November 15, 2020
Who among you remember having class pets when you were in school? Perhaps your class had fish, a rodent of some type, or maybe a reptile. What happened to those pets over breaks? Quite often it was an honor to be able to bring the class pet home and care for it during this time. My older brother earned such an honor when he was in middle school. He was in the sixth of seventh grade I believe, and his class pets consisted of a pair of hamsters. How awesome it was going to be to add these pets to our home for a couple of weeks. They would be an addition to our home that already consisted of a couple of dogs and cats. One lesson we learned out of this experience was that cats and hamsters do not get along that well! While attempting to put one of the hamsters in its ball to run around, it managed to squirm out of my brother’s hands and one of the cats decided to reenact a Tom & Jerry cartoon. However, we’ll just say that the hamster was not as lucky as Jerry!
Being entrusted with something valuable to someone else is an honor. It means they have placed faith in you to care for something that is close to them or the community. Such as a class pet. The parable that Jesus shares this morning, known as the Parable of the Talents, is part of a collection of parables he shares in this chapter which leave us scratching our head as we try to decipher Jesus’ words. If you recall the parable from last week, The Ten Bridesmaids, it was about being prepared and waiting, yet it ends in darkness as does this week’s parable. These parables are at times tough to listen to because the resolution does not fit into our concept of who God is. A God full of grace and mercy and not one that sends us into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Who do we find ourselves relating to in the Parable of the Talents? Are we like the first two servants that have been entrusted with a lot and have managed to double their investment to please the master? Are we like the third servant that buries the talent received to ensure that none of it was squandered? It was the third servant that was living out the rabbinic maxim of the day, which was to bury your money as a way of protecting it. Honestly, I would like to know a little more. When the master hands over the talents, we hear of no instruction to invest it. Were the servants given more instructions than we heard? Were the servants just expected to safeguard the money, or was it a gift from the master?
If it was a gift, we are talking about a lot of money. One talent is roughly equal to 6000 denarius which equates to 15 years’ worth of income! This was a lot of money that the master was entrusting to his servants. Remember, Jesus likes to make his parables outrageous enough to ensure that his listeners are truly listening to his teaching; getting them to think. It is also pointing to the abundance of grace and mercy God has for humanity.
What if we were to look at the talents as one’s ability. Jesus says that the master gave to each according to their ability. The master knew what all three of the servants were capable of doing. In his trust, he expected the servants to care for the riches he had charged them. However, it is the third servant who questions his motive. According to the rabbinic maxim, he was being faithful. However, if we look at one’s ability, we could ask whether he was living up to his full calling.
We have all been gifted with various abilities and skills and have also learned some along the way through education and experience. I do not know about you, but I am glad that most professionals are required to participate in continuing education. They are not allowed to just sit on the knowledge and skills that they have. They are required to further their knowledge and keep up to date on new skills. I am glad that health professionals are always in the process of learning and growing. I am glad teachers are always learning new and exciting ways to interact and teach our children. I am glad my pilot on my last flight was required to participate in continuing education to ensure their skills and knowledge were up to date. A musician, while not usually required to do continuing education, must practice and continue to take lessons if they want to get better.
As a pastor I am required to complete 50 hours of continuing education every year. While the stories in the bible do not change, there are always new interpretations. More significantly it is important that I learn more about relationships and other areas that affect my ministry. Currently, I am participating in a sermon mentorship program because I want to improve my preaching.
It is easy to just sit back and do nothing at times. Especially when we are asked to limit our movements and quarantine. It is easy to flip on the television or scroll through your social media, and by the time you know it, several hours have cruised by. Not that I speak by experience! In a way, this is what the third servant accomplished! He buried his abilities and just sat!
I believe one thing Jesus is teaching us in this parable is to not bury those abilities we have been gifted, but to reveal them to help others. It is in our continual growth that we come to know ourselves and who we are as children of God. Each person has a different set of abilities and God has entrusted us to use them to care for one another and share love in ways that create strong communities in Christ. Communities that reflect the love of God. We are called to grow in our faith and knowledge of God through the abilities we have received.
While the first two servants managed to double what their master had given them, the third turned away from the risk. Sometimes we need to “Sin Boldly” as Martin Luther said, so that we can grow and accomplish what at times seems impossible. We do this by stepping into the uncomfortable. We do this by reading and seeking to grow ourselves. We do this by praying for strength and perseverance. God entrusts us to grow, and as we do, we come to know ourselves better and open our beings to experience God in our lives. While our teachers may have entrusted us with the class pet, God entrusts us with creation and the ability to care for and love our neighbors. What good news it is!
To fulfill your curiosity about the hamster situation, it was deemed a good idea to replace the hamster with one that looked remarkably similar. However, there was just one little anatomical difference. Needless to say, my brother was like one of the first two servants that had doubled the amount he was entrusted.