A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on November 17, 2002.
Based on Matthew 25:14-15, 19-29 (Proper 28, Year A).
Whenever the parable of the five talents shows up on a Sunday morning, preachers almost always work in a definition of a “talent.” Sometimes it’s seamlessly finessed into the sermon. But not this morning. I’ll just get it over with and move on. A talent doesn’t refer to a skill or a special ability. It has nothing to do with being able to play the trumpet or speak French. A talent is a sum of money; a large sum of money. One talent was equivalent to the wages a day laborer would have been paid for fifteen years of work. So rarely did the average person even ever see a talent, let alone have one to spend or be entrusted with one. How much would that be around here? I did a little math, which is in itself a bit scary, but at least I used a calculator. I recently read that the average yearly household income in Briarcliff is $237,075. Yes, you heard that correctly. Multiply that by 15 years and you get $3,556,125. So in Westchester dollars a talent is worth over $3.5 million. And the guy who’s given five talents? That’s almost $20 million. I’ll admit this is very “fuzzy” math, but in any case a talent was a lot of money.
This parable, however, isn’t really about the money. It’s not the ‘parable of the wise and foolish investors.’ The underlying point is not that “it takes money to make money.” And it doesn’t offer us a Scriptural approach to financial planning. After all, even the slave who returned to the master the one talent he was given would be considered a financial genius in the current economic climate. He didn’t lose money!
But as I said, it’s not really about the money. This parable is a strange way to characterize the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus tells us he’s doing. A master divides eight talents among three slaves. One gets five, another two, and another one. And then the master goes away for what we’re told is “a long time.” Upon his return he settles up the accounts. The first made five more talents, doubling his return. The second made two more, also doubling his return. And the third returned the single talent he was given.
But again, this parable isn’t about the money itself. It’s about how we receive the God-given gifts we’re offered and entrusted with. This starts with our very lives, the greatest gift that God offers to us. Do we do what’s necessary to make the most of it through service to God and one another or do we bury ourselves by only looking downward and inward? Do we accept our God-given gifts and talents (and I use the word this time in its conventional sense) or do we ignore what has been entrusted to us? Our natural inclination is often to bury our own gifts and talents. Instead of using them joyfully and making ourselves vulnerable by using them and challenging ourselves, we often bury them, living in fear of failure. We bury our gifts and talents because it’s safer that way. Nothing ventured, nothing risked.
So, acknowledging that we all bury or at least partially obscure some of our gifts and talents, the question must be asked: what aspect of your life have you buried for safe keeping? Why have you buried it? Is there something you’re afraid of? Like failure or ridicule? It may just be time to dig this gift up, unearth it, dust it off, and reexamine it. Sometimes we bury relationships or emotions. And they need to be set free. They need to see the light of day. If the slave’s talent with which he was entrusted never saw daylight, how could it have been nurtured, how could it have grown?
I have a feeling that the master in this story would have been more forgiving if the slave had tried to use his talent to make it grow but had nonetheless squandered the whole amount. I think of the prodigal son. Inaction and the inability to move past our own fears shows a lack of trust in God. The slave approached his master out of an attitude of fear. “I knew that you were a harsh man, so I was afraid,” he says. His fear paralyzed him. And his reaction was to turn inward, to bury his fear. Out of sight, out of mind.
The other two slaves, on the other hand, approach their master out of an attitude of gratitude. They were entrusted with responsibility and in turn sought to show their own gratitude for what they were offered. These are fundamentally different approaches to God. One is fearful, the other trusting. One dwells on God’s loving mercy, the other on God’s wrath.
God desires that we live as children of the light, not buried in darkness. In a sense we are all talents – that is valuable commodities. For we are made in God’s own image. God wants nothing more than for us to come out of the darkness that entombs us; to see the light; to be nurtured by our faith in Christ; and to grow.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2002