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….He who had received the one talent came forward, saying “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?...” (Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)
A common reading of this parable is that God, like the Elf on the Shelf, is keeping track of your good works and will settle scores with you one day. This reading may be gussied up a bit, and might say that God gives different gifts in His grace, and so not everyone is working under the same set of expectations, but the expectations are there anyway, so do the best with what you’ve got.”
I don’t think this is what the Parable of the Talents is after. First of all, God the Landowner gives different amounts of money to each servant—five talents, two talents, and one talent—and this is not to favor one servant over another, but to demonstrate that he isn’t interested in the numbers game. Like the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), God demonstrates His kingdom by sowing seed everywhere, wildly, without concern to production. When God the Landowner returns, those who have traded and added to their talents receive precisely the same welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant…” Even though one servant brings back a much heavier dividend, he gets no better acceptance than the one who brought back less than half of his. There is no staggered rewards system here—it seems more important to the Landowner that the servants play the game than bring back a surplus.
If this is the case, then what about Mr. One Talent? Why was he punished? The Landowner is not so much angry that he hasn’t come back with “growth,” but much more upset that Mr. One Talent is all wrong about who the Landowner actually is, namely, a risk-taker and a free-bird. Had Mr. One Talent believed this—and not that the Landowner was a conniving scrooge—he would have felt free to play with his Boss’ money and take some risks, too. This belief in God the Landowner as a penny-pinching bookkeeper makes more penny-pinching bookkeepers, who wrap up their gifts in little decorative napkins and bury them below the ground. Maybe you know some of them.
It’s interesting that, in this story, those who believe God is gracious and risky take the risks themselves—and both servants come back with double. Maybe that means that, of its own, the Gospel message is self-rejuvenating. So long as it isn’t hidden, it does all the work on its own.
Also, could this be what Martin Luther means by “Sin boldly,” that the freedom of God’s Gospel makes us wild, or turns us into hip-shooting gamblers, rather than prudent lawyers? Could it be that God here is reminding us, in faith, to dirty up the pant legs and take some risks?
As God’s child, you don’t sit and wait for hope. No, grace makes it possible for you to get up and live in hope.
Gospel hope is a mouthful. It includes so many wonderful provisions that it’s hard to get it all in one bite. Yes, biblical hope gives you a lot of spiritual nutrients to chew on. Yet many believers seem to live hope-deprived lives. Perhaps one of the dirty secrets of the church is how much we do out of fear and not faith. We permit ourselves to feel small, unable, alone, unprepared, and bereft of resources. We tell ourselves that what we’re facing is too big and requires too much of us. We stand at the bottom of mountains of trouble and give up before we’ve taken the first step of the climb. We wait for hope to come in some noticeable, seeable way, but it never seems to arrive. We pray, but it doesn’t seem to do any good. We want to believe that God is there and that he really does care, but it seems that we’ve been left to ourselves. With each passing day, it seems harder to have hope for our marriages, for our children, for our churches, for our friendships, or just for the ability to survive all the trouble with our faith and sanity intact. We wonder, “Where is hope to be found?”
What we fail to understand is that we don’t have a hope problem; we have a sight problem. Hope has come. “What?” you say. “Where?” Hope is a person, and his name is Jesus. He came to earth to face what you face and to defeat what defeats you so that you would have hope. Your salvation means that you are now in a personal relationship with the One who is hope. You have hope because he exists and is your Savior. You don’t have a hope problem; you have been hope that is both real and constant. The issue is whether you see it. Paul captures the problem this way in Ephesians 1:18-19: “…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”
Paul prays that we will have a well-working spiritual vision system so that we will “see” the hope that we have been given in Christ. What is this hope? It is a rich inheritance. Jesus died and left us a rich inheritance of grace to be invested in facing the troubles of the here and now. It is great power that is ours in the moments when we are so weak. Hope came, and he brought with him riches and power that he gave to you. You see, you don’t really have a hope problem; you have a vision problem and for there’s enlightening grace.
How many times have you been in a conflict where just the right buttons get pushed and you react? The right words trigger anger, fear, or pride, and you go after the other person in an attempt to regain a sense of power in the relationship. But engaging in a power struggle is not love. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we’re being fair and loving by acknowledging the speck in our own eye before yanking the log out of someone else’s, but that’s not what the Bible teaches. It reaches us to humble ourselves by dealing with our own sin first. If you admit that you constantly need grace from a gracious Lord, he’ll help you. You’ll be in partnership with him and begin thinking differently about your whole way of handling problems with other people. You won’t feel so easily defeated, because you’ll see those times as opportunities to grow, mature, repent, and change. You can do this because you are confident of your Savior and his love for you. In humility is great power to change you and the nature of your relationships.