Summary: God gives us talents and abilities and asks us to use them
Matthew 25:14-30 “Bloom Where You’re Planted”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a prisoner in Russia. He was on a program of hard labor and slow starvation. One day he felt like giving up. He felt his life could not make a difference. He sat down on a bench knowing that when he was spotted by a guard he would be ordered back to work when he failed to respond the guard would bludgeon him to death. As he sat waiting, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly he lifted his eyes. Next to him sat an old man with a wrinkled, utterly expressionless face. Hunched over, the old man drew a stick through the sand at Solzhenitsyn’s feet deliberately tracing out the sign of the cross. As Solzhenitsyn stared at the rough outline his entire perspective shifted. Yet in that moment, he knew that the hope of all mankind was represented by that simple cross - and through its power anything was possible.
Solzhenitsyn slowly got up, picked up his shovel and went back to work - not knowing that his writings on truth and freedom would one day enflame the whole world.
Most people have viewed snippets of Steve Jobs speech to the graduating class of Stanford University. In that speech he talks about facing death and how that experience changed his perspective on life. He values each day, refuses to follow trivial pursuits or to do what he doesn’t want to do, and he takes risks and isn’t afraid of failure. Steve Jobs change in perspective enabled him to do great things in life.
Many of us can attest to the power of a perspective change. When we see the world differently, we live differently. It has been said that perception is reality. A rollercoaster can be either scary or thrilling—it depends on how you perceive it. With this “Parable of the Talents,” Jesus invites his followers to see life from a different perspective.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF SCARCITY
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples—a ragtag group of men who would soon experience life without Jesus’ physical presence. They would soon be tempted to view life from the perspective of scarcity. They wouldn’t have Jesus. They would have to wait for the Spirit. They would suffer persecution for the faith.
Matthew records the words of Jesus and includes them in his gospel in order to speak to the early Christians. Life was not easy for them, nor was the Church always heaven on earth. In order to be Christians people had to endure separation from their families and from society. They often experienced persecution from the authorities. The Church was struggling to with divisions between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, and fights over how aggressive the Church should be in evangelizing the Gentile population. Certainly, the early Christians could view life as a wilderness—hot dry, uncomfortable, with little to offer.
I believe that we are quite similar to the early Christians. It is very tempting for us to view the life around us and see only scarcity. In several cities we have Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. People are protesting how unfair life is because 1% of the population is enjoying wealth and affluence while 99%--the rest of us—are struggling to simply make ends meet. This is happening in a land of abundance, with incredible wealth and resources. To the rest of the world, we Americans are the 1% and they are the 99% who think life is unfair because we enjoy our wealth while they struggle to survive. It’s a matter of perspective.
Even though I am aware of these two perspectives, I often fall into the temptation of seeing the scarcity of life rather than the abundance. I wonder if I will have enough on which to retire. I’d like to purchase a few things that I’ve convinced myself I absolutely need, but I can afford to do so. I’m even tempted to plop down a dollar on the Power Ball Lottery and dream of what I’d do if I won the $245 million. I suspect most of you are in the same position as I am. We place the emphasis on scarcity rather than abundance.
There is a different perspective on life.
THE PERSPECTIVE OF ABUNDANCE
The master entrusts his wealth to his servants. Not only is he trusting them with his wealth, he does so over a long period of time. Our culture, which places so much value on things happening immediately, even instantaneously, has become unaccustomed to waiting. Yet here another gift is the gift of time, a "long time," allowing the servants to live faithfully in this superabundance.
The servants receive a superabundance of wealth. A conservative estimate is that a talent was worth about five years of wages. We are forced to think of the master as inviting his servants into a fullness, a superabundance of grace that is continually offered. This is a super abundance that supersedes the economic conditions and physical situations of life. It is an abundance of God’s overwhelming grace, steadfast love, and unconditional forgiveness. The life of abundance is a celebration of God’s presence in our lives and in the world around us. If the modern use of talents has any relation to the text, it is at the level of allowing God's life do its adventures with us and putting our talents (our natural abilities) at God's disposal. The talents of the parable are really about God's life and power, not about our natural abilities. But the appropriate response is to allow God's investing hand to employ our abilities.