Sermon Text: Matthew 25:14-30
I have a confession to make. When I found out that I was supposed to preach from the parable of the talents, I didn’t really want to do it. I have been wrestling with this passage for a few years now. I grew up thinking it meant one thing, and recently I’ve been leaning toward interpreting it a completely different way. But when you’ve done it one way for so long, and you’ve taught classes and wrote books about it, and then discover you were wrong. Well, that’s hard to admit.
So, I stand before you today and confess that I’ve been wrong, and I need to repent.
Let me explain. I need three volunteers who would be willing to come up here and help me tell this story. You don’t have to say a word, you just need to play along with me.
OK, so here’s how I have always understood this parable.
Do you see a problem with this scene?
Is this the Gospel? Is this good news? Is this the God of Grace that we worship and that Jesus told us about?
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the end of this story, but you have to admit, as a pastor who is trying to recruit people to serve in the church, it really packs a punch. But in the end, it seems manipulative and paints God as an evil tyrant.
If you think this version is rough, Luke at how Luke tells it.
“But as for these enemies of mine [referring to the servant who hid the money] who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’ ”” (Luke 19:27, NRSV)
Let’s reset the stage. You can come back up here and sit.
I want to apply two of my favorite words to this passage:
What if this is not at all what Jesus meant for this parable. What if the master doesn’t represent God, but he represents the Roman Empire.
Don’t get me wrong. The Bible definitely teaches that the Holy Spirit gives us gifts that we are to use to build up the body of Christ. There are many places that teach that. I just don’t think this is one of them.
Let me show you why I think this might be true.
Remember, you can’t rip a passage out of the context. You have to see where the story falls in the larger telling of the gospel.
In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus is talking about the end of things and what it will be like when he returns. He told them right before this parable that no one knows when he will return. Like the bridesmaids, you will just have to wait. Then, in verse 31, he says when the son of Man returns.
You see, I think the parable of the talents is a contrast story. Notice how it doesn’t start out by saying, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like.” It says that while you are waiting it is as if… and then the son of man will come.
In other words, this parable demonstrates how the world is in the meantime.
Let’s play this out again, only this time looking at it as if the master were the Roman Empire, or any society that thinks its in control.
I think we can all relate to this story now. This is how the world functions.
OK, let’s let these guys off the hook. Can we give them a hand? Yes.
Take a look at this picture.
This is a map that shows the distribution of wealth around the globe. The darker the shade of green the greater the disparity between the rich and the poor. The countries that have the red dot indicate countries where more than 75% of the people live on less than two dollars a day.
Here’s another image that re-visions the world map based upon gross national product. Can you say bloated? The whole continent of Africa is reduced to a sliver.
Let’s bring this a little closer to home. Look at this picture that shows the distribution within the United States. Each cat represent 12% of the population. Two cats get most of the pizza while two cats scratch for one tiny sliver.
Here’s the question for us today. Where’s Jesus in this story? Where is the Gospel, the Good News?
I think there are two reasons Jesus told this story.
The first reason was to warn his disciples, to warn us. The world powers do not play according to God’s ways. When you resist them, you will probably get hurt. Being a follower of Jesus means swimming against the stream of injustice and greed and power.
The second reason ties directly with our habit of service. Where is Jesus in this scene? Is he over here rewarding the rich who get richer at the expense of the poor? No. I think Jesus is over here with the one talent man. He is with the people who have been thrown out on the trash heap where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We say it every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed. He descended into Hell.
The author of Hebrews gives us a challenge that speaks to this. In Hebrews chapter 13, verses 12-13 it says, “Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12–13, NRSV)
Jesus invites us to join him out here. I think this is the point of this passage because in the very next passage he says that when the Son of Man appears (in contrast to the way the world works) he will separate the sheep from the goats. However, the criteria for the separation is based on this. What did you do for the least of these? Pastor Mark will talk about that next week.
Grace is a serving church. It is by far the most serving church I’ve been a part of. We are doing some great things. I hope you’ve signed up for the Feed My Starving Children event next week. I hope you’re filling your Operation Christmas Child box. These are extremely important activities. We are helping to send food and supplies to children in these thin places and that’s great.
But, there is a small danger in these events. They can almost be like a vaccination against poverty. You get just enough of an exposure to it that you don’t have to think about it any more.
I don’t have the answer. Honestly, I get overwhelmed when I think about this. But this I know. Jesus stands out here. God does not play that game. The people of God are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to stand against that kind of system. As we focus on this habit of service, ask God to show you how you might be able to become more aware of the one talent servant around you each day.