“The talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton ‘scale, balance, sum’) was one of several ancient units of mass, a commercial weight, as well as corresponding units of value equivalent to these masses of a precious metal. The talent of gold was known to Homer, who described how Achilles gave a half-talent of gold to Antilochus as a prize. (A talent) was approximately the mass of water required to fill an amphora (which is a vessel, shaped like this, and usually about that big). A Greek, or Attic talent, was 57 pounds, a Roman talent was 71 pounds, an Egyptian talent was 60 pounds, and a Babylonian talent was 67 pounds. Ancient Israel, and other Levantine countries, adopted the Babylonian talent…the heavy common talent, used in New Testament times, was 130 pounds.”1
So if we take a rough average and say that when Jesus talked about the talents in the parable we just heard, that talents was roughly 75 pounds or so, then given the current price of gold, that talent would be worth about $840,000. So the servant who received the 5 talents was intrusted with 4.2 million dollars; the servant with the 2 talents 1.68 million, and the third servant a paltry 840K.
If it makes you uncomfortable that a rich gentleman farmer would entrust these princely sums to three simple servants, you’re not alone. Forget the money – it just seems mean to put that kind of responsibility on people who are not specifically trained for that kind of thing.
And as my friend Fr. Sammy Wood said, “If I were the rich man, I certainly wouldn’t want my money to be played around with by a bunch of inexperienced servants. If I were the rich man I would want my servants to do exactly what that third servant did: dig a hole, bury it deep in the ground, squirrel it away so that nothing could happen to it…That’s what I would do.
“But, of course, I am not the rich man and that is not what the parable is about. In fact, according to the Gospel, the very servant whom I, in my prudence, would have praised – the careful, cautious servant who is afraid of losing all that money and who hides his talent – that same servant is the one found wanting. And, I must tell you, this strikes me as perverse… I don’t like that.
“But, you see, of course I am wrong here. The parable is not really about money. What it’s really about is faith – faith in God… How faith in God works. And from that perspective the servant who hides his talent is the man or woman who refuses to do anything with his or her faith, who makes no venture of faith, who shrinks back from putting his or her faith to the test. And we may all learn from the parable – and profoundly learn – for what Jesus is telling us is this: that if we hide our faith away, if we do nothing about it, bury it deep in the ground and trot it out only on Sunday, then nothing comes of it at all. Nothing. It just stays there – under the ground. Safe perhaps. Secure perhaps. Untouched. Untested. Never risked. But also dormant and dead. Of no profit or use to us or to others.”2
That sounds pretty depressing, really, so thankfully it doesn’t sound much like our church. This past week the Stewardship materials went out via email (with print versions available), so that the parish is being a good steward of what the Lord hath provided, through you, mostly, and others. You’ll see in those materials, if you haven’t already, that the parish needs money to run, to provide worship and programs and pastoral care and outreach, and well, a new boiler so we’re not all freezing while doing all that. But you’ll also see that most of the Stewardship materials have little to do with money but a lot to do with talents.
Specifically, your talents. The materials have a list, but you guys already know that this church, our church, makes a huge difference in our community and around the world; you know that we focus on worship, on discipleship, on becoming closer to God so that we can cause others to draw closer to God themselves.
But all that takes risk. Real risk, 5 talents kind of risk. It’s a risk to put it all out there, your money, your talents, your hopes, your heart, but what we learned from Jesus today is not only does He provide us with the talents to invest but also the guts, the faith, and the opportunities. The return on that investment is worth everything.
1 Talent, Wikipedia
Fr. Sammy Wood, http://theadventboston.org/sermons/aw111311.htm