Today’s reading is in part about multiplication, so let’s see how good you are at multiplications:
2 x 2 = … 4 x 6 = … 9 x 7 = … 25 x 4 = … 72 x 4 =… 1000 x 1000 = …
The parable Jesus tells in our reading is about three servants, each entrusted with a different amount of money when their master goes away for a time. Though the master hasn’t given them any instructions about what to do with the money, the first two servants, who have been given larger amounts of money, immediately go to work to multiply what they were given. The third servant, given only a small amount, put the money in the ground – under his mattress, we might say. When the master comes back, he wants to see what’s happened to the money he’s handed out. The first two servants have doubled what they were given, multiplied by two, and the master is pleased with them both. The third servant has only saved his, and simply returns the money he was given. The master is angry at this. The third servant pleads with the master, saying, basically, that he was afraid of the master, so he simply held on to the money he’d been given, so at least it would be there, and not lost, when the master returned. It seems he didn’t want to take a risk with what he’d been given, but he did want to protect it. The master points out to him that at least in a bank the little he’d been given would earn some interest.
Let’s look at little more closely at this parable.
To start, let’s look at how “talents” can be interpreted in our own lives. I have two NIV Bibles, one is the pew Bible we use in Church, and in that version, the master hands out bags of gold, ten, five and one respectively. The section is headed “The parable of the bags of gold”. In the other version it isn’t bags of gold, it’s talents, with a footnote that a talent was worth several hundred pounds. The section heading in that Bible is “The Parable of the Talents”. For us English speakers, “talents” has a different, broader meaning than just money. Which on the one hand can lead to confusion, but on the other hand, gives us an opportunity to broaden out the meaning of gold or talents to include not just money, but also resources, and these can be of several kinds, especially for us as Christians. I thought of four things – but this isn’t an exclusive list, you may think of others.
First, certainly it can mean money. Hopefully as Christians we consider how we spend our money, allocating a share of what we have for the work of the Lord, whether that’s giving to the Church, supporting Church fundraising activities or making donations to other organisations which support mission and outreach, or helping the disadvantaged in other ways, in our own country or abroad. And yes, that’s alongside our bills and other things we spend our money on. We might be challenged sometimes to donate more than we might normally. Many of us may have responded to the Children in Need challenge yesterday, it was a special call that went out, traditionally UK folks respond very generously to it.
Second, a talent could be a natural gift. It could be a gift of hospitality, having a neighbour in for a cup of tea and a chat. We might be good at understanding complex situations and explaining them in simple terms – usually those people are teachers, whether formally in schools, but it can be just to folks around them. Or understanding complex situations and doing something about them, like engineers … or plumbers and electricians even! We look at the musicians in our music group, and our organist, they have a natural gift they have developed. These are gifts we can share where we are, and they are gifts we can develop. Do you know that every Saturday morning our lead guitarist Mark has a guitar lesson? He could just play his guitar for his own pleasure, but he, and our organist Michael, choose to multiply their his talent by sharing the fruits of their talents with us at services Sunday by Sunday.
Third, time could be something we could multiply and share. Well, maybe multiply is not the right word here, we can’t multiply our time, but we can decide to put more time to one thing than another. We can decide we are going to devote an afternoon a week, or month, to working in a charity shop for instance. We’ve talked several times about turning off the tv for half an hour and spending it learning more about the love of God through Bible reading or study, or by praying for people we know who are in need of prayer. We could fetch shopping for an elderly neighbour.
Lastly, faith is something we can multiply and share. We do this by living our lives God’s way, by listening to him, trying things out and seeing if they are things he’s calling us to do. This can also be done by sharing the message of the love and salvation of Jesus with others, however that is most effectively done for the person we’re with, different people sometimes require different approaches. Or we could demonstrate God’s love to them through our actions, and stories of how he’s helped us in our lives. Or more formally by teaching and preaching.
Now those categories overlap in a way, but they can be a useful way of looking at talents, and those we have and those we don’t have!
But underpinning it all is prayer and our relationship with God. Some things we do naturally, some things we might need to be more intentional about, setting out to change something, or develop something to see if it is something God wants us to do. A lesson from the reaction of the master to the servant given one talent is that we sometimes need to take a risk. Maybe we won’t gain anything from it, but at the very least we will have learned something from it – a bit like interest at the bank. It will inform us to do things in a more beneficial way. In money terms, it’s a more profitable way.
There are some hard points in this sermon too. The first is just something to remember, it’s not really a hard point: the master in the parable isn’t God, the master is an unjust, nasty piece of work, helping himself to things others have worked hard to get. But then we do need to face the fact that not all the servants have been given the same amount of money – in this world, things don’t seem to be given out fairly, certainly not evenly. But that doesn’t stop us doing what we can with what we’ve got where we are. It also implies that whoever has lots will get more … well, that can sound nice if you’re thinking you could do with some extra to cover the Christmas expenses this year, but what if more means more responsibility … a situation in your family which means you have to step outside your comfort zone to sort something out, to put something right. Or step outside your usual role at work to cover an unusual situation. That can mean more challenge, more stress. If it’s about faith, it can mean taking a stand which makes us unpopular with those around us. If it’s dealings with the secular world, and I’d include money here, Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out to drive out evil spirits and heal people, that they should be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16) So “more” can sound better, but it doesn’t mean it is better!
So let’s think about our talents, money, gifts, time and faith, and see if we are using them wisely, and in a way that will multiply them for the glory of God.
The parable ends with Jesus saying whoever has little – but I think the implication here is that whoever has little but does nothing with it – it will be taken away from him, and he will be thrown into the darkness. That sounds very harsh, but it warns us to use our God-given gifts, which implies staying close to God, because if we don’t, that relationship will wither and die, and in the end, we will be separated from God. But do be heartened by the assurance that if we come close to God, he will come close to us. (James 4:8)
It doesn’t mean that we have to have everything sorted out before we come to him, we can come with doubts, struggles, challenges – his shoulders are broad. We don’t have to have everything sorted out in our minds and our hearts, but we do need to keep close to the beating heart of the Father.
Last week during the Remembrance Day service, I touched on the war between Israel and Hamas which is looming large in the news. During the week, I heard some words of encouragement amidst the awfulness I wanted to share from “Thought for the Day” last Tuesday. Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg has visited Israel since the Hamas raid on October 7th. He met a woman whose son had been murdered by Hamas that day. Despite her loss, she was continuing to take Palestinian neighbours to hospital appointments in Israeli hospitals. He asked what NGO she worked for, her reply was “Humans beyond Borders”, her philosophy being that care doesn’t take sides. The Rabbi went on to quote a survey, he didn’t say what its source was, so perhaps treat the findings with caution, but it found that 70% of Britons were concerned for people on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East. These things gave him hope. There is light in the darkness.
Let’s make a point of sharing, multiplying, our light with others, however we can do that, to the glory of God.