The Risk of Not Risking
Nov 19, 2023
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Many of us are acquainted with this parable of Jesus. It’s the one which causes us to sympathize with the third servant, the one who prudently hid the money given to him by his Master and was able to return it all, having not lost any of it. And, it is for this that he was severely chastised. How fair is that??
Fairness, it seems, is not the topic to be considered. With that in mind, let’s review a few details from the parable.
First, the setting (or context): in this portion of scripture, Jesus was approaching his final days; he was instructing his disciples concerning enduring difficult times and the certainty that one day he, Jesus, would return. Then, Jesus told them how they were to live as they waited. That’s the purpose of the parable, in which he hinted that it would be a risky business.
And, so, he told of a wealthy man who is going on a journey and entrusts his servants with enormous sums of money, according to their abilities. Scholars estimate that one talent was worth about 20 years’ wages. So, to the first slave the man gives control of about 100 years of wages. The second slave gets the equivalent of 40 years of wages, and the last slave about a year’s worth.
As one commentator noted, these are vast sums of money, and with them comes vast responsibility and authority, noting the translation that says he “handed over” his money to them. That implies that they are supposed to do something with it, perhaps what the master would have done had he been there.
Put in 21st century terms, quoting Pastor Phillip W. Martin, here is how they responded: “We learn that the one who was given one hundred years’ wages uses it to develop a cool new technology that enables people to carry around little computerized phone cameras in their pockets. Pretty soon, everyone in the world buys one and uses them to share photos of what they’re eating and get into political arguments with each other. He doubles the money that was given to him.
“The second servant decides to go the food route and uses the 40 years of wages given to him to start a company of really fancy stores that will just serve coffee. And, he imagines people will be will to spend over two dollars for one cup of coffee, even if it is in a paper cup. People think he’s silly and that he's throwing his master’s money away; but look who’s laughing now! Can we say $8 for a pumpkin spiced latte! He too doubles his money.” (1) In other words, the parable is about people who took risks, perhaps with new ideas, and were rewarded.
The third servant, however, is nervous. He knows his Master can be exacting and figures no risk is the best risk and buries (protects) the money he has been given.
Finally, after being gone for a long time, the master returns. The first two servants are rewarded for their ingenuity, insight and risk-taking that enlarges the Mater’s kingdom. The Master proclaims, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master.”
But, the third servant is chastised for returning what he had been given. Why? To keep it simple, the problem is that he was securing his own well-being, he has self-preservation in mind, rather than risking for sake of the Master’s kingdom. Even investing the money with the bankers to earn a little interest would have been better than doing nothing. The idea seems to be that if he had taken risks and been unsuccessful, it would have been better than doing nothing at all.
It’s important to note this: the Master had confidence in all three of them, otherwise he would not have trusted them with such large sums of money. Did they realize that? Do we?
Each of us has been given, by God, skills, personality strengths, passions, interests and, yes, even money, that can be used to further God’s kingdom in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. When we commit ourselves to using these gifts, even taking risks to serve and reach out in new ways, our experience expands and so does our effort on behalf of the ministry of Jesus.
Referring to the third servant, listen to what commentator Chelsey Harmon has to say, “Whereas the other servants reaped an expanding treasure, gaining more and more experience of God presence, blessing and care because they were willing to risk the original treasure given to them by doing something, the last servant fools himself that the surety of the life he has now is better than the life that could be, and therefore he tries to keep in the same.” (2)
The key word there is “tries”. When it comes to life, and to ministry, try as we might, the situation in which we find ourselves will not stay the same, and the more we try to keep it that way, the more we lose rather than gain.
In the midst of an every-changing world, God continues to call us to risk and change, that is, to pursue the gifts and opportunities given to us individually and as a congregation. Here at Faith Lutheran Church, we see that happening in the Laundry Ministry, through the Digital Ministry Task Force and the CLI Prayer Initiative, to name just a few of ways we are taking risks to reach out and serve in new ways. Who know what else will be revealed as we, God’s people, respond to God’s trust in us.
It is indeed risky business, but the parable indicates that it’s riskier not to respond, to turn inward and protect ourselves, trying to keep things the same. The message is clear: taking risks, being innovative, trusting the One who trusts us - whether or not the end result is what we hoped or thought it would be - leads to entering into God’s joy, and to this commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” AMEN
“Parable of the Talents” by the Rev. Phillip W. Martin, Jr., November 15, 2020
“Matthew 25:14-30 Commentary”, by Chelsey Harmon, November 19, 2023, www.cepreaching.org