Rev. Tony Romaine
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” And while this quote could apply to so many aspects of our current stormy sea filled world, I want to apply it to something that we all too often take for granted…grace.
Our Gospel passage today is one of those difficult ones that preachers sometimes just pass over or use but don’t really delve into. But for us today, I think it is vitally important that we wade into these troubled waters and try our hand at these rough seas. There are many things troubling us about this particular passage that perhaps prevent us from grasping what Jesus is trying to teach. In fact, we read this parable and we ask ourselves, where is the grace in here Jesus? Why are you telling us this parable? We are left feeling like the love and grace we have been promised through Jesus, which is not dependent on our actions or on our abilities is missing and we feel like this is just a passage to skip over because it does not agree with our pre-dispositions or likings. Well, because the most difficult times can sometimes offer us the greatest perspective, let us work through this convicting passage and see what sailors we might become.
First there is the language of master and servant. We do not like to be referred to as servants, or if you read other translations, slaves; especially in reference to our relationship with God. This is why I describe it as a convicting passage, because we are indeed servants. Yes, we have free will and we can choose and make decisions, but we are servants to the choices we make. For instance, if we choose to buy fancy things, live opulently, or have a lot of debt, we are servants to the loans we have. If we ignore our family and friends so we can be on our phone or watch tv, then we are servants to our selfishness. If we would rather hold back our love and our ability to care for one another because we fear others, or subscribe to the hate-filled vitriol of some parts of our society; we are servants to the worst parts of ourselves. If we use religion to divide people and not allow for God’s grace to shine upon all God’s children or God’s love to reach everyone; then we are servants to humanity’s god, not the Almighty God.
In this manner, we create masters for ourselves that entrap and ensnare us in a servitude which only seeks to harm, not free us. See, here is the interesting part of this Master/servant parable; I think we understand that God is the Master and we are the servant, but what we often miss about this relationship is that God is a Master who ultimately frees us. We have encapsulated ourselves in a world of sin, and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are forever freed; which is where grace comes in. Yes, we are servants of our God, if you must use that language. But that service is one that leads to freedom; one where the choices we make open us up to healing, love, and one that brings talent upon talent of reward. Speaking of which, leads us into the next part that troubles people about our parable for today; the talents.
Before we get into the theology, we must tackle the immense amount of what a talent was worth. A talent was equal to 6,000 denarii; a denarius was equal to one day’s wages. So, one talent is equal to 6,000 days of work. To make math easy, let’s just say there were 300 working days in a year, and that puts one talent at the equal of 20 years of work. Now that we have some tangible measures for what a talent was worth, we can see that giving someone five talents would equal 100 years of work, two talents 40 years of work, and obviously the one talent as we have already discussed, 20 years of work. Now think of how much you make in one year and multiply it accordingly…pretty amazing!
Regardless, though of the worth, the sticking point for us in this Gospel passage is the way the Master rewards when he returns. He rewards those who invested the talents with more talents and scolds the one who did not invest wisely, takes his talent away, and casts him into the vast “outer darkness.” Why, because this servant was so afraid of his Master that he did not want to do anything with the talent except give it back un-changed.
But the talents in this parable represent so much more than money. The talents represent our lives and God’s grace. The very fact that we live and breathe are one of the greatest gifts of all time. If you have never thought about all of the intricacies of what makes your body work, (even on those days you might feel like it isn’t working!) then you really should stop and ponder at creation. And while I could sermonize for a long time about the wonders of our humanity, these talents that are given to the servants represent the myriad ways in which God has created us to use our gifts for the world.
What if instead of talents, we said that the Master gave each servant certain gifts? One received five different gifts of their being, one received two, and the last received one. Each one an individual, each one with gifts all their own. The parable then opens up to being called to take the very things which create us uniquely ourselves and multiply them upon the world. That we would use the God-spark of creativity, humanity, function, and action that God breathes into us at our creation and multiply it upon the world. Not for our own benefit, but for the glory of God, not for our growth, but for the good of the world.
Furthermore, we should not be afraid of the reaction of our God. We should not be afraid to come back to God and say, “I tried and tried and tried, but I could not multiply this gift or these gifts.” For as we see in the parable, it is better to have tried to do something than to quiver in fear and not use any of the gifts at all. And when these talents equate to our God-given gifts and abilities, if we cower in fear of God and do not do anything because we are afraid that we might fail or we might tarnish the gift given to us; well then, we are not truly living at all!
