Summary: Jesus commends the servants who risk trusting the master and produce good return but scolds the servant who is motivated in fear and fails to trust the master.
26Pentecost A Matthew 25:14-30 17 November 2002
Rev. Roger Haugen
This summer, while we attended the Synod Convention in Swift Current, a friend pointed out one particularly fine house. It belonged to a person who was somewhat of a hero in the area. In that ranching area, one gains a certain amount of hero status by living large, trying the big thing. If the person fails, more is added to the legend. It turns out that this particular person had made it big twice only to lose everything and he was on the way up for the third time. Risk was something he sought, something that made life worth living. As much as I admire someone to takes such risks, there is a pull to avoiding risk, not living large.
Jesus tells us a parable about a wealthy landowner who turns over significant amounts of money to three servants. They didn’t all receive the same because he recognized that they had varying abilities. Two meet the challenge with enthusiasm, take risks and, when the owner returns, have doubled the money. The third, controlled by fear, hides the money and gives it back to the owner, having lost nothing nor added to it. On the return of the master, the first two are excited to tell of their investment gains. The one talent servant addresses the master in an apologetic, defensive tone, making it clear that he understands his failure. His fear of the punishment expected is enough to stop him from attempting anything other than conserving what was. The fear of risk meant the loss of opportunity, the failure to grow.
The first two are faithful to the master, and the master, recognizing such faithfulness goes beyond fairness to generosity. The third servant does not know the master as one who is worthy of trust, and hopes to get out of the situation with as little pain as possible. His failure to see who the master really is results in his rejection.
If we are honest, most of us feel more comfortable with the third servant’s response. Risk is frightening, safety calls to us at every turn. That Jesus commends those who take the risk and rejects the one who doesn’t, does not sit well with us. Fear leads one to play it safe. The problem is, playing it safe is not an option in today’s parable. Peter Drucker, the business consultant, has defined four different kinds of risk:
the risk one must accept,
the risk one can afford to take,
the risk one cannot afford to take,
and the risk one cannot afford not to take.
It is this last risk that Jesus is talking about in this parable.
The church knows a lot about the fear of risk. There is the old joke of how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? “Change?!” So often we will settle for less, if there is risk involved. We may be presented with opportunities for service, opportunities to share God’s love with those around us yet we find reasons that it won’t work, or reasons we shouldn’t get involved, or we calculate the cost and find it to expensive by our measures.
The church of Luther’s time was completely captivated by fear. Everything had the threat of Hell attached to it. As a result the people hid in superstition, praying to this relic, doing that penance, living in darkness not the light of the Gospel. Thinking of captivity rather than freedom. Robert Capon says it this way,
If we are ever to enter fully into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. She has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that she had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch (page 148). Between Noon and Three
Luther’s response was to encourage the people to “sin boldly” and in doing so, depend completely on the grace of God. We trust God implicitly to carry us through whatever failures our bold action might produce. We are free for so much. As baptized children of God we are children of the light and not of the dark. We are free to love because we have been loved. We are freed from fear because Jesus has destroyed all reasons to fear. We are freed to trust God in all things and to trust that God will lead us into new life that is full and fulfilling. We are simply invited to follow God’s lead.