Playing With the House’s Money

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 23:55 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What kind of master do you have? What kind of Lord? Jesus has been teaching His disciples about “that day and that hour,” which no one knows. And He’s been telling a series of parables focused on that day and that hour, saying, Watch. Because you don’t know the day and the hour. And in each of these parables there are two kinds of people. There may not be only two people, but there are two kinds.

He starts in a way similar to the parable we heard today, with the master of a house leaving for a journey. He puts His servants in charge, to distribute the food and take care of the household. And then Jesus talks about a faithful and wise servant who does what He’s been given to do. And Jesus says, Blessed is the servant whom the master finds so doing when He returns. But then He talks about a wicked servant who sees that his master is delayed, so he begins to eat and drink and beat the other servants. Jesus says that the master will return on a day when that servant does not expect Him, and that servant will be cut up in pieces and put with the hypocrites, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Two servants.

Then last week there were two groups of virgins, of attendants at the wedding of a bridegroom. There are ten virgins, but only two groups: wise and foolish. Prepared and not prepared. Ready whenever the bridegroom might come, and not ready.

And then today we hear a parable, and even though there are three servants, there are only two kinds of servants. The master is going away, and so He entrusts His property, His possessions, to His servants. To one servant He gives five talents, to another, two, and to another, one. These are not talents, like things you’re good at. These are measures of silver, or of money. They are percentages of the master’s possessions.

The first two servants do essentially the same thing: the one with five goes and works, and gains five more. The one with two goes and works, and gains two more. But the third servant does something different. That is, he does nothing with the talent except bury it. And then when the master comes back, He calls His servants to settle accounts, to see how they’ve fared with His possessions. The first two say essentially the same thing, about being given five, or two, and coming back with five more, or two more. And to both of them the master responds identically, with exactly the same words: Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little; I will set you over much. Come and enter into the joy of your master, the joy of your Lord.

But the third servant comes and he says something different. He says, Lord, I knew that You were a hard man, harvesting where You did not sow, and gathering where You did not scatter. Because I was afraid, I went and buried Your talent. Look, here is what is Yours. And to him the master says something different than He said to the first two: You wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? Well, at least you could have given My money to the bankers, and I would have had a little interest. Take his talent and give it to the one who has ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will abound. But to the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw this worthless servant outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Not three kinds of servants, depending on the amounts, but two kinds of servants depending on the response. What is it that they have, or don’t have, so that they will abound or so that it will be taken from them? Well, Jesus had said something like this already, back in chapter 13. He was talking to His disciples and telling them that they were given to understand the parables. And He said at that time, to the one who has more will be given, and to the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There it was the understanding of the parables, because they received and believed the word that Jesus spoke. Here it is not only the word of God with which these servants had been entrusted. That seems more like the wise and faithful, and the wicked, servants earlier in chapter 24. Here it is everything, all of the master’s possessions. And it all depends on the master. What kind of master is He? How do the first two servants understand Him, and how does the third servant understand Him? The third servant tells us why he buries the master’s talent: because he is afraid of Him. He thinks the master is greedy, stingy, unscrupulous. That He’s the sort of master who might kill you if you make the smallest wrong move. He’s afraid, so he buries His master’s gift, rather than mess it up.

The first two servants simply bring to the master what has come of their work, and the master says exactly the same thing to both of them. So it’s not about the amount that they were given and it’s not about the amount they brought back. Otherwise, the master would have had a better commendation for the first servant, who earned more.

And it’s not that the first two servants do better, do enough, are adequate and sufficient, while the third servant doesn’t do enough. The first two act and work and do, while the third does nothing. It’s not that he doesn’t do enough; he does nothing. But it’s easy to fall into fear of the master, of our God. It’s the default position of the world, who mostly seem to think that God is the sort of God who will zap you if you do the wrong thing, who is only looking for an excuse to put sinners in hell. They think He’s the sort of God where you get to the end, before Him, and you show Him your ledger to prove that you have more credits than debits, that you’ve done more good than bad, and then He’ll let you into heaven.

We hear this parable, and we ask what Jesus is going to require of us, what He wants us to do, and we might easily start to think we haven’t done enough. We see that the first two servants double the amount they were given, and we start to question ourselves and examine ourselves to see if we measure up. We look at our ledgers and count it up. And we might easily begin to be afraid, afraid of messing up, of not doing enough, and that can paralyze. If we think we’re going to do the wrong thing, or not enough of the right things, we could easily be inclined not to do anything so we don’t misuse what we’ve been given.

But is that the sort of God we have? The sort of God who keeps track of every penny, every thought, every word, every action, to count up our sins and our good works and measure them out to see how we’re doing? If we had that sort of God, do you think He would ever entrust anything to us? Does God have any experience with human beings at all? When He entrusted His creation, His gifts, to Adam and Eve, how did that go? And it hasn’t gotten better since. If our God was the sort of God that the third servant thinks He is, I guarantee He’s not giving us anything of His to mess up and waste.

But He is not that sort of God. When He holds you accountable, it will be as the God who keeps no ledger, because it has already been wiped clean. Your garments of righteous actions have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. We do not have a stingy, greedy, book-keeping God. We have the sort of God who actually entered in to this world in flesh and blood, who gave everything away, including His very life. He was raised from the dead with unending life to give to dying creatures. He is not the sort of God who gathers where He did not scatter. In fact, He’s the sort of God who scatters everywhere, in order to get some harvest—any harvest. He doesn’t take what’s not His; it’s all His! The beginning is His, the giving is His, the harvest is His, the end result is His, the reward is His, and the joy is His.

When Jesus let Himself be held accountable for every red cent we owe, that was the proof that there are no books, no ledgers, no accounting—no accounting for us, and no accounting for God’s action. It was and always will be free and abundant grace, mercy, and gift. So understand that there is nothing to fear. You’re playing with the House’s money. It’s all free and all gift. Go and spend freely! It was never yours to begin with. You can do nearly anything, outside of sin. Work here or there, go to school here or there, live here or there. Marry, have children. Be single and serve the Lord. Do what you’ve been given to do as faithful and wise servants waiting for your Lord’s return. The only thing you may not do is nothing. And then on that day, you will hear Him say to you, Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little; I will put you over much. Enter into the joy of your Lord forever.

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, 11/13/20

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