Read Matthew 25:14-30
‘Tis Christmas come early, for me any way. This is the second of three homilies on the Parable of the Talents. Last time we focused on the first two servants and used the acronym TURN, standing for:
Trusted—each of the three servants was trusted by his master. They were entrusted with money in accordance with their ability.
Urgency—the first two servants acted at once and put their master’s money to work. We noted that they were the master in their relationship with this money. They put it to work and it did not get a day off.
Return on Investment (ROI)—the first two knew that their master was demanding and expected a return. They were wise and demanding with their investments and produced a fantastic return for him.
No Fear—while fear is real and risk is real, the servants were not immobilized by fear. Wisdom, not fear governed what they did with their master’s money.
Now we come to the third servant. We need to realize that this servant was also trusted by his master. This was not a set up. He was not doomed to fail from the start. His master trusted him with a whole bag of gold. You don’t do that with someone that you don’t trust.
He was trusted. Perhaps his abilities were not the same as the others, but he was a trusted servant and entrusted with his master’s money in accordance with his abilities.
And, it appears that he too acted with urgency—at least there is nothing that would indicate any delay. How can I say this? The text does not say that this servant weighed his choices and then decided to go bury his talent in the ground. The text simply says that he went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.
He didn’t stop off for investment advice. He didn’t consult with the other two servants. He did not swing by the bank and put the money on deposit and later change his mind. He went off and dug a hole in the ground. It didn’t even say that he swung by the house to pick up a shovel.
It is at this point that we see fear creeping into this servant’s decision model. It would seem that the third servant already knew that if his master gave him anything at all, he would go bury it in the ground.
Here is a really crazy part. He expends more effort to hide this money that it would take to deposit it in the bank. How much effort is it to take the money to the bank, say here’s my money, where is my receipt?
Here’s the thing when you hide the money in the ground—somebody else could find it. Do you remember the parable of the hidden treasure? Hiding money in the ground was something that people did in that day. It may not have been wise but it was not unusual.
I remember watching investment commercials several years ago. One of them showed a couple stressing a little bit over their investments because the market was just downright ugly. One of them remarked, “What are we going to do? Put it under our mattress?”
While I don’t have a lot of money to invest, I was putting some in a Roth IRA a few years ago and when I would look at my statements I sometimes wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off putting my money under my mattress.
So we should not look at this third servant as doing something unusual. In certain circumstances, having some money or gold or silver in a safe place makes sense. In the context of this parable, we are not told that the country is in financial turmoil or that the banks might close or that there is any extraordinary risk at play.
Fear is what drives this servant to hide his money in the ground. Think about this. Does his hiding his money in the ground reduce his fear?
On the contrary, now he must worry that someone will find his hiding spot. He will have to come up with some way of checking on his buried money without giving away where it is buried. He will spend more time or worry now than if he just put the money in the bank and worried that all the banks collapsed.
Some suggest that because many had dirt floors in those days that this servant buried the money within the confines of his own house. That’s a possibility, but think about the worry factor he would have had every time he left the house. He would suddenly be a prisoner in his own household. There’s a cruel form of house arrest.
But why was he afraid?
He was afraid of his master because he saw his master as a hard man. This man harvested where he had not even planted. He reaped dividends where he had not even invested.
Understand that the other two servants knew the same facts about their master; yet they pursued vastly different courses of action. So was the fear truly derived from the qualities of the master?
How do two servants see this same master and go and do great things and this one servant becomes immobilized by fear? It’s not that the third servant didn’t do anything at all, he just did not do anything productive.
We get most of our answer from the master’s description of this third servant. You wicked, lazy servant—those are the words: wicked and lazy. Some translations use slothful for lazy. What a label to have put upon you!
Is the master being overly harsh? He did get his money back. It’s not like the servant went out and squandered it like the prodigal son. It’s like a bottle deposit. It’s a zero-sum gain. This guy is surely not going to business school, but is he really wicked?
Consider the proverbs. I will give you the Tom’s tweet version. There is God’s way and there is everything else.
I’ll go a little beyond the tweet. There is God’s way. We might call it the right way. We might call it righteousness. We might call it holy—set apart, completely different from the ways of the world. It’s God’s way.
And then there is everything else, which we might call:
· Foolishness—the Proverbs are rich in poverty of the fool.
· Laziness—consider the sluggard described in the proverbs who is too lazy to bring his hand from the bowl to his mouth.
· Wickedness—being totally opposed to everything that God has made holy.
· Rebelliousness—a first cousin of wickedness for sure.
· Contentiousness—often manifesting itself as a firebrand of discontent
Sometimes we think that to be wicked, someone has to look the part. Sometimes we think that to be lazy, a person must do nothing at all.
But anything opposed to God and God’s ways is wicked. Those who expend energy on making excuses instead of producing something of value are lazy.
Let’s take the second part of a proverb that you know very well: Fools despise wisdom and instruction or discipline. Why?
Their starting point and their life direction is skewed. Unlike the wise who come out of the starting blocks with a wholesome fear of the Lord, the foolish despise such discipline. The heart of a fool says that there is no God.
Fools defy obedience. They defy discipline and surely will never know the fruit of self-discipline. Fools live in fear of the world, and that leads to terrible decision making.
Fear cannot produce a good return on investment. The fear of what mom or dad might do to a child sometimes will keep them out of trouble, but it won’t get them to a college degree or make them a good leader or help them produce a good return.
Consider the football team that has led the whole game. They have a two-touchdown lead with two minutes left in the game and they start playing not to make a mistake—not to lose.
