The holidays are coming up soon and I suspect that many of us are thinking about what gifts to buy our loved ones. This can be a joyful task but also a stressful one. On the one hand we want to give something meaningful, something the other person will appreciate but we don’t want to go too far into debt with our generosity either. If you are like me, you spend hours going back and forth on what to buy. In our family I always try to buy something that is fun and a bit extravagant, a special item that the receiver would probably not buy for themselves unless it was a splurge. Ideally it is something that will both benefit the person and also be beautiful in its own right. At the same time, I want the gift to be something they can use, not one that just sits there taking up space. So, for us things like books or cooking gadgets or special sauces or tools or sports equipment are a good choice. Still, every once in a while, there is something that is really over the top, unnecessary and absolutely not practical but so amazing, well… there are times when I break my own rules! That is part of the joy of giving for me.
In our gospel reading Jesus tells a parable about a master who gave 3 of his servants incredibly abundant gifts. It is important that we understand 1 talent was equal to about 6,000 denarii, which is about 10-15 years of the average living wage. Think about that for a moment; that means that the one given 5 talents is given the equivalent of a lifetime of earnings, perhaps more than a lifetime! This is no small gift and so we cannot help but be amazed at the master’s generosity. But also, the trust he places in the servants because this gift is not only extravagant, but it also carries the expectation of being used, not just stowed away for safekeeping. It is amazing that the master leaves without details on how to spend or use the talent(s) given. just an unspoken assumption and trust that each will act according to their ability. Perhaps this is why some are given more than others; the master is well aware of the capabilities of each servant.
The end results vary because some manage their gift better than others. Both the ones given 5 and 2 talents double their original gift. And for their efforts they receive praise “Well done, good and faithful servant enter into the joy of the master!” But the one given 1 talent (still and abundant amount!) fails to do anything with it. This servant takes the gift and hides it away. It is not used or enjoyed or shared. Therefore, when the master returns, this servant does not receive praise, instead the master speaks harsh words of judgment and expulsion.
What I find most interesting in this parable is not what those who doubled their talents did. Although that is certainly something to strive towards, a good example. Instead I am drawn to the one who failed. Why did the servant hide the talent? What led to such fear of the master? It doesn’t seem that the successful servants feared him, so why does this one?
The servant claims that he/she knows the master and this fear led to hm/her choosing what seemed to be the safest path. But does this servant truly know the Master? It is an incorrect understanding of the nature of the master that led to the servant’s fear. And this fear led to inaction. Fear often does that; it alters our perception and causes us to make choices that are not always the most faithful in a given situation. So rather than using what was given and possibly risk losing some or all of it, this last servant buried the gift in the ground. Yes, this was a safe and conservative approach, but the gift was meant to be used. Hiding it away not only prevented its loss it also kept it from growing and benefitting the master, the servant or anyone else for that matter.
Now before we judge this servant too harshly, let us remember that we have also been given an abundant gift, individually and together as God’s church, right now in this time and in this place. Along with this gift we have been entrusted with great responsibility. What do we do with that which is given to us? Do we actively work to grow it? Or do we try to protect and guard it out of a fear of losing it? If the gift is God’s love and grace and forgiveness, then our withholding it, hiding it in a field so to speak, keeps the gift from being all that it can be in our lives and in the world.
We often act out like this last servant; trying to protect and preserve God’s gifts. We value it and we know it is of great worth, so we desperately try to avoid misusing it, squandering it, or losing it. But in so doing we act from a place of fear and hide God’s grace away. And in so doing we ignore it and fail to live into the radical abundance of what God has entrusted to us; the very gospel itself!
God calls us to take this talent, this gift given to us and to spread it, to risk it in the lives of others, in our relationships and in our world. Will we make mistakes? Might we miss opportunities or perhaps be too generous with it? Probably. But here’s the other thing about this gift, even when we err, we still share in the grace and forgiveness that is the talent entrusted to us.
When I consider my own life, I am certain that there are times when I failed to use God’s gift wisely or to share it as abundantly as God desires. If I were to be judged solely on my efforts, I fear that I, like the last servant in the parable, would find myself in the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth! But I know the master. I know the master is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, full of grace towards me. Even more I know that because of Jesus, when that final day comes, I will not be judged on my merits alone but on Christ’s love for me. For in my baptism I have been untied with him in both his death and resurrection. God will view me through the lens of Christs righteousness and on Jesus’ account I can enter into the master’s joy. So, I am willing to risk using the gift given to me.
The question before all of us this morning is this; are you willing to use what Christ has entrusted to you? Will you take the gift, unwrap it and share it with the world? Or will you bury it in the ground and keep it safe but also prevent it from transforming your life and our world? We live in unusual times. It is tempting to cling to what we have and try to preserve it for the future. But if we neglect what is given to us and God’s call to use it, we risk missing out on what God wills for us and our future. The choice is yours, what will you do, right here and now with what you have been given? Amen.