BIBLE READING: Matthew 25:14-30 The parable of the talents


SERMON

The parable of the talents is one of the best known of all Jesus' teachings. Its point is virtually impossible to miss. The master entrusted his servants with talents (a significant amount of money in the ancient world - one talent was the rough equivalent of 15-20 years wages for the average worker). The servant who received five talents was wise; he invested his talents and doubled their value. The servant who buried his talent in the ground was foolish, and thereby lost what little he had. Lots of lessons here:

         be good stewards of your ability - use it or lose it;

         don't be afraid to try;

         never say, "I have so little, my contribution won't matter;

         people may not be equal in talent but they can surely be equal in effort.

You can probably think of a few others. Regardless of the lesson though, the point is always obvious - those who follow Jesus are to be like unto the wise, five-talent servant and not like the one-talent dummy. Case closed.

OK. But there is one aspect of this story that troubles me if we close the case so quickly. What about the one in the middle, the two-talent servant? Is he superfluous? For that matter, were any of the characters in Jesus' stories superfluous? I do not think so. Yes, there was the wise, multi-talented servant as an example of excellent stewardship and a foolish, single-talented servant as an example of poor stewardship. But also this one in the middle, a person with a lot less than the "super," five-talent servant but one with a lot more than the hapless, one-talent servant. The one in the middle is there for an important purpose.

Let us check him out. What do we know about the two-talent servant? Well, obviously he is somewhere in between the two others in terms of the master's faith in his abilities. He has been entrusted with two talents - twice as much as the foolish servant. But he is only entrusted with two, which is just 40 percent as much as the wise, five-talent guy. Perhaps the master thought the one in the middle had some potential, but he was not considered likely to be a standout performer.

And what did the two-talent servant do with his two talents? He doubled them, and wound up returning four talents to the boss. His performance was, proportionately, on a par with that of the five-talent servant. He did just as well as the shining-star example in the parable.

Frankly, although the parable does not say it, I suspect that the master was at least somewhat surprised when he received the four talents from the servant in the middle. We can assume that the master was astute - that is why he is the master in the story. He probably expected the excellent performance from the five-talent servant. He also probably expected worthless performance from the one-talent servant although he had deliberately entrusted the man with a talent in order to give him an opportunity to prove himself otherwise. But the two-talent servant's performance was better than expected. If he had brought back, say three talents, that would have been a predictable, good showing for him. But performing at the same level as the top guy - now that was something! When the master said, "Well done, good and faithful servant..." to the one in the middle, I suspect his congratulation was just a little louder and just a little heartier than his comments to the other two.

Most of us are two-talent servants. We are not fools, idiots with the riches of God. We realize that God has entrusted us with a great deal, so we are not going to foolishly hide, and completely fail to use what God has given into our care. On the other hand we are not superstars of the faith. Few of us are going to become Saint Pauls or Martin Luthers, or Mother Teresas. We are not likely to conduct crusades where millions are saved nor build cathedrals to God's glory, nor offer our lives up in martyrdom for Christ.

Somewhere smack in between the heights and depths is where most of us live - and the good news is, that is exactly where we can faithfully serve God. Not only can we serve, but we can serve well. Proportionately, we can utilize what has been entrusted to us just as effectively as the crusade conductors, the cathedral builders, the martyrs.

Starting is the first step to succeeding. We cannot be afraid of failure. We cannot think that we have too little to give, little to contribute.

Have you ever wondered, even in what you try to do for God, whether it is doing any good? Let God be the judge of that. I remember reading about a little girl named Annie who in 1876 was ten years of age. She was put into a poor house for children. Her mother had died and her father had deserted her. Her aunt and uncle found her too difficult to handle. She had a bad disposition, a -violent temper stemming in part from eyes afflicted with painful trachoma. She had been put in the poorhouse because no one wanted her. She was such a wild one that at times she had to be tied down.

But there was another inmate named Maggie who cared for Annie. Maggie talked to her, fed her, even though Annie would throw her food on the floor, cursing and rebelling with every ounce of tier being. But Maggie was a Christian and out of her convictions she was determined to love this dirty, unkempt, spiteful, unloving little girl. It wasn't easy, but slowly it got through to Annie that she was not the only one who was suffering. Maggie also had been abandoned. And gradually Annie began to respond.

Maggie told her about a school for the blind and Annie began to beg to be sent there, and finally, consent was given. After a series of operations her sight was partially restored. She was able to finish her schooling and graduate at age twenty. Having been blind so long she told the director of the school that she wanted to work with blind and difficult children. They found a little girl seven years old who was blind and deaf from the age of two. So, Annie Sullivan went to to unlock the door of Helen Keller's dark prison and to set her free. What Annie did was ground breaking communicating with someone blind and deaf. But what about Maggie? Do we remember her?

The one in the middle - the faithful servant who does the best he or she possibly can in whatever circumstances and with what has been given - the one who tries. And the result is pleasing, perhaps even surprisingly pleasing, to the Master. As "the ones in the middle" for Jesus Christ today, let us take risks of love and service for our master Jesus Christ. Amen!