Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

What’s It Worth? 111311

The following is the sermon draft for Sunday Services at Peace Mennonite Churchin

Parable of the Talents

Image via Wikipedia

Columbia, MO, although the actual spoken version usually differs substantially.

What’s It Worth? 111311

                  

This morning’s sermon is about economics; it’s about money, and we usually find that interesting.

Our scripture focus is on Matthew 25:14-30. In this story three slaves are given 5, 2 or 1 talents. A talent was a lot of money, about equal to 10 years wages, so 5 talents would be more than lifetime of a worker’s wages, 2 talents would be about 20 years of wages, and even 1 talent would be 10 years of wages.

So, the master gives this money to his slaves, to each according to their abilities and goes away on a business trip. When the master returns, he praises the slaves with 5 and 2 talents for doubling his money, then berates the slave with 1 talent for not gaining any profit, although that slave also did not lose anything.

Some churches have interpreted that in this parable Jesus is the master who puts money in the hands of slaves then goes away. But the scripture, besides being about a master with slaves, also tells us that the master was ‘a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed’. In other words this slaveowner was also willing to gather money that was not earned. This doesn’t sound like Jesus, but the churches that guarantee prosperity from God for believers interprets this scripture to mean that Jesus was pleased with the slaves who doubled their money, but angry with the slave who did not—so in the prosperity church theology it becomes a wrong thing to not get filthy rich.

Instead of the ‘prosperity is your duty’ kind of thinking, we interpret this to mean that Jesus is talking about our responsibilities in the Kingdom of God. If you look at Matthew 24:14, it says:

14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

That is, this entire section of Matthew is a sermon from Jesus talking about the end times and when they will or will not come, and in our scripture passage for this morning, talking about what we should do while we wait for the end of time. What does faithfulness look like in a time of waiting? In Matthew’s Gospel faithfulness is emulating the ministry of Jesus. Jesus has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom by feeding the hungry, curing the sick, blessing the meek, and serving the least.

So, in the parable of the talents, what are the ‘slaves’ to do until the master returns? The slaves who received more because of their abilities are expected to do more and are praised because they did more. The slave who was very afraid of losing his master’s money and did nothing is berated because he did not use his abilities, even though less than the others.

So, Jesus has left us here, and promised to return. We are told what to do by the entire New Testament story—to visit the sick and those in jail, to care for orphans and widows, to care for the oppressed. What is expected of us is this: we are to preach the good news of the kingdom of God by going about the work the master has called us to do. This work includes visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, and feeding the hungry (25:31-46).

If we have great abilities we are to do much, if we have less ability less is expected, but we all are to work in the kingdom of God.

The idea of finding a purpose within the kingdom of God is completely alien to our culture, which encourages individuals to spend their lives in one pleasure for ourselves after another. We need to look and dress in a way that emphasizes personal beauty while the poor are hungry and cold. We need to develop our ‘careers’ as a goal, without noticing that this ‘career’ is a completely selfish pursuit of selfish goals.

But if we don’t personally get wealthy or get rewarded with some kind of pleasure, why pursue the goals of the kingdom of God at all.

We work in the kingdom of God because we realize that to live in God means to live for the benefit of others. A life following Christ is completely alien to the modern life, because it is not my life that is important, it is our life together as the community of Christ that is important.

Often we try to focus our time here to spiritual formation. That is, we talk and discuss what we can do to assist one another in forming our personalities and character in the ‘Imitation of Christ’. We have to be careful because we may become selfish in developing this ‘self’. But here’s an exercise. As you pray three times a day (you are praying three times a day, aren’t you?) notice if the most important part of your prayer is telling God how you feel, what you want, and what you think. Instead, try to remember how others feel, what others in the world might not only want, but desperately need, and what others in the world might think of their relationship to God and to Jesus. Focus your prayer on the other rather than on the self.

Economics, the pursuit of economic, money-making resources is so alien to Christ. If we think about everything economics tells us is valuable has no value to Christ, and what Christ sees as valuable has no economic value. Love, which we know from the song ‘money can’t buy me love’ has no cash value. Mercy, real justice for the poor and oppressed and freedom are not things to be bought and sold. Family, friends, a community of Christ—all these are outside the world of economics, yet are the real values in our lives. Everything really valuable in our lives has no economic value. The real value of learning economics is eventually to realize that economics has no value, not real value.

So, as we face the coming week, begin to think how you can serve God and Jesus in your life. What talents do you have to contribute?  There is no limit to the need for our talents and service in the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.’ 21His 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.’ 22And 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.’ 23His 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.’ 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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