Here it is Consecration Sunday and the lectionary hands us a parable that seems to be all about money. Jesus has just finished his yarn about the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids, and he jumps right in to this story. It’s another view into the kingdom, he says.
A Sermon baseed on Matthew 25.
The kingdom of heaven is as if a man went on a journey, and doled out some money to his servants. One gets five talents, another two, and another one, Jesus says, based on their ability. Now let me pause right here to let you in on the math that Jesus’ first listeners would have at their fingertips. A talent was worth about 15 years of wages. In the US, the average salary is $50,000, so in rough figures we’re talking a talent being about $750,000. So this parable starts really like this: A man went on a journey and gave to his three servants 3.75, 1 and a half, and three quarters of a million bucks, each according to his ability. Jesus’ followers who were primarily working class folks probably would have been really paying attention from this point on. That’s a lot of dough.
In the story the first two—they of five and two talents each—go out and double their money. The third one however takes his $750k and when no one else is watching, buries a hole in the ground. He carefully puts that money in the hole, covers it up, and goes about his business.
After a long time, the master comes back. At his arrival, the first worker comes up and tells him that with he has doubled the 5 talents and hands over $7.5 million. The second does likewise giving the owner $3 million back from the initial 1.5 million. Well, done, the owner says to them both, and puts them in charge of many things and invites them to enter into his joy. And then comes the last one. While still wiping off the dirt, he gives back the initial $750,000 he received. He says, “Master, I know you to be a harsh man, reaping what you do not sow. So I was afraid and hid your talent in the ground. Here is what is yours.”
This is of course a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the master becomes quite angry with this last servant. “You knew me to be mean, and to reap what I do not sow, did you? Well then why didn’t you at least deposit the money in a CD so I could have made some interest?” The question sits out there rather uncomfortably. The guy likely looks at the ground, kicking the dirt. “Take his talent and give it to the one with 10, and throw this worthless slave out into the darkness.”
And the kingdom of God is like that.
A friend, Sharon, tells the story of her childhood when her family was on vacation up in Maine. One day her dad took her and her sister out to the beach. Just as they arrived, the sun peaked out from a cloud and the water began to sparkle. Her dad smiled and said, “It looks like someone sprinkled gold all over the water!” And then, he waded out into the water. His daughters followed him in.
As they stood there in ankle deep water, Sharon’s dad told them to cup their hands, like they were receiving communion. When they did, he gave each of them a handful of coins. He waded out a bit further, and then smiling mischievously he said, “I gave you this money because I want you to throw it into the water.”
Sharon and her sister Maggy were incredulous. “What?” They exclaimed. “Sometimes,” their dad said, “you have to be willing to sprinkle a little gold on the ocean. You’ve got to throw money away—give to someone who cannot pay you back, donate to causes that will never return your investment.” Their dad continued, “When you let it go, you have to be okay with the fact that it may never come back to you. It may be found by someone who needs it more than you do, or it might find its way back to you in forms you don’t expect. The point is that every now and then, you have to let money go so that it never has a hold on you.”
So on the count of three, they all threw their change into the water.
I wonder what that owner would have said if one those first servants had come back and said, “I’m so very sorry, sir, but I went out and tried a risky endeavor that I thought would succeed, and I’ve lost all your money.” Is this parable about making more money or is it about something else?
Pastor John M. Buchanon answers my question in this way: “The point here is not really about doubling your money and accumulating wealth. It’s about living. It is about investing.” He goes on to say this, “The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently.”
How often do we play it safe with our lives, hoarding the things we’ve been given, thinking that some how it will better in the long run if we do? Have we ever cared deeply enough to invest our lives and give our hearts away to something that truly matters? Do you ever wander out into the ocean and throw away some money just to make sure it doesn’t have a hold of you?
Which is a completely different way of looking at Consecration Sunday. If this parable is about investing in life, that’s way bigger than just making a pledge to St. Mark’s. But it can be a start though, right? It can be a sign of the risk of giving away money not expecting a return. It can be our way of showing that money doesn’t have a stranglehold on us and the way we live our lives. And it can be a statement that we want to risk more—including giving our lives—to the work of God in this place during an international pandemic when so many around us are hurting.
The kingdom of God is not about playing it safe—which is how we often view religion, right? We see faith as merely a statement of belief and keeping our nose out of trouble. But Jesus is calling us to go all in. To wade out into the water and let things fly. To boldly give and invest and risk it all rather than digging a hole and playing it safe and hiding everything.
What will it be for you? Will you play it safe? Or invest in the gift of life you’ve been given by God?
I close with a Sabbath poem from Wendell Berry.
I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have no love
except it come from thee.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.