Summary: A sermon for the 27th Sunday after Pentecost, proper 28, series A
27th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 28] November 16, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through our baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus the Christ, you have called us to be your apostles, to be witnesses to your redeeming grace in our world. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to accept your gift of redeeming grace, and empower us to be your disciples, that we might use the talents that you give us to further your kingdom that you have entrusted to us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Charles Bartow, in his book God’s Human Speech, says, and I quote, “The Parable of the Talents is preached every fall when the leadership of the local congregation gets after the membership for money. Tithe your time. Tithe your talents. Tithe your cash. That is the conventional wisdom, and there is nothing wrong with it. It is wisdom that has stood the test of time and circumstance. That is precisely why we call it conventional wisdom. It may be tried and trite, but it is also true.
We do expect members of the church to turn over a portion of their assets to the church’s care. We look for quarter tithes, half tithes, full tithes, and we do not look in vain. Many members of the church are exceedingly generous in their support of their congregation, and its mission.”
But then, Bartow continues, “There is more to the Parable of the Talents than that, however. There is this: There is a master who turns over to his slaves enough of his own wealth to scare half to death even the most confident Wall Street money manager…” End quote. [Cited from Pulpit Resource, 1999]
So just what is this wealth that the master in our Lord’s story entrusts to his “servants,” a term that I prefer, as the Revised Standard Version of the Bible puts it, rather than the term “slaves”, as recorded in our lesson sheet. Well, as I learned from the various commentaries that I read in regard to our text, a single talent was, in the time of Jesus, worth what would be the equivalent to five years wages for the average worker.
Now, we might gain a greater appreciation for this story. To the one servant, whom his employer felt had the least ability, he hands over to him the equivalent of five years of his wages. To the second, he entrusts to him two talents, or the equivalent of ten years of his wages. And to the first, and most skilled servant, he entrusts him with ten talents, or the equivalent of a lifetime of his earnings. And then the master went on vacation. Well, I don’t think that I would be exaggerating by saying that these three gentlemen were given a huge hunk of cash, more than you or I might be used to dealing with at any one time.
And what do these three servants decide to do with all this money that they have been entrusted. Well, the ones who have been entrusted with the most, decide to take the risk of investing it in the market. And wow, the servant who was entrusted with a lifetime of earnings, doubled his masters money, before he got back from vacation. Likewise, the servant who had been entrusted with ten years of wages did the same. And they both received the praise of their master, and were given a huge and well deserved promotion.
But the third servant, the one who had the least ability, took what he had been given, which would have been like a suitcase full of gold, and buried it in the ground for safe keeping. Now here was a person who didn’t have any particular talents, other than being a common worker, who thought to himself, “I’ve got to protect this money, for if I lose it, I’ve got to work five years for nothing to repay it.”
And here lies the puzzle of this story. According to William H. Willimon, in his commentary on this text, The first-century Biblical scholar, Eduard Schweizer, says that the Jewish law of that day reads, ‘Whoever immediately buries property entrusted to him is no longer liable because he has taken the safest course conceivable.’ Thus the man who had received the one talent has followed the letter of the law, and has acted responsibly. Why wasn’t the master more impressed with this servant’s responsibility?” End quote.
This is a great question, especially in light of the volatility of the global stock market over the past three or four months. Can you imagine the turn that this story would have taken, if those servants who had been entrusted with over sixty years of wages, had invested all of that money into the market six months ago. They would have lost nearly forty percent of their master’s money, and the servant who had buried what had been entrusted to him would have come off looking like the hero.