Chutzpah to Invest!

The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)
Everything that a person has, whether it is goods, money or abilities, is given from above. In Jewish thought, God’s creation of the world makes every person a caretaker of what really belongs to God. Each individual who is created in the divine image is gifted by God to be a blessing to His creation (Greek: Kosmos). However, our understanding of God is the primary determining factor in our faithful stewardship. Let’s look at the Words of Jesus in Matthew 25:14-30…
In this parable, a businessman left on an extended journey and entrusted his assets (talents) to several of his employees, “each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15). To one, five talents (let’s say that is $5,000), to another, two talents (let’s say $2,000), and to the third, one talent (let’s say $1,000). In the parallel story in Luke, the businessman said, “Do business with these until I come back” (Luke 19:13), which was surely the intent of the owner, not preservation but investment. When the master-businessman finally returned he discovered that the five-talent person had made five more, as had the two-talent person, two more. The response of the master-businessman is eye-opening! Their investments yielded two results. First, they received more responsibility: “You have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Second, the master-businessman invited the servants to share his happiness: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew25:21, 23). This surely is one of the deepest expressions of the spirituality of work—to enter into the joy of God, God’s delight in seeing His creation developed, in seeing the earth humanized, and in seeing our neighbors served. This is reminiscent of the famous line in from the movie Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner, says that he feels the pleasure of God when he runs.

But wait… what about the one-talent servant? The harshest words were reserved for this fear-filled one-talent servant: “wicked and lazy.” Why? Because this one-talent servant kept the talent, and returned it to the owner intact with no impact on creation. The result was devastating. The one-talent servant lost the one talent and, worse still, was thrust into darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

The punishment seems harsh because, after all, the one-talent servant did not squander the talent; he did not throw it away; he treasured it. He simply hid it in the ground, safe and secure for the owner’s return, only to hear a harsh rebuke. What was so wrong about the action of the one-talent person? I see two issues with this one-talent servant…
First, the “fear-filled” servant was working out of a wrong understanding of God: “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matt.25:24-25). Notice that there is a similarity here to the image of a harsh God preached by some in our modern Christian circles!!! LESSON: A harsh and angry God who is to be feared inhibits risk-taking, whereas a God who is creative, loving, forgiving, and good inspires risk-taking. BTW, with a gracious and loving God, failure in taking a risk might even become a kind of success. We are inspired by the loving graciousness of God in dealing with potential failures and mistakes.

Secondly, the one-talent fear-filled servant was working out of a wrong understanding of stewardship. He thought his job was to keep creation “safe & intact,” rather than take a risk, develop it, invest it, and bring added value to it. He had the wrong understanding of the kingdom of God that God’s mighty rule is to be waited for on earth with non-action!!! There is nothing to do on earth except to fold one’s hands and wait, rather than to join the in-breaking kingdom now in intensive and fruitful activity. LESSON: “Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
Notice the surprise element in this parable that all the servants had the proper attitude. The five-, two-, and one-talent servants have one common characteristic between them: to please the master. The one-talent servant, however, desired to save the master’s money, so he hid it. Though his action was based upon the best of intentions, he forfeited the potential benefits that could have been gained from investment. By burying the money, he lost all possibility of any profit or discovery. Fear, in fact, guided the actions of this one-talent servant, who failed to grasp the essence of his master’s character. His good intention, misled by a wrong understanding of his master, produced the opposite result. In the end, he was severely punished. According to the message of the parable, good intentions are not enough…The issue boils down to faith anchored in a LOVING GOD... With faith a God who loves us (John 3:16) we can take risks and even make mistakes because we have a great and beautiful God who not only forgives but also redeems mistakes.

I love the way Persian carpets are made. Workers on each side of the loom weave colored wool in the warp and woof at the direction of the master weaver, who is the only one who sees the overall design, viewing it as he does from the front. When a weaver puts in the wrong color, the master weaver does not demand that it be withdrawn, but incorporates the “mistake” into a slightly revised overall design. Such is our God. To work with faith means to heartily trust God, to invest what we are entrusted with and, as an outcome, to enter the joy of God.

Martin Luther, the great leader of the Reformation spoke eloquently about this JOY OF THE LORD in our daily work: “Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool—though that father is acting . . . in Christian faith—my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling — not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.”

Our understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ is the primary factor which determines our faithful stewardship and ministry. In contrast to the fear of the one-talent servant, the good servants trust in the goodness of their Lord, and as a result of their faith in a good and loving Lord, they are willing to take risks in order to follow the Great Creation Mandate (Genesis 1:26-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – win, lose or draw – whatever the outcome maybe!!! Good servants launch out for their loving Lord…

• Stevens, R. Paul-> Doing God's Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace
• Young, Brad H.->The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation