Summary: Fear walls us in and makes us like the servant of the Master that buried the talent he had been entrusted with in the ground. Faith sees ourselves as gifted and bold in Christ.
Today’s lesson finds a man digging a hole in the ground. We learn that a man going on a journey entrusted a portion of his wealth to three of his employees. Two of the three employees invested their wealth and received commendable returns. The third was afraid and hid his in a hole in the ground. When the man returned to settle his accounts with them, all were commended and rewarded except the employee who had hidden his one talent in the hole in the ground — he was, instead, severely criticized and penalized. It was because he was afraid, that the man hid his master’s money in that hole in the ground rather than investing it or putting it to good use.
. . . Now, let’s contrast this man’s hole in the ground prompted by fear, with another man’s hole in the ground prompted by fearlessness – courage.
It goes like this . . . An old Italian lived alone in New Jersey. He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.
His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you
would be happy to dig up the ground for me, like in the old days. Love, Papa
A few days later the father received a letter from his son:
Dear Pop, Don’t dig up that garden.
That’s where the bodies are buried. Love, Vinnie.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. The same day the man received another letter from his son:
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now.
That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.
I love you, Vinnie.
Now that’s a good hole in the ground story. The story of Vinnie, and more so, the parable of the talents remind us what we can do with a little courage and faith. Courage can happen as we first ask what is my passion?
First, let’s say there is no real evidence that the servants who held five, and two talents -- a talent being a sizable sum of money, had a passion for being industrious. Nor is there evidence that the servant who held one talent was slothful. What does seem to define the unsuccessful servant is a passion for fear. When the master returned and each servant gave an accounting, this servant said, "Master, I knew you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours." The man with one talent cautiously acted to preserve what had been entrusted to him and dug a hole in the ground for it. The other two apparently put the entire sums at risk in the market. The man with the one talent was passionate about fear – quite the opposite of courage. Barbara Brown Taylor writes “Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light. It is suffocating inside and dark. There is no room to turn around inside it. You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you cannot see anyhow. There is no future in the dark. Everything is over. Everything is past. When you are locked up like that, tomorrow is as far away as the moon.”
How often has our investment in the abundant life been stifled as our relationship with our Lord becomes one based on faith, rather than fear? How stale life becomes! Like this servant, we become resentful of our Lord and life itself. Instead of a relationship based on trust and thankfulness in the atmosphere of the forgiveness of sins, we gravitate towards our own works and the law. So this parable seems to push beyond issues of industriousness and using our talents to a harder truth of letting go our love affair of fear and self interest and replacing it with faith and courage. One recalls Jesus’ words to the disciples, "Those who want to save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for my sake will find them." Are not life, love, self and faith lost if we try to hoard them? Is it not in losing for Christ’s sake that we find and are found? No wonder the third servant was afraid. How astonishing that the first two were not - or at least did not allow their fear to govern their actions. One also recalls the exchange between Jesus and the disciples the day the 5,000 were fed. With five loaves and two fishes at hand, Jesus told them, "You feed them; give them what you have." It was very little, but they risked it. These stories and sayings both invite a deep trust and a wild risk, and expose our fears and their true cost. Would you be more courageous with Faith? Confess to Jesus that indeed your primary passion on account of sin and pride is so often fear, and ask him with the help of the Holy Spirit to graciously replace that with a more rich and abundant and courageous faith.