1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
November 16, 2014
Look at the picture above. When you first looked at it, how many of you saw the saxophone player? How many saw the woman’s face first? Can you switch back and forth and see both? How many see only one? or none?
Jesus’ parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is a lot like this picture. It can seem to mean two almost opposite things depending on your perspective. Parables are not intended to be “systematic theology” but to prod us to think in new ways, which can be challenging with something so familiar. When Jesus started by saying, “It is as if,” the “it” refers to the delay in his appearance as in his previous teaching. A talent was not a skill or ability but a large form of money used only by government and few highly prosperous business people to move wealth around the empire when they had nothing like electronic fund transfer. Talents were not for grocery shopping. If the box shown below was solid gold, it would be about 1½ talents and weigh about 120 pounds. It would take an average person about 20 years to make one talent, which they would have used to live on. The ordinary person would need a century to make as much as the 5 talent slave was given. The people Jesus spoke to could never imagine working for someone with so much money much less having it.
|If this really was a talent and a half of gold, I wouldn't be holding it up with one hand.|
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Jesus used questionable characters to represent something about God before, and we typically think of this business man that way. The slaves who received the 5 and 2 talents saw him as trusting them and rewarding them with generosity when they received his “well done, good and trustworthy slave.” This way of looking at the parable encourages us not to hide our opportunities but deploy them to the fullest. To seize the day – carpe diem as the Roman poet Horace wrote in his lyric poem in 23 BCE. (not Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society)
Many who heard Jesus’ story would have thought of a man with so much wealth as a Bernie Madoff like crook who ripped off poor people and friends and expected his slaves to do the same. If the one talent slave wouldn’t do that, he expected him to loan the money with bankers and charge interest, which was explicitly forbidden in the Law. (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37; Deuteronomy 23:19-20) From this perspective the one talent slave is the hero who lived by righteous principles at the cost of his position, and the master is the villain who really was a “harsh man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not scatter.”
I am not suggesting this second perspective is right and should replace the first, but that as opposite as they seem, both are in the story, just as the saxophonist and woman are in the picture.
When we are aware of God’s generous trust in us, we are motivated to maximize our gifts for effective ministry.
When we are aware that being disciples of Jesus puts us out of step with our society, we are encouraged with the strength to stick by our convictions.
Both views of Jesus’ parable encourage us to be faithful in whatever circumstances we finds ourselves, to seize the day for him whether times are favorable or unfavorable.
Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 encourages us to live as the children of the day, which we are, even when night seems to be closing in during the delay before Jesus’ appearing.
The image of the thief in the night is a warning for children of the night who don’t expect Jesus to appear. The image of the onset of labor for a pregnant woman is for we who are children of the day. We know Jesus will appear, we just don’t know when, so we get ready.
Being ready is not about predicting when Jesus will appear, but about being awake and sober, seizing each day God gives us.
Staying awake is not neglecting rest but living with Jesus whether we are awake or asleep as verse 10 says.
In verse 11, Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for encouraging each other to live as children of the day and to keep encouraging each other.
As children of the day, we seize each day God gives us, not looking back with nostalgia to a past time we imagine was ideal in history, for the church, or for ourselves.
To encourage each other, we need to tune into where each other is at the moment. Is someone struggling? Give them support. Is someone prospering? Celebrate with them. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
Paul did not scold the Thessalonian Christians. He knew they were already encouraging and building each other up. In my almost 3 months with you, I have seen a lot of upbuilding encouragement among you. Keep it up!