In the Name...
The story is told of a priest who found a dead donkey in a field near his church. He phoned the local authorities to report it and the official who took his call joked, "I thought it was your job to bury the dead." "It is", replied the priest, "But, I thought I should notify the next of kin."
Aren't Jesus' parables amazing? They start out as stories about situations we all understand and then there's a surprise ending. There're like those mystery novels which have all the clues leading us to think one way and suddenly it's somebody else who did it for reasons we've completely overlooked.
Well today's parable is no exception. A master entrusts his fortune to three servants in different proportions. Now, a talent was equal to half a million dollars. The first servant receives five talents - $2.5M. The third servant - the one talent person - the person we think of as having a very little, had the equivalent of $500K given to him. Not bad. I wouldn’t mind that.
And then what happens? As soon as the master has gone, the servants take action. The first two immediately invest the money. In other words, they gamble with it. Hey, as we know, investing is a risky business and there's always a chance of losing everything.
But, they don't hesitate to act. And neither does the third servant. He takes his precious treasure and carefully buries it. Basically, he puts the cash into a safe deposit box rather than into the stock market. And why not? It's not his money, he figures. And the servant regards his master as a man who would not take kindly to any loss. So he decides to preserve his own safety and security by keeping the money safe and secure.
And, in Jesus's time, it was an accepted practice to safeguard precious things by burying them. Archaeologists are always running across these little stashes. The one talent servant isn't doing anything unusual and Jesus' audience would agree. In fact, they'd have been shocked by the behaviour of the other two.
But, here's the twist, the surprise - the part of the parable that confounded the original audience. The master does find fault with that safe, responsible, cautious servant.
What's wrong with this picture? What reason could the master possibly have for being angry, - furious, actually - with the third servant?
The clue is in the servant's attitude. "Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. ... and I was frightened." The servant was afraid. The servant was given substantial wealth and did nothing with it because he was afraid he might do the wrong thing. Haven't all of us been there? Haven't we let fear get the better of us and called it sound judgment - responsible behaviour?
And what do we fear most? Failure, sure - But, what about success? Do we fear success?
You see, this parable isn't about money, it's about spiritual gifts. The point being that each of us has more than enough given to us by God. More than enough faith, more than enough love, more than enough forgiveness. We have been given the good news of God's grace and mercy - his healing purpose - his divine power - and even the least well-endowed of us is still endowed with an incredible amount.
Last week, I mentioned a quote which began, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us." Let me finish it today.
"We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And yes, that is a terrifying thought. But, that is what God thinks of you."
Fear of success can keep us from risking the treasure that God has given us. From sharing the gospel with deeds of love and power and commitment, from being generous with our time, talents and treasure, what we fear is what might happen to us if we succeed. You know how it works, - "I won't go to the meeting so they can't ask me to do anything."
The refusal to use God's gifts for God’s purposes, however, is a spiritual decision to NOT let God work through our lives. The refusal is a decision to NOT have our quiet lives disrupted by discipleship. The refusal is really a selfish decision NOT to extend ourselves to help others. That's what made the master angry. The third servant was only interested in looking after himself.
I wonder, what if there had a been a fourth servant in this parable - one who had received some talents and gone out and lost them all. What would have the master said then?
The answer is that there is no place for such a fourth servant in this parable. Because, if you really use what God has given you - you can never lose it, it can only multiply. There is no risk when you work for God and his people.
We have everything we need to accomplish God's plans for ourselves, our friends, our church, and even for people we don't even know. And God will not be mad at us if we try and fail. The key is that we try, as we should try everything...
In the Name...