I.Theme – The way of abundance is using and acting on what you have now. Squandering your talents is a sure way to be caught up on the wrong side of the "Day of Judgment."
"Parable of the Talents -John Morgan (1823-1866)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
God asks us to make appropriate use of our gifts and talents
1. Matthew – Parable of the Talents
2. Thessalonians – Paul – quit worrying about the time of Jesus return and live fully as Children of the light
3. Zaphaniah announces God’s coming judgment against the self-indulgent and complacent
4. Psalm contrast the realm of God with man’s limits but encourages man to live fruitfully within these limits
All of these scriptures, as we prepare for Reign of Christ Sunday, remind us to be prepared to do our part in the reign of God here and now, as we await Christ to come into our lives in a new way. We are called not to become content with the status quo, not to take our fill and turn away from the poor as the people did in Zephaniah’s time. Rather, we are called to do what the first two servants did in the parable of the Talents–to risk what we have been given in order to do greater good in the reign of God. That might mean our reputations in standing with the marginalized, or our own possessions in standing with the poor, or our own contentment in standing with the oppressed. We are called to live as participants in the reign of God here and now. This is not something we are waiting for at the end of our lives, but something we are active in now.
Zephaniah cries out and proclaims the day of the Lord is drawing near, a day of judgment. Zephaniah prophesied just before King Josiah carried out great reforms, both politically and religiously. In Zephaniah’s time, Israel (Northern kingdom) had fallen one hundred years before. Judah (Southern kingdom) was in danger of falling to their enemies and the kings had continued to be corrupt, to worship other gods, to let the wealthy elite stay wealthy and trample upon the poor. Josiah, upon the rediscovery of portions of the Torah that had been lost, will reform the political and religious sphere, but Zephaniah writes just before this time. Zephaniah proclaims judgment for those who have forsaken God’s ways, who have betrayed their people and their God.
Psalm 90: 1-12 remarks on how short human life is, in contrast to the vastness of the life of creation. God is beyond time; God is beyond our understanding, and our lives are short, so we should be humble, grateful for what we have, and repent where we have gone wrong. We are called not to waste our days, but to count them, so “that we may gain a wise heart”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 are words of encouragement for Paul in this time of waiting for the reign of God to come, in this time of waiting for Christ to come again in a new way into our lives, but also a reminder, as last week’s parable taught us, to keep awake. To be ready. To be prepared for the coming reign of God. This reading is in contrast to the darker tone in early readings from the book.
Matthew 25:14-30 is the second parable of this last chapter before Christ’s anointing, before the preparation for his death. . In the previous parables, he has told us that we need to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.
A master, before leaving on a journey, entrusts his slaves with his money, “each according to his ability” (v. 15). (A talent was about 15 years’ wages for a laborer, a large sum of money.) Two servants invest the money and earn more (vv. 16, 17); the third simply buries it (v. 18). When the master returns (v. 19), he praises the investors; they, he says, will be made responsible for “many things” (vv. 21, 23), and will “enter into the joy of your master”. But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath (v. 24), simply returns the original sum (v. 25). The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. This slave loses what he has been given (v. 28) and is condemned to “outer darkness” (v. 30). This would have caused a stir in Jesus’ day, for a rabbinic maxim commends burial of money as a way of protecting it.
But this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, so what is the lesson it teaches? “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30) is a stock phrase for condemnation of the wicked at the Last Day. The master stands for God and the servants for various kinds of people. Yes, God both rewards generously and is a stern judge. He expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. We will be commended and rewarded for faithfully carrying out his mission. Failure to use what he gives us will result in punishment – by separation from him, the essence of goodness. We are expected to make it grow. He is free to distribute his gifts as he sees fit (vv. 28-29).
Old Testament – Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Zephaniah a minor prophet writing 50 years before the Babylonian captivity has some strong words Judah, the southern part of Israel. He foretells of the "great day of the Lord" which is great in magnitude but not the day you want live for. It is a "day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom."
Zephaniah has particularly harsh words for Judah, the southern half of Israel. In two long passages he directly addresses God’s elect people (1:4–2:3 and 3:1–20). There was religious infidelity in the worship of Baal and Molech. In the economic sphere there was wanton luxury predicated upon oppression and exploitation; these people wore “foreign clothes” — only the nicest imports from the most expensive stores (1:8). The market district, merchants and those who “trade with silver” — Jerusalem’s Wall Street — will be “wiped out” (1:11). In the social and cultural realm, violence and oppression ruled the day (1:9, 3:1). Judah’s officials, prophets and priests were singled out as predators (3:3–4). This is a people who “knows no shame” (3:5).
