“All In”: Matthew 25:14-30


Rev. Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier
Kingston Congregational Church
November 15, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30
All In

The parable we heard this morning seems to imply that living the God-directed life has its risks. The Parable of Talents, as it is called―a talent being a unit of money, quite a large unit of money actually, but we’ll come back to that
later―the Parable of the Talents is the second of Jesus’ final three parables all
found in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel. Chapter 25 is sandwiched between
chapter 24 where Jesus teaches his disciples about “last things,” the “coming of
the Son of Man at an unexpected hour” (24:44), very similar in tone to Paul’s
letter to the Thessalonians, and, chapter 26, on the other side, which begins
Matthew’s passion narrative. You get the impression, then, that these last three
parables―the 10 wise and foolish bridesmaids (last Sunday’s reading), the
parable of the talents (today), and the parable of the sheep and the goats
(which we’ll dive into next Sunday), sandwiched as they are between teachings
and events of an “ultimate” nature, that these last three parables are laden with
even greater import because of their place in the scheme of the gospel. With
In these parables, Jesus’ is talking about how his followers are to go on without him,
how we are to now be his body on earth, how we are to wait and watch and
live in this time before the end – whether that is the end of our lives, the end of
all things, or maybe just the end of each day.


Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, seems to be talking about that,
too: how to live, how to wait, how to stay hopeful as we number our days and
watch for God. Like the bridesmaids from last week, Paul’s message is about
staying alert, remembering who you are (“children of light”), girding yourself with
faith, hope, and love, and finding strength together (“encouraging one
another”). Whatever it is we are waiting for―the end of days or the end of a
pandemic―these are wise words: live mindfully, live hopefully, live
compassionately. We don’t know the details of every chapter, but we know the
Author of this story. Living with faith means embracing uncertainty, not just trying
to minimize it. As the Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson is known to say:
“Courage [or faith] is just fear that has said its prayers.” We always live with risk.
What we’re willing to risk and what we will work to preserve, say a lot about who
are, what we trust, and just who we think God is.


Jesus uses the analogy of a master entrusting great sums of wealth to his
servants before he goes away. And I mean great sums, almost a hundred years’
worth of wages; in other words, more money than you could possibly need. By
the excessive amount mentioned we already know Jesus isn’t really talking
about money here. As he does with several other parables, he uses money or
other items of great worth (a gold coin, a pearl, a treasure buried in a field) to
talk about what is of greatest worth: the presence of God, the life of the Spirit,
the good news of amazing grace, love in action—all that is contained in the
phrase Jesus used, “the kingdom of heaven.”


The master has entrusted this priceless treasure with his servants and he
goes away. He doesn’t give precise instructions. He doesn’t offer them a list of
do’s and don’ts, no written job description or loan documents to sign. And yet
when he returns, there’s a shared assumption that these servants are to have
done something with the vast wealth entrusted to them.


The first two servants who got the five and the two talents respectively
went off and traded with their master’s money…which was kind of a gutsy thing
to do! What if their trades had gone sour? We’ve seen that happen in our own
lifetimes. Deals go bad. Pandemics strike. Bubbles burst. The market tanks. The
first two servants went out and traded with their master’s money. They ventured,
they took risks, they didn’t play it safe. And their master, when he returns, calls
them “good” and “trustworthy” and welcomes them into “the joy of their
master.”


The third servant is a different story. He takes the one talent he’s been
given, still a very large amount of money, about 15-20 years wages, digs a hole
and buries his master’s wealth in the ground. We find out later that he did that
because he was afraid. He was afraid of what might happen if he took risks and
lost, if he stepped out on faith and it didn’t pan out, if he tried and failed. Fear
shut him down and all the potential good that he might have accomplished, all
the gain that was possibly his and his master’s, sat buried in the dirt. Safe and
sound―and no good to anyone.


Now, from the mouth of this third servant we’re told just what it was he
was afraid of; he was afraid of the Master! The Master, according to this guy,
was a harsh man, even an underhanded and greedy man, “reaping where [he]
did not sow and gathering where [he] did not scatter.”


