November 23, 2014 - Matthew 25.14-30

“The Wise and the Foolish – part 2”

Matthew 25.14-30

November 23, 2014


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.’


Filp Wilson – “Here Come Da Judge.”

No judgment Hymns? Except?

At the Christian book store, they sell these little candies called “Testamints” which are little peppermints which are called “Testamints” because evidently they make your breath less offensive to God, or something.  It’s a marketing thing, you know, for Christians.  I wonder why they called them Testamints and not “Judge-Mints.”  I mean it works doesn’t it?  I think it sounds like it would leave a bad taste in your mouth.

The pain of judgment is actually very familiar to us.  People have been judging you and me all of our lives.  Many of you may have been raised by or around people that had no idea how to love you into adulthood, because no one had ever done that for them.  Day after day, they did to you what had been done to them, and they convinced you that you were dumb, ugly, clumsy, bad, fat, skinny, wrong.  They punished you for the least infraction of their laws, whether it was breaking a rule at home, or not having what it took to be part of the “in” crowd at school.  This is judgment.  It is the judgment of the people around us.  We have learned to fear judgment.

Lots of preachers want you to be so scared of Hell that you will RUN to Jesus.  That would be OK if being scared of Hell and following Jesus were the same thing, but they aren’t.  So, we have a lot of guys out there, intentionally trying to scare us with images of Hell, the end of the world, and Armageddon.  As often as not, when this approach is used, what happens is that the post-modern stereotype says, “All you talk about is the end of the world, so Armageddon outta here!”

Jesus does not present the story with a socially acceptable climax. His purpose is not to speak of human justice, but the kingdom of heaven.

In these parables of Jesus’ what the people believe is not an issue.  It is a given, but not a factor.  What they have done is the factor.  I know that this might give some of you problems, but look at your Bible. (I am not talking about being born again, salvation, but judgment)  The beliefs are a given; the deeds are what are being judged.  In other words, intellectual assent is not the goal.  Mere head knowledge of Jesus is not the point.  The point is in knowing Jesus and believing in Jesus enough to be transformed by him.

This is a troubling parable. It does not deliver what the audience wants. But, while it alarms the listener, it also brings the listener into contemplation of discipleship. And, as Matthew's gospel makes repeatedly clear, it shows that the discipleship is not easy.

The parable is disturbing to modern sensibilities. On its surface, this story seems to suggest that favor in the kingdom of heaven is something to be earned. "Well done, good and faithful servant," is the praise given only to the slaves who, at great risk, invested the money and received 100 percent interest. The successful slaves are the ones who enter into the joy of their master. The one who did nothing with his money was rebuked and punished. It appears that the parable supports the notion that one must earn favor with the master, or with God. In other words, it might seem to suggest that the diligent will be saved and the lazy or fearful condemned.

But look again. The parable is not about what must be done in order to be saved. The notion of works righteousness implies that one can make up for one's sinfulness by a sufficient amount of good works. The thrust of this parable is not on repaying a debt (of money, or allegorically, of sin) but on responsible action in light of the master's eventual return. The grace in this story comes up front, in the form of the gifting of talents to all of the servants. The exhortation in the story is the call to faithful use of what the master has so graciously given.

Typically, God's grace is thought of as the salvation of sinners; in this parable it is represented as the gifting of the church with many talents. The gifts come with the expectation that they will be used responsibly.

The word talent is a biblical word and refers to a huge sum of money. It is interesting to note that from the time of the publishing of the King James Version of the Bible, the word talent came into English usage and came to mean the skills or abilities with which persons are gifted. This is not an inappropriate understanding of talent in this parable, for clearly it does not refer only to monetary investment. It has to do with a disciple's stewardship of all that God has given. Jesus often uses hyperbole to sharpen the point of his parables. He does so here. The amounts of money are so vast as to be incomprehensible. But, the hyperbole holds only insofar as it relates to a monetary sum. If one were to calculate the value of the whole of what God gives us, it too would be incomprehensibly large.

Luther defines God's gifts as "everything our bodies need such as food, clothing, home, money, property, a devoted family, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like." The value of these things is incalculable. Add to them our various talents, that is, our skills, capacities, abilities, passions, and spiritual gifts, and you have a level of graciousness that is beyond understanding. God is truly good to us.[1]

What should be done with these treasures? As the parable suggests, they should be invested responsibly. They should not be hoarded or hidden away. They are not really ours to protect. God is the giver and the master of all gifts and treasures. God is always in charge of the results of the investments we make of our talents. It is no surprise that the slaves who invested their talents received great return on their risk. Will not the God who gives us talents for ministry also bless them when they are put to good use? Will not the God who formed us in the womb and created our innermost parts (see Ps 139) bring forth fruit when our gifts are planted as seeds for mission?

