53. Talents

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 53.  The Talents 

Mt 25:14-15   Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

We come to what I have to confess is my favourite parable, for a slightly strange reason that I will share later. Notice the start word: “Again”. Jesus is continuing on picturing what it will be like at the End and I suppose it can be summarised as “An Accounting”. The thrust is in the punch lines at the end but to get there we have to go through what is a fairly lengthy but simple story.

Remember the context of pointing towards the end time: Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.” (v.14) That is the background scenario, in Part 1 of this parable, a property looked after by servants while the ‘master’ is away. In a sense Jesus is ‘away’ at the present time, as he reigns from heaven, seated at his Father’s right hand. He is ‘away’ and will come back at some point in the future; that is to be remembered at the heart of this parable.

However, before he goes the master entrusts each servant with a number of “talents of money”.  A talent would be the equivalent, I am told, of quite a lot of money. This is a rich master giving out generously. To one he gives five, to another two and to another just one, “each according to their ability” and then he went on his journey (v.15) The parable is about how each one used what they had and then the Master’s response when he returned.  The one who had five made five more, the one with two made two more but the one with just the one, “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (16-18).

Now Part 2 of the parable is of The End: After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.” (v.19) Each servant comes before the Master and accounts for what they have done with his money. (v.20) He praises the first one, “His master replied, `Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (v.21) A fulsome praise. The same response is given to the second man. (v.22,23)

Now the response of the third man is the thing that highlights this parable because I believe it portrays the response of so many Christians and needs addressing in these days. Indeed it may be one of the most significant things that limits the church today. So see his response: “Then the man who had received the one talent came. `Master,’ he said, `I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’” (v.24,25)

I will come back here in a moment, but notice the Master’s response. First of all the rebuke: “His master replied, `You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” (v.26,27) IF, and it is an ‘if’, IF the servant believed what he said, then logically he ought to have done something with the money more than he did. Whether we respond to His love and generosity or we respond out of fear of the accounting, we NEED to be Doers, responders.

Second, observe the severity of his response: “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (v.28-30) Note two actions and sandwiched between, a two-sided principle.

First action: According to this parable what has been entrusted to each of us in life, will be taken away at the End if we don’t use it wisely, i.e. living with a focus on the Father (v.28). Second action: the removal of that life will mean being cast away from God.  The Principles: 1. When you come to God He will give you His blessings and as you use that, He will give you more.  2. If you don’t come to Him you will have nothing and even that will be taken from you!

Now I need to clarify something. Earlier I said the last man often epitomized what appears to be the response of so many Christians today. Now this man in this parable ends up being cast away from God. Does that mean hell? No, I believe that means into a place of severe disciplining. I don’t believe people will lose their salvation because of their attitude that God is a ‘hard man’ but they will be disciplined, and that in this lifetime.

So what does having an attitude that God is a ‘hard man’ mean?  First of all, it is an attitude about God. Some people get locked up by the thought that God is a God of severe judgment who is to be feared but as one person on the Internet has noted, “Only about 60 verses in total in the Gospels might be construed as either directly or indirectly referring to hell” (1.58%) whereas “192 verses have Jesus referring to heaven, eternal life, or his coming kingdom” (5%). i.e. hardly any of the Gospels are taken up with the thought of what happens to sinners after death and at the End. The Gospels are Good News! It was good news for those who encountered Jesus and it is good news as far as far as our ultimate eternal life will be concerned.

I have previously recommended learning three sets of verses from Ezekiel in this respect and I do so again. They are: Ezek 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” and Ezek 18:31,32 “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” and Ezek 33:11 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”  Our God is a God of grace and mercy!

But second, this attitude manifests itself in unbelief seen in passive Christianity that prefers to sit in the pews rather than risk stepping out in faith and maybe getting it wrong, and the ‘hard man’ mentality fears being slapped by this harsh holy God who cannot tolerate imperfection. Look again at Jesus meeting with the sinners! God loves His children stepping out in faith (and sometimes getting it not quite right!!!). He is NOT a hard man and He loves all of us, when we get it right and when we don’t. Aim to get it right, but risk His love!

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8. On a Journey

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 8. On a Journey

Gen 12:4,5  So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

The thing about meditating on Scripture is that it allows you to think beyond the surface of what is there.  So we have this aged man and his wife and nephew (who tags along!) setting out from Haran, leaving his father and his entourage to go to a place that has not yet been made clear. Somehow, we assume, he has been told back in Ur that Canaan was their destination (11:31) and so now they arrive there. It has been a long journey and an interrupted journey, having stopped off at Haran. Now that stop at Haran must have been frustrating for Abram because the indication is that God had spoken to him, he must have shared it with his father, and then his father had taken the family on the journey to Canaan but then got distracted along the way.

The main thing about a journey is that it involves time and effort. For Abram to get to Canaan meant travelling for some considerable period of time, presumably by camel. (they are a well-off family 12:5). The future blessing was clearly linked to Canaan and therefore the sooner they got there the better. What would happen once they got there, only the Lord knew. A journey is a means to an end. There is a sense whereby we are on a journey and the end is heaven. While we are here on this earth, we are not at our final destination, therefore we are journeying towards our final destination.

Another thing about a journey is that things happen along the way. As we’ve noted already, for this family, along the way, they stopped off and a significant part of the family separated off.  Now Abram had been told to leave his father’s household behind and that might have concerned him when the whole family (except Nahor) had come with him. Leaving his father behind now might, therefore, have been a relief. He was now being obedient to the original call – except Lot insisted on coming along and Abram was not sufficiently strong in his understanding to insist he went alone. Yes, along the journey things change, slowly but slowly it seems sometimes, our lives come into line with the will of God. It is only after it has happened sometimes that we realize we had not been in line before.

But actually this is what working out this new relationship with the Lord is all about. We don’t realize it when we first become a Christian; we think we have arrived, but actually it is just the start of a journey of change. We didn’t realize it back then but even though we had been born again there were still some pretty big changes to be brought about in us, the biggest being learning to trust the Lord in the walk ahead. That’s it, isn’t it – we have a way ahead of us and because we’ve never walked that path before, it is unknown. Furthermore, because it is unknown things will happen that we can’t foresee and it is quite likely there will be things we cannot handle on our own and thus we will deepen our knowledge of the Lord and learn to rely upon Him more. Is a mark of growing or developing maturity, how long it takes us to call on the Lord when we face difficulties – the more we mature the shorter the time!

But the story of Abram thus far, reminds us or nudges us to think that this journey can get interrupted and we can get distracted and yet I am sure that no experience is a wasted experience. We can learn from everything that happens, even when we get it wrong. The apostle Paul spoke of it more as a race and the Galatians obviously were getting sidetracked over the subject of circumcision so he eventually says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” (Gal 5:6,7). Yes, perhaps if we are being real, we might acknowledge that life is made up of a number of distractions along the way, distractions that seek to lead us from the truth, and distractions that seek to keep us from being obedient.

Eventually Paul was able to say, “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). Yes, he was putting all aside as he remembered what his calling was – heaven!  He was going to get there and he wasn’t going to let anything distract him or turn him away. We, likewise, have the same calling. It is to walk the walk with Christ while we are on this earth, and remain faithful at all times. It is a journey and we may get distracted, but once we realize that, let’s get back on the faith track, working out our relationship with the Lord. Let’s press on in faithfulness and godliness. Amen?