Stepping Out in Faith Leads to Grace Multiplied
Nov 18, 2020
24th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
What if I told you that today’s parable from Matthew 25 is about grace…an abundance of grace…over-flowing grace? You might respond, that is very Lutheran of you, Pastor Jean, but were you paying attention while it was being read? It sure did not sound to us like Servant #3 was the recipient of even a little bit of grace.
After all, what did he do that was so terrible? His master, who evidently was an exacting man, gave him one talent (which is a sum of money). He had the presence of mind to bury it in order to preserve it, knowing that his master’s anger was something to avoid. Instead of being thanked for being prudent, he is called wicked and lazy and threatened with being thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Is that fair? Is that grace?
Well, on the surface, no, which is why we should dig deeper. It is important to realize that this parable is the third in a series of four Jesus tells in Matthew about the end times as he nears Jerusalem; his crucifixion is at hand. Jesus’ in-person time with his followers is short, and he is expressing what he hopes and expects of them after he is gone, while they wait for his coming again.
So, today’s parable is about what it means to be faithful to Jesus even when he is not physically present. Since that is still true, we are included as the recipients of the parable’s message.
Before we go on, we should clarify the word “talent.” In the first century, a talent was the largest unit of currency available. Some scholars guess it would have been worth 15 to 20 years’ worth of salary for a day laborer. So, it is a massive amount of money, especially to the recipients referred to as slaves or servants.
Now … remember … it is a parable. So let’s not waste time debating if it is likely that a wealthy man would hand over a remarkable amount of money for others to tend. The point is, in part, that doing so indicates the master’s love for and confidence in “his” people. So, the question is, how will they respond to such confidence and generosity … such grace?
Or, expanding the message, what if entrusting the money represents God entrusting humanity with grace, which has unprecedented worth? How will Jesus’ followers manage the grace God has given them? How will they live while they wait, especially given the fact that the timing of Jesus’ return is uncertain?
In the parable, two of the servants get it right. They perform according to their potential, and they are faithful stewards, putting what they were given to good use. The master’s response to each is the same: he commends them for being good and faithful, entrusts them with more authority, and invites them to enter his “joy.”
The third one, however, does not fare as well. Instead of stepping out in faith, he protected himself, or so he thought, by burying the talent in the ground. He does not recognize the significance of the gift and was too afraid to take a risk. Commentator Carla Works describes the third slave this way, “ …he attempted to secure his own well-being … so preoccupied with self that he failed to do what he had been called to do by the master. He cared more about protecting his own life than being faithful to what the master had entrusted him to do.” And here is something to give careful consideration. “The problem was that he was not faithful to his assignment, which was based on what the master knew he could do.” (1) Remember, the text says the amount they were given was according to their ability, so the master gave the gift knowing that putting it to good use possible for each servant.
Let’s return to the original context: Jesus is preparing his disciples for the days ahead when their faith will be tested. They have been given the gift of God’s grace, soon to be fully realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Will they, like servants #1 and #2, be faithful, using their abilities to expand and grow God’s grace? Please notice that in the parable, when they step out in faith, the gift doubles. That certainly is what Jesus hopes and expects of them.
Now, let’s turn the parable on ourselves. Do we recognize the magnitude of being entrusted with God’s grace? Do we grasp that playing it safe is not what leads to joy for us … and perhaps for God too?
Presbyterian pastor, Elizabeth Milford, puts it this way: “As people of faith, we are called to take risks, not dig holes. This is one of our greatest callings as those who follow Jesus and live in anticipation of his return. To live into the kingdom of heaven that these parables describe means being ready to present ourselves to God not as maintainers of the bare minimum, but as faithful investors who live fully into the lives (the grace) God gave us.” (2)
Today let’s ask ourselves, how do we – individually and as a congregation – live fully into the grace God has not only given us but also entrusted us to share? That’s an important question, especially now when so much seems “up in the air” and we do not know how (or if) this on-going pandemic is going to have lasting effect on the way we are church in the world.
I will tell you that more than a few pastors, writers, educators are expressing their opinion that the change will be significant as if the pandemic exacerbated a process that was already in motion. That may well be true, and in many ways we, to whom it matters, have no control over that, other than the choices we make for ourselves and our families.
What we do have control over is this: how we use the significant abilities, which God knows we have, to manage the grace with which we have been entrusted. That will happen, I guess, in new and creative ways, probably with changing priorities and focus, which leads to making a positive, Christ-like difference in our lives and world. I do not know what exactly will be involved – I am anxious to hear from more open, technology-aware, visionary minds than my own. I am certain, though, as Pastor Milford mentioned, that it does not involve digging holes. Remember, in the parable, stepping out in faith led to grace being multiplied. So, there is an abundance of grace in this parable and in our lives … how much, though, is up to us. AMEN
(1 ) Commentary on Matthew 25:14-30 by Carla Works, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) “Digging Holes” by the Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford, November 19, 2017, Heritage Presbyterian Church, www.heritagepres.com