“To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, each according to his ability.” A talent was a unit of weight, perhaps 80 pounds or so; when used without reference to anything specific, it was understood to mean a talent of silver, worth about 6000 denarii. Since a denarius was the usual payment for a day’s labor, one talent would be nearly 20 years’ salary for your ordinary working-class bloke; if you want to put this in terms of the current minimum wage in this state, $7.25 an hour, 6000 8-hour workdays at that rate would add up to $348,000. In other words, the master in Matthew 25 hands his servants a huge amount of money and tells them to have at it; and when he comes back, he judges them based on what they’ve done with it. And this, says Jesus, is what the coming of the kingdom of heaven will be like.
What do we make of this? What do we make of this related parable in Luke 12, with its bleak depiction of the judgment of the faithless? What does this tell us about the kingdom of God? Certainly Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God and its blessings are not to be taken for granted, that we can’t simply do whatever we like and get away with it; he makes it indisputably clear that God expects certain things of us, and has the right to. Everything we have is God’s, entrusted to us until he comes to reclaim it and to see how we’ve used it; there is nothing that is really ours to do with as we please. Everything is God’s, and he’s given some of it to us to use according to his purposes. Part of that, yes, is for ourselves, as this is one of the ways he provides for our needs; but he isn’t going to come back and ask if we had fun with what he gave us. Instead, he’s going to ask us what sort of return he received on his investment.
And bear in mind here, we are his investments. It’s a striking story that Matthew gives us. The master is a very rich man, but in a time and place in which land was the primary form of wealth, he had a lot of money lying around—but he doesn’t stick around to manage it. Indeed, he doesn’t even leave specific instructions as to what is to be done with his money while he’s gone. Instead, he distributes it among his servants—and note this, he gives each a different amount according to what he knows they can handle—and leaves it to them to determine how best to use it. Those who take this as an opportunity go out and double his money, and are blessed for it; the one who responds with mistrust and fear—not trusting the master’s gift, fearing his judgment, not being willing to risk doing anything—buries the money and goes off to do his own thing, and is judged for it.
In the same way, God has given us everything we have: life, to begin with, and the gift of each new day; our material wealth—and we are rich indeed, as even the poorest person here is richer than over 95% of the people in this world; and all of our many talents (a word taken by the church from this parable in Matthew to describe all the abilities and skills God gives us), which we use to make our way in life. He has given us all these things, with no visible strings attached. And more than that, not long after Jesus told his disciples this parable in Matthew 25, he would give them the greatest gift of all—the gift of the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone—and leave them with it to use for his purposes.
He left them as his greatest investment in this world, as the beginning capital out of which his church would grow. He left them to use all the other gifts he had given them, of money and abilities and each new day as it came, in the service of that greatest gift of the gospel. To be sure, he didn’t leave them to do that work alone, but gave them his Holy Spirit to guide them and to give them power; nevertheless left the work in their hands, to be passed on from generation to generation, and now to us and through us to our children. We are God’s investment.
Think about that. Each one of us is a gift from God to the church, which in turn is his great gift to the world; each one of us is an investment by God in his great plan of redemption. We have each been given a particular set of gifts; we have been given the money and the abilities we have and placed in this particular time, given this day and each hour, in order to do the work he has given us to do that we may bear the fruit he intends for us to bear. We have not been given more than we can handle, or less than we need, but each according to our ability—and God knows our ability far better than we do; and we won’t be judged on the basis of another’s gifts, but only based on what we do with what God has entrusted to us.
We are God’s investments, fearfully and wonderfully made, each of us created and gifted in his infinite wisdom to be a very particular blessing to his people and to the world; he knows us for all of who we are, our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and he uses both in our lives and in the lives of others. We don’t need to be afraid that we aren’t good enough, because he has given us his Holy Spirit; we can’t serve him faithfully in our own strength, but by his Spirit he is able to do in and through us everything he gives us to do, and he doesn’t make any mistakes about that.
This means two things. In the first place, we have no reason to be afraid; we don’t need to follow the third servant, who buried the talent he was given out of fear that if he tried to do anything with it, he’d blow it. We can take all the talents we’ve been given and use them boldly in God’s service, giving away our money and our lives with faith-driven generosity, trusting that he will bless us and provide for us; we can take risks as we feel his leading, secure in the knowledge that God is at work and he is in control, and that even when we do blow it, he is capable of redeeming our mistakes.
Second, it means that giving is not an onerous duty but a life-giving opportunity. God has blessed us each with a part to play in his plan to redeem the world, he has invested us in his work here on Earth, and he has empowered us by his Spirit to save and to bless others. He has given us work and opportunities of eternal, life-changing significance. When we choose to use the time, talents and money he’s given us merely to please ourselves, we turn away from the great adventure of discipleship he’s offered us in favor of something smaller, perhaps more fun in the short term but far less satisfying in the long run. In giving our money and our time freely to his church in all its ministries—many of which, to be sure, are outside what we think of as “the church”—rather than keeping them for ourselves, in using our skills and abilities in his service rather than what we perceive to be our own, we aren’t really denying ourselves, though we may often think so. Rather, we are opening ourselves up to receive greater blessings than we could ever manufacture in our own strength. Giving is the path to blessing.
I encourage you, therefore, my brothers and sisters: whatever you’re giving to God, give more. Give lots more. Give until you don’t see how you could give any more—and then look for more opportunities yet. Invest your money wherever you see the gospel proclaimed and the ministry of Christ at work—and yes, if you participate in this congregation, I do think this is the proper place to start giving more, but don’t stop here; and where your money goes, let your time follow. Take the talents God has given you and use them to serve him, in your work—whatever it may be, whether it seems “Christian” to you or not, for you are his minister wherever you may go—and in the church as you see opportunity, and in all the other things you do. Live as God’s investment, so that you may fully experience his reward, for his reward never fails.