By Scott Keith –
Caleb and I were in Bergen, Norway this week at the Lutheran Study Days conference. The conference concluded with the Divine Service conducted by Pastor Jon Magne Sønstabø, who has served DELK’s (the local church) Bergen congregation together with Jan Bygstad.
The Gospel reading this Sunday as read to me by Pastor Sønstabø was The Parable of the Talents from Matthew’s gospel. The story basically goes like this. A rich man goes away and leaves three of his servants in charge of his wealth. He gives the first servant a great sum, the second a lesser sum, and the third an even lesser sum. The first servant invests the money and doubles it, as does the second servant. The third servant, the one who received the least, buries the money to keep it safe. When the master returns, he asks for his money back. The master is pleased to learn that the first two servants invested their money and doubled the sum. The master is angry that the final servant played it safe and tells him he should have at least deposited it in the bank and received some interest. The master then takes the small sum from the third servant and gives it to the first. Now that’s not fair.
This reading has always gotten to me. It often makes me wonder what outsiders must think of Christians when they hear it for the first time. (This is especially true because the parable is so often explained badly with a “works righteousness” tone attached to it.) You may ask why. Well, the message of the parable is so counterintuitive. I mean, think about it. The man who “plays it safe” is punished for protecting his master’s valuable goods. He is ridiculed, his possessions taken, and is imprisoned. All because he seemingly did the right thing. To make matter worse, those that gambled with the master’s fortune are rewarded. Are they rewarded because their gamble paid off or simply for the sake of the gambling? We are left to wonder.
But then again, I wonder why this story from the mouth of Christ always surprises me. In this parable, He simply does what He always seems to do: turn the natural logic of this world on its head. This is especially true when He refers to the Gospel and how we are saved.
So, what is going on in this parable? Well, it seems like the money or “talents” giving to the Gospel is akin to the gifts of God on account of Christ, or more simply put, the Gospel of Christ. Two servants saw it as their job to spread the Gospel wildly and carelessly. They spread it around like crazy hoping upon hope that some might come to belief. And perhaps to their surprise, they doubled what they had received. When they shared the gifts, the gifts were returned to them twofold.
The final servant worried that if he were reckless with the gifts, he might lose everything. He rightly fears the master, saying: “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.”
What the final servant did reminds me of the old Sunday School song “This Little Light of Mine.” That song starts by the kiddos exclaiming: “This little Gospel light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” embracing the careless sharing of the good news. But then the children singing exclaim: “Hide it under a bushel? No!” The final servant, acting in fear, not respect for the gifts, hid the light so that it could not be seen, shared, or increased. He succumbed to the natural logic of the world which says that such a valuable gift must be protected, not shared or gambled.
The Master does not wish for us to hide his good gifts. The Master does not act according to the natural logic; He has brought a new logic: the logic of the Gospel. He does not ask us to guard the Gospel. He tells us to share it! In fact, not three chapters later in Matthew’s gospel, He says exactly that: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
When we tend to act with God’s gifts in fear and protect them so much that we burry them from sight, we ought to remember the unfaithful (third) servant. The little of the master’s gifts he had was taken from him and given to the one who most recklessly invested in those gifts by spreading them around. So, spread it around. Share the Gospel of Christ wildly, and in so doing, know that the message of life and forgiveness therein is for you and will be doubled to you.
Thus, we remember the Word of the Lord from the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Fear not, faithful servant. The Word of the Lord endures forever.