Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Heart in Action--the Parable of the Talents

     This next parable is in an interesting place in Matthew.  In Chapter 24, the disciples ask Jesus what will happen at the end of the age.  He also comments that only His Father knows when these things will come to pass.  He talks then in a parable about the good servant who is in charge while his master is away, and is found to be doing good when the master returns.  He contrasts that with a wicked servant who acts irresponsibility and who will be punished when his master returns.
     Then Jesus goes on in Chapter 25 to talk of the virgins who await the bridegroom--some prepared and some unprepared.  The foolish ones miss the opportunity to enter the feast with the bridegroom when he finally appears.  The context still operating here is one of expectation and not growing weary in the waiting.
     Now comes our parable in Matthew 25:14-30.
     “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money."
     Let's set the stage.  The master must leave.  He has business elsewhere.  He doesn't just assume his servants will know what to do or how to proceed once he's gone.  He calls them together.  Yes, you could argue that they have been with him awhile (he trusts them with his money after all--that shows he knows them well enough) and that they should know how to operate without him around.  But calling them together goes deeper than that.
     He gives to each of them something of value.  He is saying to them, in essence, I have been with you long enough to know what your abilities are.  I know the level of your integrity.  I am showing my love and trust by giving you something of value...I am not simply asking you to keep the homestead running.  I am giving you oversight of my wealth and am trusting you to handle it with care and diligence.
     Wow.  The master is acting as if these servants are his partners, his peers, his equals.  He is entrusting them to handle his estate, to be engaged in his business as if it were their own. 
      Now, he distributes the wealth according "to his ability."  He knows each of his servants so well that he gives them what they can handle competently.  He knows their strengths and weaknesses and doesn't give them too much or too little.  So, each man receives a different amount.  The master isn't showing favoritism...he is showing concern.  He wants his servants to walk away with two things:  My master values me and he's knows I can do this. 
     Notice, Servant #1 goes "immediately" and multiplies the money's amount.  The master knew this servant's heart.  He knew he would be about his master's business in a heartbeat, making his master's money increase.  Not for greedy gain, but so the wealth can go further to benefit more people.  More money means more servants to hire and more land to be bought--the wealth poured into the community will benefit the community and Servant #1 knows this.  Servant #2 also goes "at once" and makes the money multiply.  He doesn't see the wealth of his master as something to be tucked under a mattress.  He sees the wealth of his master something to be actively used.  
     By investing it, the two servants are acting in love for their master--joyfully going out and getting down to business.  They didn't start whining about why #1 got more entrusted to him than #2.  They saw what they were given in the light of the master:  My master trusts  me to do good with his wealth and I will not let him down!  His love for me inspires me to do good, for he is good!
     Now on to Servant #3.   Uh-oh.  He didn't grab his bag of gold, happily entering the world to make his master proud of him.  He hides it in the ground.  Time goes on.  Does Servant #3 even remember where he buried it?  What is he doing all this time?  While #1 and #2 are out and about in their master's service, what is he doing?  Is he just hanging out?  Or after awhile, when his master didn't return, did he wander off, uninvolved and unconcerned?  Did he feel justified in his inactivity?  Wow--look at those two!  Running around as if our master is coming home any day now!  Right!  It's been YEARS since the master left and it doesn't look like he's coming back any time soon.  Maybe we misunderstood him.  Maybe he spoke falsely to us--he never intends to return.  Maybe we misunderstood him.  Maybe, he's not a good master--a good master would have returned by now.  How can I trust him?  Where are you?  I am not going to waste my time, running around for an untrustworthy master.  Bury the money, forget about it and carry on.  Works for me!
     “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
     “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’"
     The master DID return. Yes, it was a long time, but the trust that his servants had led to action--they trusted him to return, and they acted on that trust. 
     Not so with Servant #3: “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
     “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
     “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"
     Look at the heart of Servant #3:  He believes his master has a hard heart and thus he distrusts his master's actions.  Others do the master's work and only the master reaps the benefits, seems to be this servant's assessment.  In other words:  Master, you are about you.  I thought it would be best to hide the money so that no one could steal it, but I really do not trust you...I trust myself.  I thought hiding it was a good move--aren't you proud of me?  See!  No one stole it at least.  Isn't that good enough?

      But isn't master's reaction a tad harsh?  No.  The master is saying Yes, I do have others do my work.  But, why do they do it?  They do it because they love and trust me.  Even if you weren't confident enough to engage in an active investment, at least what I gave you could have been entrusted to others.  But it is your heart with its lack of trust in me that is the problem.  You buried the money because your love for me is buried in the ground of disbelief.  You serve me with a heart that is far from me.  You have a heart of darkness and now you will leave my presence.  You never tried to get to know me, even while in my house.
     The parable here isn't just use what God gives you.  It's deeper than that.  Serve God because you love Him and are grateful that He has entrusted you with some kingdom work, however large or small it may be.  The real talent our Master is looking for is a heart that knows Him and will serve Him.  He wants a heart to love Him and to trust Him, until He returns.  And return He will.

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