Bold fruit and fearless action
Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Today’s Gospel story is known as the parable of the talents, and it features a master, three of his slaves, and time. It appears in the Gospel of Matthew in that section where Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end-times, and how when Jesus The Son of Man comes back at the end of time to judge the living and the dead there will be an accounting.
The trick is that nobody knows when this end of time will be, so everyone needs to keep awake, to be alert, to be ready. And that doesn’t mean sitting on the couch pounding Red Bulls.
It means going out and living the life you want Jesus to find you living when he returns. Those who have borne fruit during this time, as Jesus often stresses, will enter into joy, but those who have not borne fruit will end up in the trash pile. In Matthew that is the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It’s not a happy prospect.
So to recap the story: there’s this guy and he obviously is pretty wealthy and he’s going on a long journey so he calls together his slaves, people who are beholden to him, people who owe their lives to him, and entrusts them with his wealth while he is gone.
They don’t all get the same, but they all have the same responsibility - to take care of the talents that have been entrusted to them. A talent is a unit of money - a large unit, worth about sixteen years of wages for a laborer. We now use “talents” in a different way, but the talents in the story are vast sums of cash.
It appears that a couple of the guys the master gives this wealth to are astute investors. They go out in the world trading and investing and doing something with all that money. They in fact double the money. And when the master returns, he is pleased with this result. And they are amply rewarded for their excellent financial acumen and ability, although we don’t exactly know how. But everybody is happy. They enter into joy.
The third guy, though …. This guy is afraid. And his fear has kept him from doing anything with his talent. He just buries it and hopes it will still be there when the master returns. Things don’t turn out so well for him. He admits his fear, but he doesn’t get any sympathy, and in the end he loses what he had altogether.
So it’s a pretty straightforward story illustrating what Jesus wants his disciples to know: God has trusted us with great gifts. We are to bear fruit by taking those gifts into the world and using them to grow more fruit. Lots more fruit. That’s what being a member of the household of God is about.
At this time of year when it’s stewardship season and this parable shows up in the lectionary, preachers usually talk about talents in a larger sense than just money. We talk about giving to the church and we use the terms “time, talent, and treasure.” We have had our in-gathering of pledges for 2021 and twenty-eight of you have offered your time, talent, and treasure to St. Michael’s. We thank you for that. It is true that any parish needs all of these to carry on the work that God has given it to do.
But what has been rolling around in my head this week is not time nor treasure nor talent, neither wealth nor “gifts” like being good at playing the piano or gardening or reading Excel spreadsheets (although if any of you are good at spreadsheets, we would like to know - it seems to be a singular talent).
No, what I’ve been thinking about while reading this parable is fear.
The third slave was afraid. He was afraid to do anything but sit on the fabulous gift he had been given. He was not willing to take that gift and multiply it, not willing to take that gift into the world to use, to trade with, to invest - he just sat on it. And in the end he lost it. Because he was just too afraid.
Fear paralyzes us. It stunts our growth. It keeps us from being who we truly are. In the Bible Jesus and God and the angels are always saying, fear not, do not be afraid, and for this very reason: we cannot be who we are called to be if we live in fear. We will not bear fruit by just saving the seeds. We are called to go out there and fearlessly do something big.
For many of us, it just feels too risky to be fearless, though. Too risky to rely on God to see us through, to believe that God will bring life out of death. And the world has convinced us that being fearless is the same as being reckless. Which is not usually a positive word.
But of course God is reckless. The master was reckless in giving all that wealth to a bunch of slaves. Jesus was reckless in making so many gallons of wine at Cana. The reckless sower flings seeds all over the place. We see it in our stories again and again, that God’s generosity overflows and that’s not about our deserving but about God’s goodness, that there is always enough and there will always be enough.
This community has been called by God in the past and is being called again by God to follow Jesus in a new direction in the future. I don’t know what that will look like, but I do know that we cannot get there if we live in fear, if our decisions are made out of fear, if we are too afraid to go where God is calling because that place is an unknown place.
But we are always called to bear witness in the world to God’s generosity. Let us not be afraid to do that now, to take our talent to be bold with it, and make it into even more, instead of fearing that it will become less.