Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 28)
November 13, 2011
Text: Matt. 25:14-30
Beloved in the Lord, everything you have, everything you are, belongs not to you, but to God. He created you and all things, visible and invisible. He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives you clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, family, and your daily living. You may think you have earned these things by your hard work. Even devoted Christians battle with such thinking in their sinful flesh. But every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, from our gracious God (James 1:17). He richly and daily provides you with all that you need to support your body and life. So you are not yours to do with as you please. It is not your body, your choice. And what you believe belongs to you is not yours to do with as you please, either. It all belongs to God, your Maker and Redeemer. And He does all this, gives all of these things to you, only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. For all this, then, it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
God has made you a manager, a steward, over what He has given you. He expects you to use it, and use it well. And recognize, there will be an accounting of your use on the Last Day. He gives these gifts to you by grace, apart from works. These are your talents, your abilities, your blessings. Many of these things you were born with, others God has given you throughout your life, and God has charged you to foster them, develop them, and use them responsibly, not for selfish gain, but out of love for others and in thanksgiving to God. This is the doctrine of stewardship, and while it includes how you manage your money and contribute to the work of the Church, stewardship concerns so much more. It has to do with everything God has given you: Your very body and life, your relationships, your time, your talents and abilities, how you care for people and the things God has given to you, your prayers for others, the creation you enjoy, your daily vocations. Essentially, Christian stewardship is how you live your life in relationship to your neighbor. A good steward directs his or her resources for the benefit of the neighbor. A bad steward stores up all of his or her resources for him or herself. And, of course, the sinful flesh is always a bad steward, always curved in on itself. Beloved, you and I have a lot of repenting to do. Especially in view of the fact that the Master, our Lord Jesus, is returning soon to demand an accounting. Thus the parable Jesus tells us this morning (Matt. 25:14-30).
Jesus speaks of a man going on a journey who entrusts his property to his servants. To one servant he gives five talents, to another two, and to another one. A talent was a unit of mass in the ancient world used to measure money. The Roman talent was equal to about 71 pounds. The master in the parable is giving out money to his servants. And the money is not for them to do whatever they please with. The money doesn’t belong to them, but to the master. They are to put it to work for the master, to manage it as good stewards. Each servant is given his talents according to his ability. No servant is given more than his ability. No servant is given less than his ability. The master is wise in his distribution. Now the master goes away, and the servants do not know when he will return. As it happens, he is gone a long time, but one day he does return, and he expects to settle accounts with his servants. The one who had five talents had been faithful. He put the talents to work for the master, earning five more talents. And so the master commended him and richly rewarded him: “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” (v. 21; ESV). So also, the servant who had two talents was faithful and had made two more talents. He was likewise commended and rewarded. But the servant who had only one talent was worried for himself. He did not put the master’s money to work, as he had been commanded. He was not concerned to multiply the master’s blessing by investing it. Instead, he hoarded it. He buried it so no one could find it. Why? Because he did not trust the master. He believed the master to be a tyrant. “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). The master’s judgment is swift: “You wicked and slothful servant!” (v. 26). The unfaithful servant is rebuked, the talent is taken away from him and given to the one who has ten, and this worthless servant is cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Notice that the first two servants are not rewarded because of their success, but because of their faithfulness, as the master points out in his commendation. There was always the risk that they would not have been successful, but they were nonetheless faithful, trusting in the master’s wisdom and intentions with his talents, desiring to do the master’s will. The third servant is not condemned for his lack of success, but for his unfaithfulness, for his lack of faith in the master, for his self-interest. And this is very important as we apply the parable to our own situation. God has graciously given us all that we have, without any merit or worthiness in us. He has generously poured out blessing upon blessing for our use and enjoyment. But His blessings don’t belong to us to bury under the ground or hoard up for ourselves. He gives us our blessings to use in love for others. Now this includes money, but again, it isn’t just about money. It is everything we have been given. In fact, we get our English word “talent,” as in gift or ability, from this parable. So we should use our gifts and abilities, our resources, yes, our money, as well as our time and effort, in love, for the sake of our neighbor. Because this is the investment our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, would have us make with what He has given us. And the question with regard to our investment is not one of success, because success or failure is not in our hands to determine, but of whether or not we have the faith in our Lord to do as He commands with what He has given us. If we believe that the Lord is gracious, if we trust Him, if we know that everything we have is from Him, that He has redeemed us for Himself, that He will not leave us or forsake us, that He gives us each day our daily bread, our meat in due season, opening His hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing, if we trust that His blessings will never dry up but that He will always provide for us, then we will be generous toward our neighbor. If, however, we think that the Lord is a hard God who does not love us, who does not care for us, who will not provide for us, whose blessings will dry up, then we will hoard what has been given to us for ourselves. So the question is, do you trust the Lord, or not? Trust, faith, alone makes the difference whether you will be commended and invited to join in the joy of the Master, heaven, or be cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, hell.
This is a Seventh Commandment issue, “You shall not steal.” The Commandment, remember, is more than the prohibition of taking what doesn’t belong to you. There is also the positive command; we should help our neighbor to improve his possessions and income. It is also a Fifth Commandment issue, “You shall not murder.” This Commandment, likewise, is about more than prohibiting the taking of our neighbor’s life. There is also the positive command; we should help and support our neighbor in every physical need. We act as though it would kill us to give even a little bit of our abundance for the sake of our neighbor who needs our help, as if we’d be ruined.
We act as though we don’t have any time to spare for a neighbor who needs a helping hand or a little encouragement. We act as though, if we don’t look out for ourselves, the Lord certainly won’t do it. Beloved, “God helps those who help themselves” isn’t in the Bible. It’s a false teaching. God helps the helpless. God helps you. He has helped you in the past and is helping you now and He will always help you. He is your only help. And He helps your neighbor through you. Repent of burying your talent in the ground, of hoarding it up for yourself, of failing to trust in the grace and generosity and providence of God. The good news is, your Lord Jesus Christ has taken your failure upon Himself, and given you His faithfulness. He has fulfilled the Seventh Commandment and the Fifth Commandment and every other Commandment in your place, and suffered the punishment for your unfaithfulness, your sin, in His innocent suffering and death on the cross. And He is risen, which means your sins are forgiven, and you have eternal life. Because just as He has given you His faithfulness, so He gives you His life. He has invested all, His very self, for your sake, that He may present you to His Father. And because He has done all this in your place, you already know the verdict that He will pronounce over you on Judgment Day: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.”
The Lord Jesus has ascended into heaven. It is very true, to be sure, that He dwells among us in the flesh in His Word and Sacraments, but He is gone from our sight. Just like the master in the parable, however, He has left us with every grace and blessing. We are to manage it. Knowing His faithfulness, knowing His providence, knowing that everything you are and have belongs to Him anyway, and knowing the verdict He will pronounce over you on the Last Day because of His faithfulness, trust Him enough to invest in your neighbor. Give generously. Be a good steward. Crucify the sinful flesh, that wicked and slothful servant who wants to be selfish with everything. Crucify your old Adam. And know that Christ Jesus, into whose death and resurrection you are baptized, has already done everything for your eternal life and salvation. He has redeemed you that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Stolen from the Rev. President Matthew Harrison.