Thankfulness leads to faithfulness
Matthew 25:14-30 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“America’s Got Talent” is one of a dozen or more copy-cat “spin-offs” from the grand-daddy original “discover-unknown-talent” show “American Idol,” a franchise we copied from Great Britain’s “Pop Idol” franchise. This genre of television that includes “The Voice,” “X-Factor” and “America’s Got Talent” focus on finding that rare pearl of stardom embedded amidst the grit and gravel of everyday gifts.
Ferreting out someone’s ability to excel at something, identifying an individual’s unique “talent,” has its roots in this week’s Gospel lesson. In fact, you might call Jesus’ parable, the original “talent contest.”
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like “a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.” From the amount of money he gave his servants, it appears this was an exceptionally rich man. One translation of this lesson tells us that to the first servant he gave “five talents of money.”
It is thought that a talent was about 75 pounds. Experts today aren’t sure exactly how much five talents of silver would be worth today, but it would be a lot. One scholar estimates that today it would be worth about $300,000. If that is true, to the first servant, the rich man gave roughly $1.5 million to take care of. To the next, he gave about $600,000. And finally to the third, he gave $300,000. Then he went away on his journey.
Immediately the servant who received $1.5 million put it to work. He invested it. He worked hard with it and doubled it to $3 million. The second servant took his $600,000 and also put it to work, doubling it to $1.2 million. The third, however, took his 75 pounds of silver, his $300,000; put it in a box; and buried it in the ground to keep it safe.
A long time went by. Finally, the master returned from his long journey and decided to settle accounts with his servants. The first servant came forward. He gave his master the 3 million dollars and explained how he had worked hard to double his master’s money. “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
The second servant came forward. He showed his master the $600,000 he had earned for him. The master responded in exactly the same way. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!
But then the third servant came forward. He dug up his $300,000 and gave it to his master. He then proceeded to make excuses for not having earned anything more. He blamed the master. He said that he was worried that the master would get mad if he invested it and somehow lost it.
“You wicked, lazy servant!” the master replied. “You could have at least put the money in the bank and earned some interest for me!” With that the master gave his $300,000 to the first servant and threw the lazy servant out into the street.
So what’s the point of this parable? The master of the story is obviously God. We are the servants. One of the first things we learn from this parable is that God doesn’t give everyone the same gifts. When you play Monopoly, everybody starts out with the same amount of money – $1,500. Not in God's world. He loves diversity in His children, and it pleases him to make them all different. Nobody has everything and nobody has nothing. Everyone is gifted. In Jesus’ story, the master gifted five talents to one servant; he gifted two talents to another; and he gifted one talent to another. Three were gifted talents, but not all the same amount of talents.
You probably don’t know this, but when I was in college, I was a wrestler. For a whole day. The wrestling coach asked me to come out for wrestling because he said nobody wrestled in the 125-lb. weight class. I could win without actually wrestling. But just in case, I needed to practice. At my first (and only) practice, the coach had me spar against an upper classman whose actual nickname was “Hawk.” I really did not enjoy the positions and pain that Hawk put me through that day. Wrestling is a sport for other more talented people.
There are many people who are more naturally gifted than you or me. Some people seem to be born with silver spoons in their mouths. It seems like they have everything handed to them on a platter. There are probably many people who don’t work as hard as we do and yet have better jobs, higher grades, bigger homes, and more money.
But before we whine and complain about how unfair that is, remember that even though God gives different gifts to different people, he blesses all of us with more than we deserve. Even the servant who only got one talent still received a lot — $300,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Instead of comparing ourselves with those who have more than we do — instead of focusing on what we don’t have — let’s remember what we do have.
Look at all the wonderful blessings God has entrusted to your care — a home and furniture, cars and indoor plumbing, cell phones, riding lawn mowers, your children and grandchildren, your spouse, your friends, your body, your church. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
They all belong to God, and yet he has entrusted those amazing treasures to you and to me. He asks us to take care of them, and the only thing he expects from us is faithfulness.
The first servant earned five talents. The second earned only two. Yet God didn’t say to the second guy, “Why didn’t you earn as much as that first guy?” No, he told him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Even though he didn’t earn as much as the first servant, he did his best with what God had given him.
That’s what God wants from you and me — that we recognize what he has entrusted to us and that we use those gifts to the best of our ability. Yet we don’t always do that so well, do we? Like the third servant, we are often lazy. We like to make excuses.
Fear and laziness are constant temptations for God’s redeemed. Who among us has not buried the gifts of grace our Lord has given us in order to preserve ourselves, sustain our lifestyle, or protect our passions? We don’t give as much in offerings because we are concerned about finances at home. We aren’t as involved in church activities because we are overextended with our children’s activities. We are content to spend an hour in church once a week, but don’t want to commit more than that to God, his worship, or his work.
We’ve buried God’s gifts in the earth – in this world and its fleeting pleasures.
This is disobedience. This is selfishness. This is sin. On the day of our Master’s return, we will be called to give an account of how we used the gifts he has entrusted into our care. And what will you say? “I had other things on my mind.” “I didn’t care.” “I was busy.” “I was afraid.”
So repent. Repent before God says about you, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus takes your sin very seriously. Jesus takes you very seriously. That’s what love does. That’s what love is. The gifts you have received are given you in holy love. These gifts come at a cost. These gifts are given you by grace and received by faith, but these gifts were purchased with a price.
For your busyness, Jesus went about his Father’s business of saving you.
For your laziness, Jesus actively kept God’s commandments every day of his life.
For your apathy, Jesus loved you with a love that drove him to the cross.
For your fear, Jesus bravely endured the Ancient Serpent’s venomous bite.
For you burying your gifts in the ground, Jesus’ corpse was buried in the ground for three days.
Jesus invested his entire life in you. Even when you are not faithful, God is faithful and will forgive you. God forgives your wastefulness. He forgives your apathy. He forgives your busyness. God forgives your laziness and excuses. It’s all been washed away forever through Jesus. His bloody cross and open grave stand between a sinful you and a righteous God. The Giver of good gifts buries his salvation deep within you through his Word and sacraments. Because of Jesus, God is not going to punish you. He is not going to throw you out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. When your time comes, your Savior-God is going to throw open the gates to heaven and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! ... Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Isn’t that amazing? Even though you are unfaithful in so many ways, God is still going to say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” He is going to say that because, when he looks at you, he doesn’t see your failings and faithlessness — he only sees how Jesus faithfully served, how Jesus faithfully lived, how Jesus faithfully died in your place.
But now, seeing Jesus’ faithfulness to you, respond by thankfully and faithfully serving him. Use the gifts of faith, talents, money, and time that God gives to you. Jesus has redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil, not so that you can run off and do whatever pleases you. No, he has redeemed you for his service. There is no discipleship without obedience. He is giving you spiritual and physical gifts so that you can love what he loves, do what he does, give as he gives.
Do your best in school. God doesn’t expect you to be the best in your class. He expects you to do your best. Don’t lower your standards. Don’t accept mediocrity. Use the brain God has given you.
Do your best at your job. Be the best babysitter, drive thru order taker, electrician, construction worker, assembly line manager, teacher, accountant, graphic designer, retiree, spouse, parent, grandparent … that you can be. God doesn’t expect you to be the best at anything. All he wants is for you to faithfully do your best with the gifts he has given you.
Look at all the spiritual and physical gifts God has given to you. God has been good to you. Give him thanks. Be faithful with all he has entrusted to you. Amen.