Whatever we might think about God’s judgment, it is equitable in at least two senses. The judgment that Zephaniah describes is the same for all. Neither God’s elect nor the pagan enemy nations are treated differently. There are no “favorites,” so to speak
God’s judgment is equitable in a second sense. People often caricature divine judgment as some ambivalent and arbitrary outburst, like the unpredictable anger of a parent who lashes out at his children. But that’s hardly the case here. God’s judgment is entirely predictable, without any surprises. It’s a purifying response to all the many things that dehumanize us — social violence, political oppression, religious fakery, economic exploitation, and the like.
When is "the great day of the Lord?" Two times Zephaniah writes that it is “near” and “coming quickly” (1:7, 14). A natural way to read this is that he foresaw the coming invasion of Babylon, roughly a mere fifty years in his future. His readers already knew what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel only a hundred years earlier when in 722 BC Assyria destroyed them. But given Zephaniah’s universal scope, it’s possible that he also envisioned not only a near future but a far future. At this point we should be content with his description and admit our ignorance about the detailed explanation.
This is the only poem in the Psalter that is associated with Moses; the Hebrew in the superscription literally reads "a prayer to Moses, man of God," and likely does not refer to Moses as the author of the poem. Most likely the connection with Moses was made because of the wisdom-like theme of the psalm.
Psalm 90 deals with the dark side of life. In verses 1-10 we see the problem which I refer to as “Man’s Plight.” In verses 11-17 there is “Man’s Petition,” which Moses expresses for us to God, enabling us to deal with the dark side of life.
We have all heard the saying “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Although there is a measure of truth to this statement, Moses informs us in Psalm 90, “In this life there is sadness and shortness, there is frustration and failure.” From a biblical and theological point of view this is not the purpose for which life was first created (Gen. 1–2), nor is it the way life will always be (Rev. 21–22), but in the days between paradise lost (Gen. 3) and paradise regained (Rev. 4–20), this is the way it is.
My point is this: life, both in the days of Moses and in the present, is marked by a certain frustration and futility, which are the results of man’s sin. This
God, Humanity, and Time (verses 1-11)
The psalm began with a recognition of God’s omnipotence and eternal nature (90:1-2). Then, the author compared God’s overwhelming power and presence with the transient nature of the human condition. The psalmist implied that death was a part of the divine plan; certainly, the limited span of human life was a part of divine providence. The author used a pastoral analogy to make his point (90:3-6
Speaking of time, the prayer is an eloquent meditation on God, humanity, and time. It builds a tableau that explores the relationship between God and Human Beings—using the hands of time to plumb the depths of the human condition and then to point mortals back to eternal God.
According to the psalm’s use of this motif, the Lord is the one who is…
• "Our dwelling place in all generations"
• The creator since "before the mountains were brought forth"
• Who has been God "from everlasting to everlasting"
• And for whom "a thousand years are…like yesterday…or like a watch in the night"
Human beings, on the other hand, are those who…
• "turn back to dust" at a single word from God
• "Are like a dream" in the night
• Perk up like grass fed by morning dew, but who fade and wither before evening
• And have a lifespan that is "seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong
• And, not to put too fine of a point on it, the psalm arrives at the conclusion (judgment?) that all of human life passes under God’s judgment– "we are consumed by your anger. . . our years come to an end like a sigh."
Epistle – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
The preceding chapter, 4:13-18, was primarily aimed at giving comfort in the face of death, while this chapter, 5:1-11 is designed to comfort and to challenge.
In the section before us, Paul deals with the date of the second coming, v1-3, and then goes on to encourage his readers to live lives which reflect their hope in eternity, v4-11.
It comforts us in that, should the Day of the Lord come in our lifetime, a day that begins with great wrath, we will not face that wrath but will be delivered by the blessed hope mentioned in the preceding chapter.
It also challenges us to live as people of the day or the light. In other words, the element of comfort must not lull us into apathy where we live for the temporal and cheap experiences of the world. Having this outlook means that we will live soberly and alertly as people of the day (vss. 6-8).
