Well Done

Do you remember the first time you felt really, really trusted?  The first time that someone entrusted you with an important responsibility, or a task? 

I remember when I was young, probably just in jr. high, and my parents and my brothers had to go out of town for something, and they left me completely in charge of the house…overnight…by myself.  I don’t remember the circumstances, or why they went and I didn’t.  My guess is because someone would need to stay behind and take care of the dog. 

But I have this distinct memory of my Mom going through the instructions with me:

  • Here is the phone number of where we will be
  • And here is the list of seventeen neighbors that you could call if you need something (remember, this was in the age before cell phones).
  • You may not have friends over.
  • If the doorbell rings, don’t answer it. 
  • Keep the doors locked. 
  • You may not have friends over.
  • Leave the lights on. 
  • Remember to let the dog out. 
  • Here is the food you can eat. 
  • You may not have friends over.
  • If you turn on the stove…turn it off.
  • no, on second thought, don’t use the stove…just microwave everything.  
  • You may not have friends over.
  • We will call to check in. 
  • Answer the phone, but don’t tell anyone that your parents are gone.
  • And so on, and so on…and don’t have friends over.

And then they left.  And I remember standing in the living room by myself and saying “now what?”  I remember the house suddenly felt pretty big…and I was responsible for it.  I don’t think I was nervous, but I was tentative.  And so I did what any good, jr. high school boy would do.  I turned on the TV.   I had frozen pizza for dinner (not on Mom’s list) The next morning I had cold frozen pizza for breakfast (again, not on Mom’s list) and warmed up frozen pizza for lunch.  (Yeah, you know.) I think dinner that second night before my family came home was hot dogs or mac and cheese or something (because I’d run out of frozen pizza).

I remember that it all went well…and I remember that I felt trusted.

The Gospel lesson for today is commonly known as “The Parable of the Talents.”  It is a story about a master and his 3 servants.  It’s a story about a master who trusts.

The scriptures use the word “talent” instead of money, which can be a little confusing, because we don’t use the word “talent” in the same way.  In Biblical times, a talent was an amount of money.  But let me be clear…a talent was a lot of money.  I used to imagine that when the master was giving the servants the talents, it was like he would reach out and drop some coins into their hands. But that wasn’t it at all. 

A talent was huge and heavy.  It weighed somewhere between 75 and 130 pounds.  It would have been made out of some kind of precious metal…most likely gold or silver.  A talent had a handle so that the master could carry it…or drag it through the dirt.  And the value of one talent was the equivalent to what a single laborer could earn in 15 years. 

But, the parable of the talents isn’t really about this huge sum of money.  It’s about something even more important…more vital…more valuable.  The parable of the talents is about trust. 

The master is about to leave for a long time, and he hands over his money with no instructions and no limitations.  The master eventually returns and calls in the servants to account for the money.  Two of them have used the funds to invest, and have doubled what the master gave them.

The third servant made no money at all.  He returned to the master exactly what he received.  In fact, he’d buried the money in the ground.  He didn’t lose a cent, but he didn’t make any money either.  He played it safe. 

He explained that he was afraid of the master.  He was afraid he would lose the money and he was afraid of the master’s reaction.  He was afraid.  And fear is the opposite of trust.  He was afraid to take a risk; and so he couldn’t make a profit.

Have you ever wondered, what would have happened if the first two servants had lost money?  Would the master have become angry?  They doubled his money, but what if they had put that money at risk and come back empty-handed?  I think the master would have accepted them.

In that parable, what the master commands is not their profits, but their faithfulness. 

He doesn’t praise the first servant, who earned great profits, more than the second servant, who earned moderate profits.  Each receives the same beautiful praise: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant.”  Each receives the same invitation: “You have been trustworthy in a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things.  Enter into the joy of your master.”

To the third servant, he makes it clear that he would have accepted anything…even the tiny bit of interest he would have received if the money had just been put into a savings account. 

The parable, you see, is not about money or ability.  It is about trust. 

The master trusts his servants.  Two of them return the favor by acting out of trust instead of fear.  Things work out well for them.

But not the third servant.  The third servant does not trust the master.  And this is a problem.

Now, I have to admit, the ending of this story has always made me really uncomfortable.  I’ve always hated that this third servant, because he was afraid and hid the master’s money was punished so severely. 

He was cast out and rejected.  This doesn’t sound very loving.  If the master is supposed to represent God, this just feels wrong.

What we have to remember is that Jesus told this story as a parable.  And a parable is a fictional story meant to teach a lesson, or to make a point.  It is not an historical account.  Jesus is telling a story to teach what is expected of his followers.  And he is making a very serious point.

First, we are to trust God, and second, we are to use the gifts that we have been given to further God’s mission…God’s Kingdom here in the world around us.  The story has a scary ending because Jesus wants us to get the point. 

We have been left in charge of great treasure.  Yes, money.  But even more than that, it’s the whole world around us; God trusts us to care for creation, for the environment, and for all of God’s people, especially the vulnerable.  And while all of these things, even our money, belongs to God, we are entrusted with them.  Because of love, God trusts us.

In the parable, the fearful servant gets exactly what he is afraid of.  He is rejected and cast out.  The point is that God does not value playing it safe.

Jesus Christ never played it safe. 

The first two servants recognized the generosity of their master.  They are honored by what they have received.  It’s an amazing amount of wealth.  They know that the master trusts them.  They respond by trusting, and because they trust, they can take risks on their own.

The world we live in does not feel like a trusting place right now.  Listen to the news…pay attention to social media, hear the rhetoric, and you know that what I say is true. 

People don’t trust politicians and the government, they don’t trust doctors and scientists, they don’t trust teachers and school district leaders, they don’t trust pastors, they don’t trust election officials, they don’t trust athletes, they don’t trust the police, they don’t trust the CDC, …they don’t trust…they don’t trust…we don’t live in a culture of trust.

We’d rather trust the anonymous voices coming out of the echo chamber that just confirm our own biases than trust in those who are using their God given gifts to serve others.  We live in an untrusting world.  And I believe that this truth grieves God.

Like that third servant, I believe it is hard for us to trust because we experience fear:  Fear of giving up control; fear of not getting what we want, and ultimately, fear of being judged.  We decide that it is better to be “right” than to be “faithful.”  It is better to judge others, than it is to trust.

In this parable, Jesus reminds us of a different truth.  We have been given great blessings.  We have been entrusted with the master’s wealth.  We have been given everything we need…from money, to science, to food, to clean water, to masks. And burying these things in a hole because we do not trust, is not ok.

I want us to trust.  And if we’re wrong…if we make a mistake…then we’ll deal with that.  But Jesus is reminding us in this parable that we should always start from a position, from a framework, of trust.

The parable of the talents is about risking everything we have for the sake of Christ’s mission, and trusting that God will love us and care for us even when we fail.

This parable is about loving the Lord and trusting your master enough to do the hard things.  It is about reaching out in faith to share what you’ve been given.  It’s about trusting that you will have enough, and that you will be loved, even if you fail.  And it’s about trusting each other, and the gifts, knowledge and experience we all bring to the table.

It’s about looking forward to the day when we will see the Master.  It is about confidence that when we see God, we too will hear these beautiful words: “Well done, good…and trusting…and faithful servant.  Now, enter into the joy of your master.”

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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