Saturday, 15 November 2014

The parable of the talents

Matthew 25: 14-30

I expect there are at least some people here who share my love of puzzles – sudoko, crosswords, brain-teasers: I find it hard to walk away from an unsolved challenge. Perhaps that is why I love parables so much: they tease our brains, we wonder what they are about, and we try to work out their relevance to us.

So today we heard the parable of the talents.
3 servants are each given a number of ‘talents’ and treat those talents differently. When the owner returns from a long time away, he asks them each what they have done with the talents they were given, and rewards them or punishes them according to what they have done.

Some people read this story about ‘talents’ quite literally and conclude that Jesus is telling us not to waste the talents – the gifts and abilities God has given us.

Unfortunately, this is ignoring the fact that Jesus probably told the story in Aramaic and it was recorded in Greek – so it is really just a coincidence that the English word ‘talent’ has more than one meaning.
But in the time of Jesus, a talent is a sum of money – so this parable is about money, right?
Well.. not necessarily, no. In the parables of Jesus, we are encouraged to think about what the story of ordinary things teaches us about the less than ordinary things of God. This is why Jesus uses the introduction ‘the kingdom of heaven is like..’ for most of his parables.
I think this parable is about spending – but more about how we spend our lives, than how we spend our money.

In the previous chapter before this parable (the end of chapter 24), Jesus talks about the end of time and concludes ‘Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’.

Then in this chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 25, Jesus tells three stories which seem to come as a set, all introduced with a single sentence ‘then the kingdom of heaven will be like this’ .

First Jesus tells the parable of the bridesmaids, some wise and prepared, and some foolish and unprepared; then the parable of the talents; and then Jesus tells the story of the coming of the son of man and the separation of all people into sheep (who have done the right things in life) and goats (who have got it wrong).

All three stories speak of people being brought to account in some way – of being tested to see whether they have done the right thing.
Are the bridesmaids ready to light their lamps and accompany the bridegroom?
Have the servants invested what they were given wisely – or merely buried their talents?
Have the people been like good sheep – sharing with the poor, the naked, the imprisoned?

The unifying question in the three stories seems to be ‘what have you done?’.

So in the parable of the talents the question asked of each of the three servants is ‘what have you done with what you have been given?’.

The servants in the parable have been given money to take care of – one has buried the money for safe-keeping, whilst the other two have taken what they were given and have invested it wisely, so that it makes a profit.

So what does this parable tells us about the things of God, and the way is which we should act, as people of God?
Jesus’ story tells us to use what we have been given, to take the gift and invest it wisely and so allow it to be fruitful.
Jesus’ question to each of us is – are you spending wisely what you have been given ? – whether that is gifts, money, or life itself.

Now it may be that in hearing the story you got completely sidetracked by the terrible denoument. The third servant was given less by the master – because, we are told at the start, the master gives to each of the three “according to his ability”. When the master returns and discovers that he has not invested wisely, he takes the returned talent away from him and gives it to the first, who had ten “for everyone who has will be given more, till he has enough and to spare; and everyone who has nothing will forfeit even what he has”.

I hope in a way you did find that hard to listen to.
Do we really think that the Kingdom of God is a place where the rich get richer and the poor and the foolish are punished?

But maybe Jesus wants us to feel that sick feeling in the pit of our stomach – a feeling of pity and concern for the underdog, and then to ask ourselves ‘what are we going to do with what we have been given?’.
What are you going to do with that  sense of sickness and outrage, and the need to see fairness? How are you going to vote? Which charities are you going to support? How will you spend your time and energy?

The kingdom of God is a place where there is justice and hope and love for the loveless.
So the people of God need to spend their lives trying to establish the values of the kingdom.

Hear Jesus’ words, puzzle over them and be prepared to live what you learn.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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