Sunday, November 13, 2011

talent


May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Today we heard the parable of the talents … and with all the trouble with the economy, we could only wish that all our bankers and developers and economic advisers were so good at managing investments as the faithful servants in this parable; indeed, as wrong as many as them have got things, we could almost wish they had followed the example of the unfaithful servant and buried the money entrusted to them and kept it safe!

But of course, the parable was not intended to give guidance to investment bankers, but for our spiritual development … so what is the parable saying to us? It is usually interpreted as meaning we should use the gifts/talents that God gives us in his service and the service of others … but I think we can draw some more from the parable … for example, the fact that our English word 'talent' means gift or ability isn't a coincidence … the word actually has its origin in this parable

So I'd like to focus on what is the significance of the 'talents' in the parable … they can't stand for gifts or ability in it: the parable actually says that the talents are distributed to the servants according to his ability … and to me, at least, the idea of handing out ability according to ability doesn't seem to make much sense … and therefore, the talents must be seen as something that are in addition to the person's actual gifts or abilities …

Let's begin by thinking back to what the word 'talent' would have meant to those sitting or standing around listening to Jesus in ancient Palestine … the word 'talent' is in Greek 'talanton' and it was was basically a measure of dry weight … you took a certain agreed upon clay jar and when it was filled up you had a talent of that material … over time it came to be used in reference to precious metals … so by Jesus day a talent was thought of as a sum of money in the Ancient World … a silver talent, which is probably what the parable is referring to was about 70 pounds in weight of silver … which was around what a day-labourer would have earned in about 15 years if he was lucky …

So what the servants in the parable were being handed was a vast treasure … and one they were expected to give an account of how what they did with it when the master returns! And more … they were expected to have increased the worth of this treasure in the absence of their master … each is given more or less treasure based on their abilities … do your best with it and the master will be pleased on his return … he doesn't look for the money back … but he says they are worthy of even more trust … and they are told that they will enter into the joy of their master … but, do nothing with it and he will not be pleased …. they will lose what was entrusted to them … and they will be removed from their master's presence …

The master is fairly clearly Jesus; and the journey he is talking about going on is again, fairly clearly, his absence from this world … his impending return to the Father … and the master's return, the second coming … In that context, then, what is the treasure that Jesus is leaving behind for others to look after and and to use their abilities to increase while he is gone?

Well, interpreting it all in the light of the rest of what we know from the Gospels … Jesus' concern that all be saved … that his disciples make disciples of all nations … of his founding of a Church to continue that mission while he was gone … then I think that the treasure of which he speaks is nothing less than the Gospel message itself and his desire for his disciples to continue to share that message and grow his church …

and the parable gives very strong indications of what he expects from his followers in carrying out that task … those with the greatest abilities are entrusted with the greatest responsibilities, like those receiving five talents … these are, for example, probably those we think of as great saints and evangelists … heroes of the faith whose devoted service brings many others to the faith … those getting two are perhaps those whose names we no longer remember but who devoted, solid service has been the backbone of the church down through the years …

and then there are those of lesser ability, those who can do no more than the equivalent of putting what is entrusted them in the bank and drawing interest … they are the ones who are the vast bulk of the faithful … those who are true to the faith all their lives, who think they achieve little, but whose lives of quiet, unassuming faith achieves far more than they realise … their example and devotion does much to encourage others … remember that a great treasure, placed in the bank, over a long period of time, garners a great amount of interest during that time …

the one thing that is not acceptable is to do nothing with it is to bury it, to put it out of sight … to think that it is something that you can hide away and they pull out of a hole when the master returns and point to it and say what a good job that you have done in looking after it … because for those who look on the treasure of their faith like that will discover that it avails them nothing … before the face of their master it simply melts away and they are left with nothing … nothing but the discovery that they joy they would find in his presence is something that they are not worthy of …

the great thing about this parable is that everyone, whatever their ability is entrusted with a great treasure … even one talent was a vast amount of money … all have a fabulous treasure that they can share with others … you may feel that you don't have the ability to be of much use … you're good at what you do in life … but can't see how you could be good at spreading the good news of the gospel … but this parable shows, I think that you can do better than you think … and that doing nothing because you doubt your abilities is not an option …

Jesus has entrusted you with this treasure because he knows that you have the ability to do something with it … he will give you the grace to succeed if you chose to obey him … something that I pray that I, and you, and all God's children will find the strength to do ... Amen.

(Sermon notes: 13 October 2011)

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