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The Reward for Faithfulness

Matthew 25:14-30 

"For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. [15] And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. [16] Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. [17] In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. [18] But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master's money. [19] Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. [20] And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.' [21] His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.' [22] The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.' [23] His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' [24] And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. [25] And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.' [26] But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. [27] Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. [28] Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' [29] For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. [30] And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" 

I am appreciative of your overwhelming support of me going back to college to learn Spanish so our church can better minister to our community. I'm looking forward to seeing our congregation get more diverse as we take this step to be missionaries in our own community. I'm enjoying my class, and love mi profesor. But don't read into these statements that I'm doing particularly well. All I can say is I'm working hard.

One of the things I'm enjoying about taking a foreign language is discovering words that can have a slightly different meaning just by the way they are pronounced. As a writer and a public speaker, I've always enjoyed the subtle nuances of words and now I'm finding the same enjoyment as I attempt to learn a new language. For instance, if I say "pero," I mean the conjunction but, but if I roll the "r" and say perro, I'm saying dog. 

One of the key words in this parable-talent, represents a similar problem. Is Jesus using the word talent exclusively to make a distinction between a talent and a Spiritual Gift? We usually define a talent as something we come by naturally-something we're born with and a spiritual gift as something mystically given to us by God when He saves us-something we're "born again" with. Certainly there needs to be a distinction between talents and Spiritual Gifts, but part of that distinction does not need to be the source of the ability. Whether we're born with it or God mystically bestows us with it after our conversion, the source is the same-God. James 1:17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (KJV) So whatever the "talent" is that the master gives his servants we must note that the source of the gift is the master, the servants would not have it without his act of giving.

But the word problem is deeper than that. As I've said, when we use the word "talent," we immediately think of it as a special ability that someone has; so we immediately interpret this parable in that light. We condense the teaching by saying that if God gives you a talent-meaning a special ability-you'd better develop it or He will take it away. Sounds good on the surface, except the word talent, in this usage, doesn't mean "a special ability." 

In Palestine, "talent" was a weight of money. The master in this parable isn't giving "special abilities" to his servants-something a man couldn't do anyway, he was giving money. How much? Well that's another problem here. We don't really know. Because a talent was a weight of coins, not the name of a coin, the value would vary depending on what the coin was made of. Was the coin copper? Or was it gold or silver? We don't know. One commentator I read put a value of 240. Another one said around $1000.00. The only problem with their estimates is that the first commentary was written in 1957 and the second in 1969. So frankly, I don't have a clue what it was worth, and I guess it doesn't really matter except that it was a substantial amount of money. It was enough that the master cared what they did with it.

Beyond the linguistics involved, there is another issue that we have to deal with in this text, the master didn't distribute the talents fairly. To one he gave 5, to another he gave 2 and the other he gave only 1. In a day where it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it just matters if everybody gets to play and has a good time, this seems inequitable. Is it fair for the master to give more to one and less to another? Doesn't that give one an unfair advantage?

OK, let's stop here for a moment-let's leave the parable to talk about God (not a bad thing to do since the parable is teaching us about God's Kingdom.) Life isn't fair and God isn't fair. Stop trying to make it or Him that way. God is just-He judges each man based on the opportunities and responsibilities He's given him, but He isn't fair-He doesn't give every man the same opportunities and responsibilities. I like the attitude of Captain David Fortune of the Monterey Police Department. Captain Fortune has had three different types of cancer. His first round was with cancer of the larynx in 1979. That cancer led to surgery, radiation and an artificial voice box. Later, in 1988 he'd get cancer in his left kidney and skin cancer in 1993. The odds of getting two types of cancer is great but the odds of getting three types is astronomical. What was his response? "I don't feel picked on. I don't feel I'm a marked man," he said. "I feel blessed to be able to handle the challenges and keep going." (Monterey County Herald, June 19, 2002) Instead of belly-aching over the hardships we face in life, perhaps we need to develop an attitude of gratitude, like Captain Fortune has.

Why would the master distribute the talents unfairly? He gave them to the people according to their ability. Wouldn't you do the same? Aren't you doing the same? Those of you that are in the age group who are investing for your retirement think about how you are allocating your resources. Do you put the same amount of money in every stock there is so you can be fair? Or do you put the greater amount of money in funds that you believe will perform well and lesser amounts in funds that you are uncertain about? That's exactly what the master did. He placed the greater amount of his wealth in the person he believed would give him the greatest return on his investment.

When he returned, he found what he'd expected. The one he gave 5 talents to and the one he gave 2 talents doubled his money, but the one he gave only 1 talent did not earn a return at all. As it turns out, he took the money and buried it in the ground so it would be safe. His concern was with keeping things the way they are instead of achieving his potential. The master was livid with him and called him "lazy" OK, no argument here. Obviously the man was lazy-he didn't do anything except bury the money and dig it back up. The other two were wheeling and dealing-working hard to make a profit, but not this one, he was lazy. But the master called him more than lazy, he called him "wicked." Wait a minute, that's a strong word. WICKED. The punishment was as startling-the useless servant was cast into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The rewards to the faithful are just as surprising. I'd expect him to give them a cut of the profit and send them away on vacation, instead he gives them more responsibility. 

Why do the rewards and punishments seem strange to us? Because we usually view the world through the eyes of the leading man and woman and think of God as playing a supporting role. He isn't! It isn't about us, it is about God! He does not exist to make our life easier. We exist to serve and worship Him and the greatest reward we can ever receive is to have the honor of having more responsibility and the greatest thing we can ever do in life, is to fulfill the potential that God has given us. 

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