Preacher Ruth Martin
The parable of the talents, you will be pleased to know, isn’t about people benefitting from financial investment, its not about people with material plenty having even more, its not for those of us who have worked or are working in the financial services industry .Neither is it saying that those who have little or nothing will have what little they have taken away and given to the well off. Jesus is telling parables knowing that he will shortly face death, and wanting to encourage his disciples to be fruitful in their faith as they wait for Him to come again –this is one of four Advent parables in Matthew and he is using every day examples to teach and ensure his point is understood. In this case, money.
Now we have probably all seen pictures of lottery winners, their tales of doggedly buying their tickets faithfully each week and then having a massive win which will change their lives for ever. Then we have also seen how some of those big wins change lives for the worse, and the big sums are lost together with good relationships and much else.
The talent in St Matthews Gospel today is not the way we might use the word ourselves, as in talents and skills, but a sum of money that in Jesus day was about 15 years worth of annual income, so 5 talents was rather like a huge lottery win. But of course Jesus was using the huge sums of money as a parable about generosity and faith and what the kingdom of heaven might be like once we can achieve Gods kingdom on earth.
Like the lottery winners, the servants in the parable were suddenly and unexpectedly given vast sums of money; but unlike the lottery winners this was not to spend on themselves, but to invest for their master for the future when their master returns. The master is Jesus and he is encouraging them knowing that it may be a vey long time before he returns. An Advent parable. The money, at such big sums we might call it treasure, is the Gospel of Jesus, where those of us who try doggedly and faithfully to attend to our faith and the way we live it, will be so fruitful that the love of God through Jesus will become known many times more and to many others- we will live the gospel.
Good servants recognise this outpouring of Gods generosity and trust in them and their abilities, symbolised by the money, and seek to serve God fully and lovingly in their lives. The servant who just puts the money in a pit has received the gospel but not heard it well, and not put it into practice in his own life and therefore remains inwardly focussed, afraid. He has not been able to see the God of love and can only see meanness around him.
What this tells us about our own lives can link in with our own usual understanding of the word talents. We all have gifts and those gifts come from God, we all have skills and those opportunities to develop those skills come from the gifts of time, money and other resources made available to us, and as everything is from God we have God to thank for those too. It is for us to use those gifts fruitfully, for Gods work, for a God of love, hope and justice, and not to hide them away like the bad servant in the parable, but to use them –in our home life, working life, in the way we live. It is through our lives, as members of the body of Christ that we can understand the meaning in the waiting for Gods kingdom to come on earth, we have to make it happen. We have to make it happen in what might seem small ways, whenever we can.
Unfortunately the gifts that any of us receive in our lives can so easily be seen as possessions instead of resources for us to steward that is another aspect of the parable, the servants were given vast sums, riches, to steward, not to possess. We need to see ourselves as stewards -of our environment, of our families, of our work colleagues if we manage them. Unfortunately the gifts, once they become possessions, distort and ruin Gods creation in us,
This diocese has a special care and link with the people of Zimbabwe; following the fight for independence, the God given care of this wonderful, fruitful and mineral rich country passed very properly to its indigenous population; but sadly the riches became possessions of the powerful, instead of stewardship of resources for the future; they became the possessions of the few instead of the many. Once again Gods generosity in permitting human beings full control over their lives led to disasters because human beings think first of themselves.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he refers to the early church members as those who walk during the day, in the light. …you are all children of the day, children of the light, let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. This was a radical message to believers who would have heard Jesus crucified and might have hoped for a Messiah to overthrow the Romans by force .But ours is faith of love, hope and justice and deep down each of us knows this. Last week we remembered those who died in war, this week we hope that those in power in Zimbabwe will not use force, next week who knows what the unfolding story will be.
What we can be sure of, is that if we live our lives as good stewards of whatever we are given by God , taking some risks, seeking as Paul says to encourage each other, and build each other up, so we can anticipate the meaning of Advent ,and Christmas beyond it, with hope . If you have seen the latest adverts about the lottery, you will see that the adverts attempt to entice us to play because of what we can do with the money to help those we love the most, an attempt not to play only to our own selfish desires for ourselves. But Gods call to us, to respond to the gospel goes beyond those that we love the most , it is the call to love and respect all creation, to reach out to those we hardly know if at all, and to show what it means to have faith though our own difficulties.
I want to finish with an example of how dogged faith and the little things can have a big impact on our communities to which we seek to bring light to .If you have seen the Richmond and Twickenham Times this week you will have seen the story about the restaurant in Kew Road where the owner was threatened with losing his licence as unwittingly he had employed an illegal immigrant, who had in fact been there before the current owners, and 19 years of National Insurance etc. The owner was going to lose his licence, accused of ‘crime and disorder’ for this. Now Alyson Barr who many of you will know as a server at of St Johns stepped in to try and prevent this injustice; she discovered that the 153 pages of letters from local people opposed to such high handedness were not going to be considered by the local authority unless they specifically addressed the objectives related to the licensing, such as ‘crime and disorder’. Alyson used her faithful, dogged and largely invisible role as the person who writes up the log book for Street Pastors to show that there had not been a single incident recorded at this restaurant since Street Pastors was set up here in Richmond in 2011and Alyson was told her work was influential in the decision to dismiss the case. An example of risky, loving, stewardship of what Alyson has been entrusted with through her practical working out of her faith in our times. I think we can say ‘good faithful servant, well done’.