There’s a story in the New Testament that Jesus shares with his disciples. Matthew 25:12-30 is the parable of the talents. The story goes: a rich owner/employer prepares to go off on a lengthy leave and summons three slaves. To each of the slaves he gives a different amount of money. To the first, 5 years wages, to the second, two years wages, and to the third, 1 year.
Fast forward to when the employer returns and summons the slaves back to give an account for the money. And here’s where things get tricky because it’s not often we can be surprised by the response Jesus gives us. Many people struggle with this story because it seems Jesus is teaching an unreasonable viewpoint; it’s almost as if he’s going against his own ethics.
The first slave returns and doubles the money of 5 years wages. The second does the same. Both are celebrated as being, “good and faithful servants.” The third, however, approaches and says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours….”
This sounds like a millionaire who fits into the description of a true capitalist, who knows one thing–how to make money. The slave probably does not have those skills or connections, and also has the weight of possibly losing the money and getting into even more trouble. How would Jesus respond in this situation? He finishes the by describing the rich ruler’s response,
You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The same story is repeated in Luke and it goes even further, calling for the slave to be killed.
This doesn’t sound like peaceful and loving Jesus we hear about in Sunday school.
Some have suggested that the third slave is in fact the focus, that we’re supposed to pay attention to his unjust treatment, that he’s in fact a whistleblower. The problem with this interpretation is that it doesn’t fit into the parables before and after.
So we’re left with a tension and the realization of two main things. Firstly, our choices matter and we’re held to make account of this choices. Secondly, our measurement for success isn’t a value where more is greater, rather, it’s a measure of faithfulness. The first two slaves were lauded for their faithfulness, the last chastised.
What are you being called into and are you being faithful with what’s been put in front of you? This isn’t a call to add another item to an already busy schedule. ‘More’ does not necessarily equate to faithfulness, rather, our willingness to say, “yes” to the unfolding call God has in our unique context is.
The next question to ponder is what it is we’re being called into? There’s a story in Ephesians that makes this pretty clear which will be included in next week’s post.