Wise and Foolish Waiting
We have been reading some of Jesus’ parables in the gospel of Matthew to receive instruction for faithful living: We are to be a beacon of light to a dark world, like a light beckoning to a weary traveller that there is food and lodging available. We are to wisely build a strong foundation with justice and righteousness mixed with the fruits of the Spirit. In today’s parable we are to be wise and creative stewards, and wise stewardship is something we actively seek here at Metro.
In today’s parable the disciples gather around Jesus, and ask privately (Matt 24:3): “What will be the sign of your coming again and the sign of the end of the age?” In response to this question Jesus replies (paraphrased): there will be chaos, lying, greed, corruption even the natural world will change, and impostors will try to trick you, pretending to be me; be wary, be ready, for no one knows the day or the hour. The Parable of the Talents is the third parable of Matthew’s series of wise and foolish behaviour as an allegory to waiting for the end of the age and the second coming of Jesus.
Read Matthew 25:14-30
To decipher the parable, we perceive the allegory of Jesus as the Master who is soon to go away, the giver of good gifts to his bondservants (or slave in some versions), and the one who will return ‘after a long while’. The servants, who represent followers of Jesus, are given talents according to their abilities, and the final judgement is represented by the reward/ punishment administered by the Master on his return. Being wise or foolish hinges on the relationship between the master and the slave.
Let’s look first to the Master. Verses 14&15 are brimming with characteristics of the master. The master is wealthy, has great trust in his servants, and knows the ability of each servant. The wealth of the master is revealed in the fact that he had servants, but also in the amount of property his lavishly generosity entrusted to each one. A bond servant is a person who is bound to service to another without pay. In biblical times a man in financial desperation would be forced to bind either themselves or family member a slave to a master for a period of time until payment was complete. At the end of the agreed time period, a slave could choose to become part of the master’s household by piercing his ear to the doorframe. Why would a slave do this? In response to the master who was caring, compassionate and protective. The servant would then continue to be under the full responsibility of the household.
It is surprising the extent of trust the master had in his servants. In this parable a talent was a unit of money representing 20 years average wages for a labourer. The first servant was entrusted with more than a lifetime worth of property. The second forty years, the third twenty. More resources than they could ever have dreamed. The servant who received much, multiplied it by much, and was received into the ‘Joy of the master’. The servant who received less, also multiplied the resources and was received into the ‘Joy of the master’. However, it is the third servant who buried the vast resources with whom the narrative deviates on another course. The third slave’s ability is known by the Master. The one talent, comparatively less than his co-workers, represents vast riches enough to by freedom. Paralysed by fear, the third slave buries the riches of the kingdom until the return of the Master. On the master’s return, he can only produce the talent with no multiplication. The parable describes in vivid detail that the third slave represents the foolish version of Jesus’ followers.
The disciples ask Jesus “What will be the sign of your coming again and the sign of the end of the age?”. It will be like a man going on a journey who entrusted the vast riches of his kingdom to the servants, each to their own ability. The portion of the kingdom entrusted will thrive or fail dependant on the actions of the servants. The relationship of trust is returned by two of the servants, but not of the last. It is in the confidence of this relationship that followers are able to work creatively with the talents.
If we place ourselves into this parable, we become one of the servants, or slaves. When Jesus comes back in Glory, faithful disciples will be like the slaves who have pierced their ears to the Masters doorframe, claiming the sanctity of the Masters household. There is no amount of time or money that can repay our debt. This is in the realisation that the wages of sin is death, and that Jesus paid with his life for each one of us. Our covenantal relationship is to willingly submit ourselves to Jesus. A broken relationship is responsible for the third slave’s foolishly distorted view of the master, believing the master to be harsh and demanding.
The question we ask ourselves is: ‘What is our relationship with Jesus?’ Is it healthy? Or distorted? Do we spend time with Him? Do we listen in prayer as well as speak? Do we secretly cherish our devotion, or openly proclaim Him as King? This is the critical departing point between being wise and foolish, a path which leads to an unhappy ending, to speak mildly.
We also ask ourselves the question: ‘What are the riches that the stewards have been tasked with stewarding? That the master’s wealth is purely of monetary value is inconsistent with the gospel. I suggest that the lavish riches of the kingdom is something else of immeasurable wealth beyond calculation. It is not gold or silver. Can the riches of the kingdom in this parable represent the Gospel of salvation? That our personal knowledge and experience of Jesus, who wants to save lives, heal the sick, set the prisoners free, Is the riches of immeasurable value?
Don’t get me wrong. I look forward to each member of Metro sharing their abilities for the communal good. But the true riches is found in the gospel of salvation and our expression of that relationship. Do we bury our riches, or multiply them? Do we proclaim the gospel of truth as the most valuable possession we have? Or do we hide our relationship with Jesus in the darkness? We have been entrusted with riches of immeasurable value. How will we wait for the return of the Saviour? With confidence? Or with distrust? Matthew’s closing words in his gospel sums up this parable: Go and make disciples of all nations, by following this command we multiply the riches exponentially, more than 100-fold. May our wise stewardship of the riches of the kingdom of God be our witness. Amen, and amen