For while this parable ends in what seems like a mean-spirited, vengeful way of a Master who was unhappy because he did not receive return on investment; it is more so a direct reminder that we are created for a purpose and when we ignore or fail to act out of fear, it is not just the Master who throws us into outer darkness but we who do it to ourselves.
So where does God’s grace come in you might be asking right now. What does grace have to do with this very troubling passage. The talents in this parable also represent God’s grace. We are all given another greatest gift of all time as part of our creation; that our sins are forgiven through the Grace of Jesus Christ, of God Incarnate. And this gift is so valuable that its worth is more than one, two, or five talents. Its worth is immeasurable because it is a gift which takes us from our human bondage in sin and frees us to life ever-lasting. Its worth is immeasurable because it allows us to take the Master’s gift and invest it in others, invest it in ourselves, invest it in the world to spread the Good News of God’s Love everywhere. Its worth is immeasurable, because if you are like me you would have a lot to be worried about come judgment day if our God was truly an eye-for-an-eye vengeful Master. But thankfully our God, while being awesome and perhaps scary from time-to-time, is also a God who longs for us to be eternally freed to life eternal in God’s glory; otherwise we never would have received Jesus, and we certainly would not have the Holy Spirit.
And so, we can cower in fear and take the gift of God’s grace and just hide it away and not even invest it for ourselves. We can think that God is just a mean kid with a magnifying glass and we are the ant hill. We can put all our cares and troubles on God and say if there really was a God then why would all this be happening. We can think all we want about the gifts God has or has not given us and tremble in our own self-servitude.
Or, we can receive the gifts our Master gives and believe that we are given them for a purpose. We can take the gifts, the talents, the grace, and share them with a world that might not even know there are gifts to be had. And we can prepare ourselves and be awake for when the Master returns and not cower and hide because we think we know what that will look like, but live, be free, and trust in that our God, Our Master, will return and we want to boast in love and grace.
Could Jesus just have said all this clearly, absolutely! But this parable is coming at the end of Matthew’s Gospel right after he has been warning the disciples and people to stay awake, and right before he will be captured, tried, crucified, and resurrected. So, Jesus wants the people and his disciples to be ready, for their Master is about to leave and the seas are going to get quite rough. Also remember, even the disciples who followed Jesus did not fully understand or believe all the time, this is why Jesus spoke in parables, so that those who were blind would see and those who thought they could see would be made blind.
So what makes us think we would be able to trust in God’s gifts for us if they were clearly laid out for us? We look at our lives now and we long for days of yore. We long for those days when our churches were full, our chairs were full, our budgets growing, our talents and abilities many, our days filled with social outings or get-togethers. We think that the past was better because things were simpler and life was not as complicated. Or we look at the pandemic we are in the midst of and wonder why this happened to us now; perhaps wondering what our future holds or if we will even survive…And we take the very talents that we have been given; our God-given abilities and God’s Grace, and we discount them because we think we know what our lives should look like instead of what they are and the ways God is using us amidst our struggles.
I get it, this Gospel passage today is not an easy one, our lives right now are not easy. But remember, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” We are being called right now by God to invest even more in the gifts we have been given. We are being called right now by God to re-focus our talents and treasures for the goodness and love of God to shine into our world. We are being called right now, to be the grace for one another, to offer love to one another, and to have faith that God loves us so much that we are not alone and we can get through anything if we just trust and believe in our Master. If we think beyond our past and imagine a future, when Jesus will return once more and take inventory of how we used our God-given abilities, of how we lived into the Grace which He paid such a heavy price for us to have, when Jesus will return and save us once more if we would just put on the “breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope in our salvation.”
Why is this so important for us to cover? Why must we go through this difficult parable just to learn this lesson? Because God has entrusted us with all the world. The very first verse of this parable tells us that we are entrusted with all God’s property and all creation. We are entrusted with taking God’s gifts and God’s grace and making an investment. One which bears each other up in encouragement, one that seeks to share and engage with our world, and one that we cannot neglect. Moreover, because we live in a world that has not yet completely seen all the greatness of our gifts; it means we must sail the stormy seas of uncertainty, of fear, and of doubt and we must be willing to float our ship filled with all the talents God has given us to share our Master’s grace with the world.
Perhaps this morning we have been woken by the waters splashing us in the face; by a parable which convicts us and causes us to look in the mirror; by our Savior who longs for us to be ready when He comes again. Good, now let us untie the ropes of our false masters, dip our oars into the waters which hold God’s gifts, and cast off all that would hold us back from investing in God’s grace. We have been summoned, now we must believe, now we must have faith, now we must hope and sail steadfast into our world filled with God’s love and grace, Amen