One year our youth pastor decided he wanted to try something unique and different with our Sunday School class. He had all kinds of activities that we would do on Sundays, but they would then have an impact on what we did during the week. During one class he handed out envelopes to the entire youth group and we all wondered what he had done. When we opened the envelopes, we all discovered that we had money inside. We weren’t given any instructions, just money and we all wondered what in the world we were supposed to do. Quite naturally, I think most of us began to think about the parable of the talents. If we had been given money, we were probably supposed to do something with it. I have to confess that I kept wondering what I was going to do with my couple of dollars, to try and make more. I wasn’t all that creative and I was frustrated with myself that I didn’t have a good idea of what to do. The following week we came back and, as we had guessed, we were asked to give an accounting of what we had done with our money. Most of the group had spent it on one thing or another. Our youth leader praised those who had spent it on helping others. It was a very thought-provoking lesson, and one that, obviously, stuck through the years.
This parable has the possibility of stirring our emotions on several different levels, because we can find ourselves relating to different players in the story. It really brings us to life in the kingdom of God, and our role as active participants. While Jesus is not present with us, he has given us the resources of the kingdom and expects us to be actively engaged in his work. The word here “talent” has a particular meaning for us in English and we generally utilize this parable to imagine that some people have very particular skills and abilities that are given to them by God. While this works nicely in the English language, the reality is that this parable was about large sums of money. The Master left major portions of his resources with his servants and expected them to be responsible in his absence.
This reflects the “already” and “not yet” of the kingdom of God. Already, God has provided resources for those working in the kingdom to be expanding the reach and scope of the work. Yet, it will not be completed until the Master returns. In the meantime, however, we are all supposed to take everything that we have been given and use it for the sake of the kingdom.
The faithful servants became very busy and active in the Master’s kingdom business. They took every resource that they had been given and invested it into the work. Once they did this, they received a return on their investment, and the kingdom of God grew.
The individual with the one talent didn’t realize what he had. He only saw what he didn’t have, and that became his focus. That one talent could have been the thing that would have tipped the scales when it came to kingdom work. What if he had combined his talent with the one who had five, then maybe the synergy created would have resulted in exponential growth and return? The reality is that the “lesser” gift is no excuse for refusal to engage in kingdom activity. Everyone is entrusted with gifts that, when invested in the kingdom, will bring a return.
The servants with the five and two talents didn’t wait around for the Master to return, but remained busy. When the time comes, the Master seeks them out, because they are still at work. The words of affirmation are identical for these two servants who have understood their role in the work of the kingdom. God’s resources are generous for those who will seek first the kingdom, and then do what they can to effectively work in the kingdom until that moment that Jesus returns.
The servant with one talent didn’t take time to know the Master. It becomes obvious from his response, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” Was the Master harsh, or was this only the perception of the one who had never spent enough time with the Master to know the Master’s heart? Obviously, there was an expectation for the servant to be engaged in kingdom business. The servant had been given resources, but refused to use them. He tried to lay the blame for his own sins on the Master, refusing to take responsibility for his own inaction.
It becomes obvious from this parable that Jesus intends for his disciples to be actively engaged in kingdom business, whether he is around, or not. The disciples will be provided with resources to do the work, and they are to use them to their fullest. Participating in the kingdom, representing the Master in all that we say and do, all of this is expected of disciples. No one is stand around, idly waiting for the day of Jesus’ return. The Master wants to find us busy using the resources we have been provided, which may be much more than we could ever imagine.
The reality is that God has more resources than we can imagine and when we are faithful in kingdom service, what little we have can be multiplied in miraculous ways. Failure to use our resources gives witness to the fact that we probably haven’t put in the effort to know the Master. There are kingdom expectations, and for the disciple, it means taking on the responsibility, and utilizing the vast resources that have already been provided for us. Let’s get to it!