I love the parable we heard today, the Parable of the Talents, mainly because the master in the story seems like such a comically horrible boss, but also because the parable itself is so packed with stuff that everyone seems to have there own interpretation of it. To fully appreciate the parable, even just as a story, you need to know a couple pieces of background on the players and the items in dispute.
The master in this parable, he’s an interesting guy. Apparently this master expected a lot of his servants, to the point that one of the servants describes the master as being a man who expects too much, who wrings blood from stones, a hard man. The word Jesus used that we translate as hard was skleros. Skleros is a Greek word with no positive connotations. Skleros meant hard, but it also meant ruthless, merciless, mean, unrelenting. We use the word still; think Multiple Sclerosis. When the Bible talks about the enemies of God who have hardness of heart, the word used to describe those hearts is skleros.1
To us, being a good dancer might be a talent, but in 1st century Palestine, a talent was an actual unit of measurement and a unit of currency. Think of it like a British pound. A talent, though, was what you would call any 80 pound package of goods. A talent was also a coin, usually a silver coin; a talent was worth about 6000 denarii, and since the average worker in 1st century Palestine made a denarius a day, a talent represented the value of about 20 years of labor for the average person. Think about it this way: the average American hourly wage worker makes about $23,000 a year (though, if earning minimum wage, it’s more like $15,000); In a twenty-year span, that average worker will earn $460,000, or one talent. So the master in this parable handed over almost 3.7 million dollars to these three servants. Jesus wasn’t working with play money in this story.
Like I said, this parable is packed full of stuff to learn from, to interpret; there’s almost too much meaning woven into this parable, especially considering Jesus told this parable in the midst of other parables about the end times, about His coming back to us. Because this is a Last Judgment parable, 2000 years of commentators have gotten perhaps way too excited when trying to wring meaning from those words. Is Jesus telling us that God is a hard Master? Is Jesus telling us we can earn our way into Heaven by being good? Didn’t He say we couldn’t earn our way into Heaven? Is Jesus talking about real money or is He talking about our gifts, our God-given talents?
The answers to these questions are not easily found in just looking at the Parable of the Talents itself. We can safely assume that Jesus was not telling us that we can effect our own salvation by being good, and that being a good person, a good servant of God, is rather an outcome of the salvation found in Christ. Jesus was definitely not telling us that God is a hard Master, but that through sinful, slothful eyes, He might look that way. As for the rest of our questions, I think the answer is yes. Jesus is talking about money, actual money, and He is talking about our talents, our aptitudes useful for activities.
Jesus is talking about these things because they matter. Money matters. Using the gifts God gave us matters. As the parable implies, to whom much is given, much is expected, and if you can’t be trusted with the little things, you won’t be trusted with the big stuff.
When you came in or when you leave today, you will see that the annual Stewardship packet is waiting for you by the doors. The packet speaks to money, yes, for without money the lights won’t burn and the bells won’t ring, and those same doors which have opened daily for decades would be shut. The packet also talks about your aptitudes, your modern-day talents, the gifts God gave us so that we can enter into our Master’s happiness now and unto the ages of ages. That packet exists to keep the doors open, yes, but even more so it exists to give you an idea of how you can take what God has given you, whether it be 5 talents or 3talents or 1 talent, and use those talents for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.
In my time here at Christ Church I’ve seen you all use what God has given you in so many and great ways; our stewardship of our many talents, the ways we take what God has given us here and use those things to show His love to the world, I’ve been humbled and inspired by how you all do that. We have been given much, and much is expected of us. May God give us the faith and courage to do what is expected of us, and so much more.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week