In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What does the Lord want from His people? What does He want from you? What does He want from me? What does the Lord want from His people between the time of His resurrection and His revelation on the last Day? Because He’s like a man who goes on a long journey, but before He goes, He gives His property to His slaves. To one He gives 5 talents, to another 2 talents, to a third 1 talent. Now these are not talents, as in “things you do really well.” They are just measurements of money. So let’s say that to the first He gives $500, to the second $200, to the third $100. And then He goes away. After a long time He comes back and He wants to settle accounts with His slaves. The first comes in and says, “You gave me $500; here’s $500 more.” The second comes in and says, “You gave me $200; here’s $200 more.” The third comes in and says, “I knew that you were a hard man, a strict master, and that you reap where did not sow and that you gather where you did not scatter. I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here is what’s yours.”
Now there are three slaves, but there are only two responses. To the first two the response is exactly the same, “Great! Good and faithful slave! You were faithful with a few things; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” To the third the response is the opposite, “Evil and lazy slave! You knew that I was a hard man, a strict master, and that I reap where I do not sow and gather where I do not scatter? Why didn’t you give my money to the bankers so at least I could have come back to a little interest? You buried it? Who does that? Take his talent and give it to the guy with ten. For to the one who has, more will be given, even an abundance, overflowing. But the one who has not, even what he has will be taken from him. And take this worthless slave and throw him out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So what is the basis for the judgment? It can’t be what they received. They each received different amounts. It can’t be what they earned; even the first two earned different amounts. Let me put it this way: what if you gave to three children three small amounts of money, you gave them some lemonade and some cups and you told them all to set up lemonade stands. Two of them go and do it. The first comes back and says, “I made $10.” The second comes back and says, “I made $5.” The third, says, “Actually, I was afraid you would be mad if I didn’t sell any lemonade and so I buried it to make sure you could have the money back.” What? That’s not what it’s for. And then you say, “We’re going to have a $50,000 party for the first two children.” Okay, here’s where my little illustration breaks down, because you’re not going to make the third child stand out in the cold while you have the party. But you can see that the money is not the issue at all. You gave them the lemonade, the cups, and the money, and $15 doesn’t matter too much at all. You just want them to have the party.
But Jesus’ parable isn’t about kids selling lemonade; it’s about the Reign of God on the last Day when Jesus comes back from His journey through death and into resurrection. And that’s life-and-death serious. What sort of Lord do you expect? What do you think He wants from you? There is only one thing that is different between those who receive the first response, and the one who receives the second response, and it is exposed in the answer of the third slave: “I knew that you were a hard man.” The only difference between the first two slaves, on the one hand, and the third, on the other, is in what they think about the Lord. The third slave thinks that the Lord keeps immaculate books, that He’s tracking every penny, that He’s going to make sure that every cent is accounted for. So that’s what he does. After all, what’s the big deal? It’s not like he stole money from the Lord. He didn’t bring back less. He made sure that the Lord got back exactly what He had given. But the Lord is apparently not like that. He speaks of the faithfulness of the first two slaves; they simply worked in what had been given to them. The reward, and the joy of the Lord, is not really connected at all to either how much they had or how much they made. You were faithful in a few things; I’ll give you way more than you could have earned or gained. It’s almost like the Lord simply waves off their comment about how much more they brought back. Oh, how much did I give to you? Right…well, great! Good job. Come on in. And I gave you how much? Hm. Well, nice work! Come on in. The first two work in what they’ve been given; the third does not. And they get the sort of Lord they think He is.
As soon as we hear this parable, we’re thinking about how we measure up, how faithful we’ve been. Have we buried our “talent” in the ground? Will we be able to give the Lord a return on His investment? What does it mean that the first two bring back double what they got? What do you think He wants from you? What sort of Lord do you expect? Is He a bookkeeper God, with an immaculate ledger? Has he listed all the things He’s given you in one column, and then what you’ve done with it in the second column, and then He’ll see how the figures come out? I’ll tell you now, there’s no way that ends well for you or anyone else. Go ahead, and consider it for a moment. Think about everything He’s given you: your family, your money, your job, your time, your energy. Consider your place according to the Ten Commandments. See how the calculations come out. Are you kidding me? We’re so far in the red, we’re never getting out. We’re like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber, with a suitcase full of IOUs for all we’ve spent, saying, “You’re going to want to hang on to those. Every cent is accounted for.” It’s way too late for all that nonsense. If the Lord calculates faithfulness in that way, He doesn’t even need to tell this parable, because there’s no one in the first category. We’ve squandered so much, and there’s no excuse for it. Repent.
Good thing He doesn’t calculate like that. I wonder if He even knows where He put that ledger. No, He knows. He buried it in a new tomb, owned by a guy named Joseph of Arimathea. The good and faithful slave isn’t you or me—or, rather, it is you and me, but you and me outside ourselves in Christ. There is faithfulness. Only at the cross does the ledger come out and the columns are added up and everything is calculated, down to the last red cent. If you come calculating, keeping track of good things versus what is owed, then you are simply despising the cross and the Lord who died there. And the Lord will have none of it. He simply wants to call it good, and say, “Come on in!” The only other place where Jesus says that to the one who has more will be given, even overflowing into abundance, and the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from Him, is when His disciples come asking, “Why do you speak to the crowds in parables?” And Jesus says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Reign of Heaven; to them it has not been given. So, to the one who has (the secret of the Reign of Heaven, which is Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners), much more will be given—seek the Reign of God and all else will be added to you! But to the one who does not have (the secret of the Reign of Heaven), even what he has will be taken away. Because if you don’t have Jesus, you have nothing. Life-and-death serious.
Does He want faithfulness? Sure He does. He’s given you an area and gifts and people who need you. Do the work He’s given you to do. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the work you have to do is in any way related to the reward. The only thing that matters is the “Good!” that’s been spoken over you. It’s the “very good” of Christ’s new creation, and it is the full joy of the Lord in His presence. The joy of your Lord is your strength. Go ahead and do your work. Because you know that on the last Day, He will say, “Good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a little. Here’s more than you could have ever imagined. Enter in to the joy of your Lord!”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/15/14