Summary: This is a sermon on the parable of the three stewards. I really love this story and I was my sermon choice when we chose to preach for a summer on parables of Jesus.
Now Jesus had his audience’s attention. It then goes on to say that the servant who received five bags of gold invested it and soon it doubled in value. The servant with two bags of gold invested it and doubled it as well.
That is some good investing isn’t it! Many commentators assume that the master Jesus was talking about was gone for about a year. One year and 100% return! I want these guys to be in charge of my retirement savings! That seems like a really large return to us in this day and age. If we get 10% on our investments we are very happy today. But investments were not the same back then. Capital, which is money that is available to spend immediately, was very uncommon back in Jesus’ day. The average person could not go down to a bank and get a loan for either big or small items. There just wasn’t the capital to do this with. It was a relatively recent invention in Jesus’ day that people could put their money in a bank in a savings account. This was a Roman invention. If you had capital and you had some education you could easily expect to make a 100% return a year.
It is the same in many undeveloped countries around the world today. This past week I had a really interesting talk with Ernie Dyck. Ernie was recently in the Congo helping set up small credit unions that give disperse “micro loans.” He explained to me how they work. A local farmer has a crop of yams. They are ready to be picked but he has neither the sacks nor the money to transport them to the city. If they do not get brought to market they will spoil.
All it costs him is $10 to buy sacks and pay for transportation but if you have no money the crop is useless. The credit union gives the farmer a loan for $10. He then goes and takes his crop to market and sells it for $50. The farmer then comes back a few days later and pays the credit union $11 for the loan. That is $10 for the loan and $1 for interest. 10% interest on a loan that the farmer had for less than a week! But the farmer is very happy because he just made $39 that he would never have made if he did not have that micro loan. A good credit union in the Congo makes well over 100% on its capital per year, and 300% is not at all unusual.
The same was true in Jesus’ day. It was not unusual for a good investor to make 300% a year in Jesus’ day. The Jews became so good at this type of investing that they soon dominated the banking industry in the Roman Empire and eventually the whole western world for the next 1800 years! They were known to be people of their word, honest and trustworthy and people were willing to borrow from them accordingly.
Now, the third servant did not invest his capital, but rather buried the gold in the ground and left it. At this point Jesus definitely had his audience’s attention.
The master comes home. He congratulates his first two servants for doing a good job. He even concludes his conversation with them by saying, “You have been faithful in handling this small amount – small amount, but that is a large fortune! – So now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”