Parable of the valuable coins
14 “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. 15 To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.
16 “After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. 18 But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.
19 “Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’
22 “The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’
24 “Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. 25 So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? 27 In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. 28 Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. 29 Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. 30 Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’
“People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.
Thoughts on the passage:
One of the foundational video games of my childhood was Super Mario Brothers. It is a game that involves navigating various levels while avoiding monsters, traps, and pits. At its most basic level it is about moving and jumping. The game is vexingly simple. After all, every time you push the button to jump you jump the same height. When you jump while moving to the left or right, you jump just as far every time. Despite this consistency and simplicity, most of us who played the game would end up jumping into pits over and over again. We did not do it because we could not jump over them. We did it because we doubted we could do it and we got worried and we jumped to early or too late. We did not believe in ourselves, or believe in the game.
In the Parable of the Talents we see the same sort of problem emerging. Three people are entrusted with a ruler’s wealth while the ruler is gone. The ruler does so because they know that they can handle these funds. Two of the three take the money and put it to use, both managing to double what they have been given. The third one does not put the money to use. Instead, this one hides it in the ground until the ruler returns. When asked to account, the third person responds with fear. Dreading the reprisal of the ruler, the third person did not want to lose what had been entrusted. The problem was not that the ruler did not believe in the third person. The ruler knew that the third person could handle what was entrusted. The third person did not believe, and so was afraid.
Fear of failure is often one of the best creators of failure. Often it is not our lack of ability that causes us to fail, it is our fear of failure that does. That fear can cause us to get nervous and make mistakes (like what happens to me when I play Mario Brothers) or it can cause us to not try at all, like what happens to the third person in our parable. They are not able to trust in themselves or in their master and so rather than try and fail, they fail by not trying.
The English word “talent” comes from the Parable of the Talents. A talent was a sum of money, roughly the wages that a day labor would earn over 20 years of work. When it was translated into English a new meaning was added to refer to a person’s ability. Our idea of what a talent is comes from this passage. The origin of the word talent is tied together by two ideas from this text, first is the trust the ruler has in the abilities of the three workers. The second is the idea of a talent being tied to the skills needed for a lifetime of work.
Over the next three weeks we are talking about stewardship and the idea that when it comes to the work of the church it is our seeds, but it is God’s harvest. We provide the funds to support the church and we do the work, but the fruits of our labor belong to God and are made possible by the Holy Spirit. Like the three people in the story, God has entrusted us all with talents. We are then asked to use those talents for God’s harvest.
The concept of the talent as the work of a lifetime is particularly powerful today, as we remember the saints who have passed away in the last year. Today we celebrate their talents. Today we celebrate the lifetime of labor represented by each of them. They all had their own gifts and abilities and used them, and in doing so blessed us all. As we light candles today we remember how their lights continue to shine in our lives as well.
Now we have a chance to respond as well. Like these saints and like the three people in the story, we have all been given talents by God. We have a choice on what we do with them. We can use our talents and in doing so we can bless others and contribute to God’s harvest, or we can hide our talents away. When we do that we diminish ourselves, we diminish others, and we hinder God.
Usually one the things that keeps us from using our talents is our own fear of failure. That fear of failure usually has nothing to do with our abilities and mostly with the fear of what happens when we do not succeed. When we are faced with that fear of failure, it is good to put it all in perspective. What happens when you fail in Mario Brothers? All that happens is you have to start the level over. What happens when we fail in real life? It probably depends on what you are doing. For the most part, it involves some form of starting over. You fail at baking, you throw out the batter and start again. You fail in business, you lose some money and start over. Obviously, the worst effect of failure would be death, but is that really a failure? Think about it for a moment, as Christians what fear do we have of death? First, we have a faith in a resurrection that is to come. Second, we are followers of Christ, and his actions directly resulted in his death. Death is only a failure if it is the result of not living.
We have been entrusted by God with so much. We have been blessed with gifts, abilities, time and money. We have a choice with what we do with all that God has given us. We can hold onto it. We can hide it away in fear lest it get lost. Or, we can use it as God intends. We can put into action the blessings and talents we have received and use them as a part of our labor of a lifetime building God’s kingdom. We have the seeds, let us plant them for God’s harvest.
Questions to Ponder:
What talents have you been blessed with?
What holds you back from using those gifts?
What are ways that people you know use their talents for God?
Who is a saint that inspires you in your life?
God we give you thanks for the saints in our life that we honor and celebrate today. Help us to be inspired by the ways that they used their gifts and talents for your glory. Give us the courage to use our gifts as well. When we are overcome with fears and doubts, help us to trust in you. Amen