Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost (A)
Nov. 16, 2008
Text: Matt. 25:14-30

Beloved in the Lord, this morning’s Gospel lesson ought to lead us to examine ourselves, for once again, as was true last week with the parable of the ten virgins, there are no obvious, crass unbelievers in our text this morning. In the parable of the talents, the Master clearly represents Jesus who, upon His ascension into heaven, has entrusted the work of His kingdom to His servants, His Church, His Christians, until the Day He visibly returns. The three servants in the text represent Christians to whom our Lord has entrusted certain gifts to be used for His glory. A talent was a great sum of money in the ancient world, by some estimates about 15 years worth of wages for a common laborer. So all three servants are given vast sums of money. Even the servant who is only entrusted with one talent has a great amount over which he is responsible. And the Master entrusts these three servants with different amounts according to their ability, to the first five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. The Master knows His servants and He knows their capabilities. He knows just the right amount for each one, not so much that the servant will be overwhelmed, and not so little that the servant will not be utilized to his full potential. But one thing each of these three servants have in common: They are to be faithful to their master with what they have been given. It isn’t the amount of the gift that is important, it is rather whether the servant is faithful with that gift.

So it is that the Master leaves on a long journey. He does not say when he will return, but one thing the servants know for certain, He will return and expect a full accounting of His gifts. The servant with five talents wastes no time. He goes out immediately and puts the Master’s talents to work. He trades with them, and makes five talents more. His investment yields 100% return. So also he who has two talents puts those talents to work for the Master, making two talents more. Again, his investment yields 100% return. These two servants take their responsibility to the Master seriously. They know He will come back and demand an accounting of their use of His gifts. They are faithful with what He has given them. They understand that the gifts entrusted to them are not theirs to squander. They belong to the Master, who has graciously bestowed them on His servants. They use the Master’s talents in the way He intends, for His purpose, for His glory. These two faithful servants bear much fruit.

But the servant with only one talent believes the Master to be a hard man. He has no love for the Master. He has served Him outwardly these many years, enough that the Master entrusted Him with a talent, a great sum of money, remember. But he does not serve his Master from his heart. And this shows in his treatment of the talent. He does not put it to work for the Master. He does not even deposit the talent in the bank so it can draw interest. Instead, he buries it in the ground, so that when the Master returns, he can give back exactly what he was entrusted with, nothing more, and nothing less.

After a long time, the Master comes back to settle accounts with His servants. The two faithful servants greet Him with joy. For them, the Master’s return is reason for great rejoicing. For the one with five talents is able to produce for his Master five talents more. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” says the Master. “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21; ESV). He is made a partner in his Master’s business. So also, the one with two talents is able to produce for his Master two more talents. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” says the Master. “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (v. 23). He, too, is made a partner in his Master’s business. But then the servant with one talent slinks forward. The Master’s return is not cause for rejoicing for this servant, for he is able to produce for his Master one, and only one talent, the talent with which the Master had entrusted him. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (vv. 24-25). It is as if this unfaithful servant said, “Because I do not love you, but only work for you to fill my belly and keep warm, I have done the very least, the bare minimum required. I just want to squeak past your wrath. I don’t need to be a super-servant like these other two. Here is what you gave me. I kept it safe for you, just as you commanded.”

Now the Master is incensed! “You wicked and slothful servant! What do you mean I am a hard man? What on earth would give you such a notion? I graciously entrusted you with a talent, 15 years worth of wages, and I gave you full license to invest it in any way you saw fit! If you really believed I was such a hard man, you should have at least taken it to the bank to draw interest. That would have required virtually no effort on your part. But since you have proven your lack of faith and love for your Master, I am going to take your talent and give it to the one who has ten. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. If you are unfaithful with what I have given you, don’t think that you will be allowed to keep it.” So the Master turns to another servant and says, “You there, take this worthless servant and cast him into the outer darkness. The time of mercy has ended. Throw him out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

Now don’t misunderstand the parable, dear brothers and sisters. Under no circumstances are we saved because of our faithful use of God’s gifts. There is a deeper difference between the faithful servants and the unfaithful servant in the parable. The faithful servants want the best for their Master’s fortune. They want to bring Him glory. They want to do well with what He has entrusted to them. And this desire, this love for their Master, can only be the result of faith. But the unfaithful servant, by definition, has no faith. Though he goes through the motions of servanthood, he does not love his Master. He does not trust his Master. He believes his Master to be a hard man. And the point is this: Faith will always be active in using the gifts of God for His glory. Unbelief will always be concerned only with self-preservation. Outwardly all three servants look the same. But inwardly, in the heart, two of the servants fear, love, and trust their Master, but one only fears His wrath.

As I said, this parable should lead us to examine ourselves, to look deep down in our hearts, and to repent. We are all here in church this morning. We all look like faithful servants outwardly. There is no question about that. And God has bestowed on us all manner of gifts, different gifts to each one, different spiritual gifts, different temporal gifts, different abilities, different vocations, and all these gifts in different quantities. But all have been given gifts, and all have been charged to use them faithfully for the glory of God and for the expansion of His kingdom. It behooves us, then, to pause and examine ourselves. Are we being faithful? Where do we need to repent? Do father and mother faithfully bring their children to church to hear the Word of life? Does the child faithfully honor his father and mother? Do husband and wife faithfully love and serve their spouse? Does the employer faithfully compensate his employees, and does the employee faithfully serve his employer? Does the Christian faithfully hear the Word of God and keep it, and does he faithfully support his church and his pastor? And is all of this done in faith? Or are we just going through the motions? Are we trying to squeak by performing the bare minimum of God’s Law, to avoid His wrath and enjoy the honor of our fellow servants? Because that is not Christianity. That is a religion of legalism, not of grace. But if you know how your Master loves you… If you know that He humbled Himself to become one with your flesh, to become a Man for us men and for our salvation, if you know that He died for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins, that He conquered death for you in His resurrection, if you know that He even now sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for you, prays for you, sustains you with His Word and Spirit, feeds you with His Supper, gives you His gifts… if you know this love of the Master, and trust that all these things are for you, you will undoubtedly love Him, repent of your unfaithfulness, and seek to use the gifts He has given you for His glory, and to bring other servants into His kingdom.

But know this: You are saved by His faithfulness, not your own. Jesus never squandered any of the gifts of God. He used them all for your benefit, for the salvation of His servants. He took all your unfaithfulness upon Himself on the cross. He pours out all His faithfulness upon you, credits it to your account, in the Word and in the Sacraments. So now you are free, free to serve Him faithfully, free to use the gifts He has given you without a care for self-preservation, for He has already saved you and preserved you. You are free to use His gifts in the way He has prescribed in His Word, trusting that because the gift is from Him, the investment will yield 100% return, and that the Master will be pleased with you when He comes again. He will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). But you can rejoice on that Day. For on that Day He will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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