If that were true, I’d be afraid of the Master, too! I’d take my one
talent―about a million dollars in today’s money―and hide it in the ground, too.
I’d be thinking the same way he was: “That’s way too much money to be
fooling around with. That’s way too big of a responsibility. I mean, the Master is a
harsh and punitive guy; he’ll hang me out to dry if I lose just one red cent! In
fact, I think the Master is just waiting for me to screw up… I think the whole thing
is just a test…I bet he’s trying to catch me making a mistake. Well, that won’t
happen on my watch! I, for one, am playing it safe. I’m taking this extravagant
treasure, and I’m going to hide it. I’m going to keep it safe and secure. In fact,
I’m going to live like it isn’t even there. That way I can’t be blamed if anything
goes wrong.” Do you know anyone who lives like this? Have you been tempted
to live like this? I know I’ve buried a talent or two in my life, more afraid of failing
than of wasting my talent. If the Master is who the third servant thinks and says
he is, then his actions make sense. If our belief about God―or life―is that God―or
life―is punitive, demanding, unforgiving, harsh, then playing it safe makes more
sense.


But notice, would you, the third servant’s assessment of the master as a
harsh and punitive man does not seem to be shared by the first two servants,
and they have more to lose. And it doesn’t seem to be supported by the
evidence within the story itself: the master is leaving town for an unspecified
amount of time and he places overwhelmingly generous riches into the hands
of his servants, displaying amazing trust in them, placing no limits on what they
can do, giving them absolute freedom to use his wealth any way they choose.
In the end, the only thing he asks of them is an accounting of their stewardship:
what did they do with the tremendous gifts he gave them? What did they invest
in? What do they have to show for the time and the resources they’d been
given?


Now, we know that this parable is about more than money. Jesus isn’t
really teaching here about sound investment strategies or stock portfolios. He’s
talking about the greatest, most valuable gift we have to offer the world―our
lives lived with faith in a loving, generous, self-giving, forgiving, life-transforming
God, who leads us to be loving, generous, self-giving, and forgiving, too; who
grants us tremendous freedom to use our gifts and spend our lives for what really
matters most. There is amazing joy in that! There is profound meaning in that!
And, yes, there is real responsibility in that, too. Responsibility to use this gift of
life―this invaluable, incalculably rich gift of life―well: to grow faith, to spread
God’s love, to increase joy and justice in the world.

This parable of Jesus, one of the final three he has to offer, seems to be
saying we can take what God’s entrusted to us, and we can use it trusting in
God’s goodness, or we can hide it, living in fear of “what if,” anxiously defending
against worst-case scenarios. We can step out on faith and thereby enlarge
what we’ve been given, or we can play it safe and keep whatever we have to
ourselves, “just in case.”


Now, we know there are times for being prudent, cautious, and
deliberative. In the midst of a pandemic, now is one of those times. It would be
not only foolish but faithless, to disregard sound counsel and safe practices. But,
there are other times, other seasons, other circumstances when locking ourselves
away, hedging our bets, protecting our capital at all costs, speaks more about
our fear than our faith. I know of way too many churches that lock up their
buildings and safeguard their endowments just like the third servant buried his
talent as if preservation alone is their highest priority. They might not have fed
the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, or visited the sick, but,
hey, they have a building! And an endowment! This parable seems to imply that
preservation for preservation’s sake is not faith: “You wicked and lazy servant…
Go sit in the darkness you created because you refused to burn a little fuel and
shine your light!


So, the choice is presented to us now. How will we live? What kind of
Master or Mistress do we believe God to be? Will we live in confidence of God’s
goodness, taking risks for love, for faith, for forgiveness, for generosity, for God?
Or will we live in fearful self-protection? This parable is about more than money.
It’s about how we choose to live with all that we’ve been given. But it’s also
about money. There’s a reason Jesus chose to compare the Kingdom of God to
gold coins, buried treasure, pearls without price, and astounding sums of money.
He knew the worth we put on our currency. And he invited those who followed
him to live like he did―even with their money―to live believing God has more
than enough to spare, that God is more than generous to us, that God gives us
freedom and permission and, yes, responsibility, to invest everything we have on
loan to us―our life, our work, our energy, our intelligence, our joy, our frailties, our
vulnerabilities, our prayers, our loves, our passions, and our resources―to spend
them for God. We are to go “all in” on this life, trusting that the odds are in our
favor, believing we are blessed to be a blessing, knowing the One whose wealth
it is we’re spending has gone “all in” on us, risking it all for a world God so loves.
Amen.

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