Consider their opponents who have been struggling the entire game. They have been afraid to throw the long ball or run the reverse because they were sure it wouldn’t work.
Now with only two minutes left, they think to themselves that what they thought would work isn’t working, so why not try something else. They throw the deep strike and connect. They make a stop, get the ball back, run the reverse and move quickly to another score.
Now the game is tied with one time playing totally fearless football and the other team playing not to lose.
About 20 years ago, football coaches at all levels became aware of this dynamic and started coaching with a model that said, what would we do if fear were not a factor. Sometimes you must lose a game that you led for most of the way to remember this.
Fear does not produce good returns.
There is risk in life and fear is still alive and well in the world, but for those who choose wisdom, fear is not welcome in our decision—making cycle. We look at possible consequences and sequels to our decisions, but we do not decide out of fear. We are people who are aware of what is going on in our life and in the world, but fear does not govern us.
The master of these three servants was a demanding man. Two of the servants recognized this and did their best to meet or exceed his expectations. One buried the very thing that he was trusted with in the ground because he was afraid.
This third servant tried to transfer the blame for his ineptness to the master—I knew you were a hard man; but by his own admission he was afraid. The fact that his master was a hard man was not the problem. Consider the coaches that you have known in your life or that you know of. Think about these two: Vince Lombardi and John Wooden. They were demanding. They set the bar very high and expected you to reach or exceed the goals set for you.
Really, who would want to play for a coach that showed up for practice, looked at how you were at the beginning of the season and just said, “whatever.” The fact that his master was a hard man was not the problem.
The problem was that the third servant was afraid. Fear was the governing force in his life.
Let’s finish the parable. Not only was the master displeased, but he gave instructions to take the one talent or one bag of gold from this worthless servant and give it to the one who now had ten talents.
He said not only have you disappointed me, but you are no longer worthy of my trust. Let’s go back to the beginning. The third servant received one bag of gold because the master knew that he could manage one bag of gold. Had he only put it in the bank, he would have at least had something to show for this trust.
But he had nothing to show for his master’s investment. For those listening to this parable as Jesus told it, they could relate to taking the one talent from the wicked and lazy servant and giving it to the servant who now had ten talents.
The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.
Many of your translations say the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous or for the godly. I would suspect that those listening to this parable probably cheered at this point. They knew the proverb and wanted to hear a story where the world of the wicked ended upside down and the righteous were standing tall at the end of the day.
Today, some would say, “Oh how mean to take away from those who have so little.” Here is the thing, the third servant didn’t have as much as the other two, but he still was trusted with a bag of gold.
I want us to ponder this point. When our Master trusts us with a little, it’s still a lot. It is something with which we can produce a return. We can produce a return. It’s not like he says here’s five bucks now make me rich. God gives us enough to produce a return.
Unless we are governed by fear. So many times we read God telling his people, “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not” are words that are not only for shepherds watching their flocks at night.
God commanded Joshua not to be afraid and not to be discouraged.
Fear is real. Danger is real. Risk is real. Life has risk and sometimes danger but fear must not govern how we navigate this life.
Fear robs us of producing returns for our Master and for the Body of Christ. Fear robs us of joy and peace. Fear has to do with punishment and we do not fear the punishment of our Master.
Here’s the thing with the third servant fearing his master. People do not give bags of gold to people that they have just punished. The third servant may have received instruction and discipline in the past, but he had not been punished.
If you receive instruction and discipline then you are still in the good graces of your master. He knows that instruction and discipline are his investments in you. If you have received punishment in the past, he is not going to trust you with a bag of gold.
The third servant was not being set up to fail. He should have realized that his master trusted him. He was a trusted servant.
The master trusted all three of these servants and gave them what they could handle within their abilities. Somewhere along the way fear entered the equation for the third servant.
Let’s go back to Tom’s tweet. We will use the corporate version.
What did we do with what God gave us?
Now let’s ask a follow up question.
Is fear decreasing my return on God’s investment?
We don’t do fear. We don’t deny that fear exists, but we do not give it safe harbor in our lives. It is not welcomed into our decision making. Wisdom not fear governs.
Our Master trusts us. We take what he says at face value and just do it. We produce a good return when we are obedient to him, and fear is not a part of who we are.
We don’t have to have specific instructions; in fact, it is more likely that we will be given a trust—some sort of talent or gift or opportunity—and our call is to be obedient to God by putting that trust to work.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
The third servant would have been wise to memorize this verse. We are wise because we have memorized it. We are blessed when we live by these words.
We don’t do fear!
That’s a great place to end for now, except that I have gone through this entire message and not mentioned love once. I talked about wisdom and fear, urgency and laziness, being demanding, wickedness, but not a single mention of love.
Let me take one moment to clarify that we are trusted servants because God already loves us. The servants received rewards or lack of them because of what they did with what their master gave them, but in our relationship with our Master, we know that love precedes everything.
We are not trusted servants to earn love. We are trusted because we are loved. We are trusted to work out our salvation as the most important thing that we can do, but love has preceded this relationship. Salvation is already assured.
Our Master has claimed us for all eternity and we do not fear his punishment. To understand this parable completely and apply it to our lives as disciples, we—as I think the first two servants realized—know that our Master will never stop loving us.
We are more than servants to be used for our Master’s purpose. We are more than someone to be used. We do our Master’s will and put our talents to use and are obedient to our Master, but realize that we are more than someone to be used. Our Master has also called us friend.
We are free to live without fear. We are free to produce fantastic returns on God’s investment in us. We are free of fear being a governing factor in our lives.