Peter Storey, the celebrated Methodist preacher and former bishop in South Africa, worked valiantly beside Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa. His success rested in part upon his capacities for communicating both the gospel and with the press. In speaking of his talents for communication, he once confessed to a group of preaching students that early in his preaching career, he relied too heavily on his gift for speaking. He would throw sermons together quickly and trust to his glibness for 20 minutes of admirable oratory. But, then he found that the Lord had taken his gift away. He discovered at a certain point that he no longer had the gift to speak well off the cuff. He saw it as a sure rebuke for having taken advantage of his gift. Now, he is still a brilliant preacher and speaker. But he is so, he admits, by virtue of the painstaking work that goes into crafting his messages well.[2]

Quote from C.S. Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless, airless it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.[3]

What are your talents?  It could be a life of missions.  It could be a great singing voice, the ability to play an instrument, to pay attention to a sermon, financial resources that you can share, the ability to help others, paying attention to a sermon, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, paying attention to a sermon, chaperoning a youth lock-in, praying, being a host or hostess, almost anything.  But the point is not what gift God has given you, but what you do with it. 

The listeners of these parables included the Pharisees.  So when they hear the parable of the servants that risked their talents and the one who did not, we should pay attention to what they hear.  They are basically the one talent people here.  They had one talent: the law.  It was their job to oversee the law and they were not going to let it be harmed.  They did not use it for good, or to repair people or restore relationships.  Changing it was the last thing on their minds.  They came at it from the perspective that the gift was too valuable to waste or even threaten, so they took their one talent and buried in the ground, keeping it in the exact same condition that they had received it in.  “Not one jot or tittles shall be changed.”  No chance of that with them.  They always instructed everyone on how things were to be done with the law.  They are the ones that hid their talent and kept it exactly the same. 

Of course, we do not always use our gifts as God would want. It is natural to be cautious with our treasure. In the parable, the slave who did not invest avoided the risk out of fear. That might be our motivation as well. Suppose we use up what we have been given. Suppose we invest poorly and our treasures are taken from us. Yes, those are always possibilities. But what God has given us God expects to bless the kingdom of heaven with our talents. They belong, ultimately, not to us but to the master, to the body of Christ for the edification of the church. If our talents are intended for this purpose then it should be no surprise that the master is angered when our talents are not put to use for that purpose.

 I pastored a church once where we had someone steal from the purses that were left in the choir room during worship. So, we faced a question right now with the use of the church building.  This wonderful facility is a talent that God has given us to be used for his Kingdom, for us to worship Him and to bring people into the Kingdom.  So how are we going to react now that we have had some people have money stolen from their purses during the week?  How should we react when we see people “wandering” in the Sanctuary?  Should we close off the Sanctuary?  Should we close it off for the fear that someone might come in here when we aren’t having service?  What would Jesus have us do? 

Folks, if a thief does come into our church building, I hope that he does come into this room.  He might just realize that he is not alone in here.  I know he can’t steal a pew, and he is welcome to take a Bible or Hymnal.  The black market for empty offering plates is not so good.  I suggest that we let the thieves come in here, and let’s watch our purses more carefully.  Let’s not close off the one room in our building that is specifically designed for the purpose of encountering God in it.  Let’s not live in fear. Let’s invite them in.

Of the many invaluable gifts available to God's people, one is more precious than the others. It is the gift of faith. But this too must be shared. The kingdom of heaven does not exist merely to bring us into eternal bliss. It is here; it exists now. And people of faith are its current inhabitants and citizens. The gift of faith is the chief talent to be invested for the kingdom to flourish. We invest it in our families, among our friends, in our workplaces, and so on. Or, perhaps we do not, but then the gift isn't doing much good, is it? If faith is not active, then the words of the parable ring terribly true: "from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." Can it really be that an inactive faith will become a revoked gift? That is always up to the giver. But the parable casts a warning that needs to be heeded.

The parable is about warning and grace. When the talent is invested in the kingdom, the increase is rich. The faithful servants are welcomed into the joy of the master. They are not passive observers of the master's happiness but have an equal share in it. They are joyful themselves when they see the benefit that comes from serving well. And they are praised. No truly humble servant will perform out of the need for commendation. He or she will serve for the sake of doing what God expects. The praise is not motivation, but it is part of the joy. "Well done, good and faithful servant." Let us serve out of love, let us invest our talents well, but let us not shrink if, in the end, this praise is lauded upon us. It is merely a sign that God's design for us has been fulfilled.

Let us never hold back our gifts from God.  Let us never bury our talents.  Let us risk for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  Want to take a risk today for God?  Come forward during our hymn of invitation.


[1] Clayton Schmidt, Pulpit Resource, November 13, 2005.

[2] Clayton Schmidt, Pulpit Resource, November 13, 2005.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960], p. 169.

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