Proper 28 – Matthew 25:14-30
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
November 15, 2020
Today’s gospel reading is the well-known Parable of the Talents. It is often understood as being about stewardship, which, to be honest, is rather convenient during the annual pledge campaign. You’re in luck, though, as that’s not the direction the Spirit led me, though I will remind you to return your pledge card if you have not already done so. The former banker in me got intrigued by some of the economic details in this parable, so that’s where we’ll go for a moment.
The word “talent” as used in this passage is a transliteration of the Greek word talanta, which skews our understanding of this passage. Talanta means a large sum of money equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. It is because of the wide circulation of this parable that “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities. But the talents in this story refer to sums of money; there are other Greek words used to describe God-given abilities.
The master entrusted his three slaves with huge sums of money, more than most of us will ever be entrusted with in our lives, certainly at any one time. Using my banker spreadsheet skills, my calculations indicate that one talent is roughly equivalent to half-a-million dollars in Kansas City in 2020. Think about it – he entrusted the first slave with the equivalent of $2.5MM, the second slave with $1MM, and the third with $500,000.00.
As a banker, it’s hard to imagine entrusting anyone, let alone a slave, with such a great sum. Collateral would be required, as well as income verification and evidence of the applicant’s credit history, etc. The text says that the first two slaves “went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.” This process is referred to as moneylending, which was usually conducted through the Roman temples. These temples were not only religious institutions, they doubled as banks because they were well guarded, and deposits were considered safe there. Since few people had capital, those who did could lend money at significant interest. Investors thus could receive five or even ten times their investment; at the very least, they could double their investment.
The two servants who traded the money entrusted to them earned double their money, which wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone hearing this story. In fact, the first two slaves aren’t the key actors in this story at all. They are merely supporting actors to provide a reference point to the lead character: the third slave.
Though the third slave was given less money than the other two, he was still entrusted with roughly $500,000 in today’s currency, a huge sum of money. On the surface, he seems to have been the most risk-adverse of the three. Rather than investing the money which would introduce some risk of loss, he chose to hide the money in a hole in the ground. In first century Palestine, people sometimes buried money in a strongbox to keep it safe, but it would have actually been safer with the bankers, and it would have very likely doubled. When it was his turn to account for what he had done with the money, the third slave says something that would have shocked the original audience: he calls him a harsh man, insulting his master, and blaming his master’s harsh character for his own failures. But he reveals his true motivations when he says “so I was afraid, and I went and hid your money in the ground.” It is not a conservative, risk-adverse investment approach that leads to his demise, it is his fear.
After giving an account of their actions, the master responds to the first two slaves, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” They aren’t being lauded for their obedience, but rather because they were actively responsible while the master was away. They took initiative and accepted some level of risk, while the third slave’s fear of his master paralyzes him, resulting in his inactivity while his master was away.
This parable is the third of four stories in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells about the implications of the end times. All four of these stories center on the return of the master or bridegroom or king, the judgments that come with that return, and how those who await his return spend their time.
Rather than being about stewardship, this parable is about how we should spend the time the Lord has given us until we see him face to face, either because of our own death, or because of his coming again with power and great glory at the end of time. Like the slaves were entrusted by their master with extravagant amounts of money, God loves us extravagantly more than we could ever deserve. What will we do with the love with which we’ve been entrusted? Will we, out of fear, sit idly by and play it safe throughout our lives? Or will we embrace the fact that we are truly loved by God, and then actively and intentionally work to expand his kingdom here on earth by extravagantly loving those around us in word and in deed?
It is difficult for you and me to not only accept but embrace the fact that God loves us. Deep down in our bones. For we know that we are prone to act in self-destructive ways, and we know how many warts and blemishes we have underneath the surface. We often feel inadequate and afraid. The reality is that we are made in God’s image, and by his death and resurrection, Jesus has begun to restore us to what we were in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate the apple – before the warts and blemishes and inadequacies and fears came to be. By our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have access to the riches of God’s grace to help us overcome our fears and live an active life of faith, loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
How will you spend the time with which you’ve been entrusted before the master’s return?
 Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. VIII, Abingdon Press, 2015, 335.
 NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Zondervan, 2019, 1682.
 Verses 21 and 23, NIV.
 David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville (Ky.): Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 308.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!