God, do you picture a harsh, punishing God or a just, merciful God? In your own life, do you expect God to be gracious and loving toward you or mean and score keeping? I’m curious because I think that often the God of our imaginations may shape our experience of the divine. If we imagine that God is harsh, judgmental, and punishing, then that may be the kind of God we experience. If we imagine that God is gracious, kind, merciful, and just, then that may be the kind of God we experience. Perhaps the third slave in our parable had the experience he did because that was the experience he anticipated. He said that he knew the man, his master, was harsh and indeed the master was harsh toward him.
I think it is good for each of us to consider the images of God we hold in our hearts and minds. If all we imagine is a scorekeeping God, then we may be continually afraid and never experience the grace of God. If all we imagine is a prosperity gospel God who doles out rewards for good works, we’ll feel abandoned by that same God when things aren’t going so well. If all we imagine is a punitive, punishing God, then we may never know mercy and love of God. Our own images of God matter. Thus, it is troubling to me to cast God or Jesus in the role of the man in our story. It works to a point, I suppose. I learned, though, from Stan Saunders, Professor of NT at Columbia Theological Seminary, that the first hearers of this story would never have cast God in the role of the wealthy man. It didn’t fit. And if we do, then we must cast ourselves in the role of the servants AND we must consider what the third slave has to say about the man. The man in the story was incredibly wealthy and, at least, according to the third servant his wealth was not earned ethically. He reaped where he did not sow, he gathered where he did not scatter. In other words, he stole, cheated, perhaps exploited others in order to gain his wealth. The money and property he dispersed to his servants, those over whom he had power, were not small sums. In today’s terms, 5 talents would be about $6.25 million, 2 talents would be $3.75 million, and 1 talent would be $1.25 million. The parable of the big bucks, indeed.
We get hung up on the word ‘talent’ because it means something different for us. We think of talents as our gifts and abilities. And we can certainly talk about what we are called to do with what we have been entrusted. The idea that we are to be good stewards of what we have been given is always a good one to reflect upon. But I’d like for us first to think about what it might mean for this parable to simply be about a rich man and great wealth. Again, from Stan Saunders at CTS, I learned that in most parables if there are three characters you want to be the third. So, in this instance, we want to be the third servant, the one the man calls wicked and lazy. That doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Unless we take the third servant’s actions as a refusal to participate in a corrupt system. The first two servants took their great wealth and immediately did something to multiply it. The third servant knew the money was gained by less than desirable means and didn’t want any part of it so he buried it. We can choose not to believe what the third servant says about his master but we have no reason not to believe his words. Those who have been treated harshly and unfairly by those in power over them should not be disbelieved or silenced. We have to consider what the story tells us not what we want the story to be. Jesus told stories to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like and Jesus also told stories to illustrate what the kingdom of God is not. The kingdom of God is not a place where victims are silenced and corruption is rewarded. The kingdom of God is not a place where ill gotten gains are celebrated and the exploitation of the lowly is expected. The kingdom of God is just the opposite.
God has given each of us a great deal. God has given us our lives, and for most of us in this sanctuary privilege, and influence. God has given us voices to sing his praise and to speak out when we see broken and unjust systems. When we know that the marginalized are being pushed further and further out. When we know that God’s children are sleeping in alleyways and on park benches with no guarantee of a meal or a shower or healthcare or an opportunity. When we know that the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer, it is not the time for us to sit idly by. It is the time to use what God has given us to do good. Even if it means we’ll be shouted down and cast out by the culture around us. We know when things aren’t right and we know that God will make all things right in the end but in the meantime, this in between the now and the not yet of God’s kingdom it is our call to work for good. It is our call to use the voices and the resources we’ve been given to speak truth to power, to refuse to participate in unjust systems, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ for all people, and to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world here and now. And we give thanks to God for that great privilege. So, I think this parable is about many things…it is about stewardship and the images of God we hold and it’s about kingdom economics and who we are called to be.
Time and again in Scripture we are called to kingdom living here and now. We are called to live a countercultural, against the norm, different from everyone around us life. A life that shows concern for the lost and the least. A life of faithful stewardship of all that we’ve been given. A life which helps to bring abundant life to others who aren’t sure what that looks like. A life that is modeled after our Lord Jesus Christ who spoke truth to power and turned the economics and the culture of the day upside down. A life in which we answer to God and no one else. A life lived in gratitude to God.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 19, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030