Meditation on Matthew 25:14-30
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
About 18 years ago, I was working as a religion reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. I visited a tiny, country church that was in danger. The denomination wanted the church to close because it was so small—fewer than 20 people on Sunday mornings. It was hard for them to afford to keep up their building, pay their utility bills, and pay a pastor—even a part-time pastor—anymore.
I went to the church thinking I was going to write one kind of story–about change and loss, another congregation aging, greying, and dwindling. But that’s not the story I wrote.
As we talked, I looked over at a wall of wrapped shoeboxes—maybe 100 of them. Maybe more. They told me they were for Operation Christmas Child, the “shoebox outreach” of Samaritan’s Purse. The national collection week begins tomorrow. Inside each box, the tiny congregation had lovingly packed school supplies, toys, and other gifts to help needy children around the world. What’s more, they put money in every box to pay for the shipping!
They told me that this was the main outreach ministry of their church, the one they were passionate about. They didn’t have any children in their church. Not anymore. And they wanted to bless children everywhere.
It was a story of hope, faith, and generosity! They wanted to live out the gospel by loving, giving and serving people in need.
Without worry for their own future, they were investing in the Kingdom of God.
Living out the gospel and growing the Kingdom is what our lesson in Matthew 25 is about. But it’s a difficult passage for us, living in our time and place. We don’t easily connect with the language and context of slavery. Many of us just want to skip right over this passage, especially the part about the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We would much rather study the parables that come before and after. The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, who didn’t have extra oil for their lamps and weren’t ready for the return of the Bridegroom, immediately precedes this one. The parable about the judgment of the nations, when the king will separate the faithful sheep from the unfaithful goats, immediately follows.
“And the king says, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt 25:34-36). And the righteous ask the king, when did we give you food and drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger? When did we give you clothing, take care of you when you were sick, and visit you in prison? The king says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40)
The Parable of the Talents, unlike the other parables before and after, uses the language of money and investments when teaching about the Kingdom. The word talent doesn’t mean what it does today. It means a sum of money; actually, a large sum! It was equal to 6,000 drachmas or denarii, the Greek and Roman silver coins. The first slave who was given 5 talents “was a multimillionaire by today’s standards. Some calculate the talent … to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker.” (“How heavy was a talent in the Bible?” at learnreligions.com). The slaves who received 1 and 2 talents, though considerably less than 5, still received large sums of money.
Although abhorrent to us, slavery is common in the ancient world. The disciples would understand exactly what Jesus means with this example. They know about lazy slaves who disobey their masters and are punished, and though this language is upsetting to us, it is normal and acceptable to them. That the slave in this passage fails to do what the master has asked and is called “worthless,” wouldn’t shock Jesus’ first audience! This doesn’t mean, friends, that God sees any human being as worthless or that God approves of slavery. This is just a story to reach the disciples right where they are and teach them and us how to prepare for the return of our Redeemer and for life in the Kingdom of God.
Looking at some of the key points, we find that this teaching is still relevant and meaningful today. First, the master gives to all but doesn’t give each the same amount. They are given according to their “ability.” The master’s expectations, then, are different for each one because the slaves are different. God has a unique plan for each of us; we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others!
Second, the master doesn’t give the slaves the talents to keep. The talents still belong to the master, just as the slaves always belong to their master. The slaves are charged with being good stewards of the wealth they have been given, just as we are charged with being faithful stewards. The expectation is that the wealth will be grown, without the master telling them how. The slaves know what to do. It’s a question of obedience.
Third, the one who is given the least is the one who hoards, burying the 1 talent in the ground. He is motivated by…. what? Fear! And it’s an irrational fear, for he misjudges the character of his master.
Are there people who misjudge the character of God today? Yes. There are people who don’t know the loving, merciful and gracious nature of the Lord because they don’t know the Lord. They aren’t in relationship with Him.
Finally, importantly, what is the reward for the faithful—who put their investment back into the Kingdom, for their master’s sake? High praise, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave!” and an invitation to enter the master’s joy—eternal life with our Lord.
Like the slaves, we have been given a treasure to invest and grow the Kingdom. We each have a calling in this world to follow in Christ’s compassionate ways. We do this as the Spirit leads us, giving of ourselves and our resources so that the world may be blessed through us.
Friends, there aren’t eternal rewards if we bury our treasure in the ground or when we hoard what belongs to God! Don’t let irrational fear hold you back from giving of yourselves and your resources!
Be like the little church in York County, PA, almost two decades ago. I don’t remember the church’s name, so I can’t find out if they are still open or if they did finally close the building. No matter what, the Church is still very much alive. They didn’t worry about their future. They knew to whom they belonged! They embraced the ministry God gave them in the present. They were happy and hopeful.
Like the little church in Pennsylvania, our Presbyterian Women have participated in Operation Christmas Child for many years. Usually, a large group of children and adults gather to pack shoeboxes with gifts for needy children around the world. This year, it isn’t safe for a large group to gather. We almost canceled, but then found a way to scale back the project so that we could still participate. After worship today, 6 adults and youth will gather to pack the boxes, wearing masks and social distancing.
This is just one way that our congregation is being faithful to invest in the Kingdom of God. There are many other ways, too. There will be more opportunities to give and serve in the future that we won’t want to miss!
Let us embrace the ministry God has given us to do today.
Let’s be ready for when Jesus comes again! Remember to whom you belong!
We want to hear his praise of “Well done,” and enter into his joy!
What has God called YOU to do with the treasure that is the gospel, the good news of the gift of eternal life?
How are you investing in the Kingdom of God?
Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for the example of your Son, who gave all of himself so that we might be forgiven and saved from our sins, set free to live new lives with Him. Help us to follow in his self-giving example and help to grow your Kingdom. Lead us to be ready, to live each day as if this is the day when your Son will return for His Church! We long to see your face and hear your praise for the good works you have ordained for us and will help us to do. We long to enter into your joy and to experience your peace. Thank you for your patience and kindness, providing for us above and beyond our needs. Cure us of our irrational fears and teach us to trust and be faithful to serve and help our neighbors. Empower us to make investments that matter for all eternity. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.