The soberminded believer has a calm, sane outlook on life. He is not complacent, but neither is he frustrated and afraid. He hears tragic news of the day, yet he does not lose heart. He experiences the difficulties of life, but he does not give up. He knows his future is secure in God’s hands, so he lives each day creatively, calmly, and obediently. Outlook determines outcome; and when your outlook is the uplook, then your outcome is secure.
Chapter five begins with a similar claim to what is known, much like Paul’s words in 4:13. Paul reminds them of what they already know. In doing so, Paul provides further encouragement and consolation in the fact that the Thessalonians can rely on their knowledge in the faith.
This section of chapter five ends with three claims that tie the unit back to 4:13-18.
First, Paul reasserts that the Lord Jesus Christ died for us (5:9-10). The restatement of the confessional claim stated in 4:14 adds the assurance "for us" As a result, the union between believers and Paul and the Lord is constantly present in the letter.
Second, "we may live with him," which closes 5:10, echoes 4:17, "together with them." The ending of 5:10 is better translated "together with him we might live
Finally, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to encourage one another just as he did in 4:18.The links between last week’s text and this week’s underscores the fact that the coming of the Lord is for all believers−for the ones who have died and the ones who remain. Those left behind await the parousia, however, not with fear and trepidation but with hope. While hope was identified in 4:13-18 as the union of those who have died with those who remain, here hope is spelled out in the assurance of being children of the light, hope is lived out in behavior that exemplifies belief, and hope is worked out in the promise of salvation and ongoing life with Christ, whether we are awake or asleep (5:10).
The in-breaking of God’s future for us in the present, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, means that the life we live is not toward an anticipated reward but in response to an unanticipated gift. The Christian lives as if Christ will be here any minute, not in fear, but in peace, security, and promise.
Gospel – Matthew 25:14-30
There were two factors that enormously influenced the lives of early Christians:
• The destruction and leveling of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 CE and the pervasive thought that this event felt like the End of the World.
• The delay of the Second Coming. The Second Coming did not occur in the earliest disciples’ lifetime as they had erroneously thought it would. These earliest Christians had to deal with their misinterpretation of the timing of The End. Several of the teachings in Matthew 23 and the parables in Matthew 24 deal with these concerns
The early Christians struggled significantly with both of these issues. The End of the World did not come when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Second Coming of Christ did not come as early as they thought. Their personal timetable was wrong for both: for the End and for the Second Coming.
This parable like the Bridesmaids looks at “What shall we do while we wait for Christ’s return?"
This is another example of Jesus choosing the common and ordinary things of life as a teaching vehicle of his Godly truth
In the Roman Empire slaves could earn wages and bonuses and acquire property hence they would have more incentive to look out for the master’s property than slaves in many cultures do. Householders going on long journeys might entrust their estate to slaves to oversee since household slaves often held managerial roles. Thus the servants understood very well what was required of them.” … “Jesus promises eternal reward for those who prove worthy of his trust. The servants’ rewards were commensurate with their faithfulness in pursuing the master’s interest.”
Talents – Talents were weights of copper, gold or silver. The value of a five talent weight was fifteen years of labor. Take your own average annual income and multiply it times fifteen years. This was a lot of money.
Each slave was entrusted with capital according to their ability. Jesus, the storyteller, was aware of differing people having differing abilities
The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. This slave was industrious with the capital that his master had entrusted him and he doubled the money.
-In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. This slave doubled the money.
However, one slave decided to “play it safe” and simply keep the 1 talent in safekeeping
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. This is the first reference in the parables of Jesus that the “delay” would be a long period of time. As has been previously stated, a fundamental issue for the early Christian church was the delay of the Second Coming and what to do about it.
The ones who had made money were praised. Not so for the one who did not use the talent.
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is Matthew’s consistent phrasing that describes hell and eternal wrath/punishment. Matthew used the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” twelve times and Luke uses it twice. These are the only uses in the New Testament.
II. Variety of Meanings
1. What we do with the teachings of Jesus before he returns –“faithful and untiring service to other people.”
The story is about what Christians do or do not do with the gospel as they wait for the coming of the kingdom of heaven
The talents of the parable are really about God’s life and power, not about our natural abilities. But the appropriate response is to allow God’s investing hand to employ our abilities. Even if we have modest gifts, they should be exploited to the full.
It has more to do with how we allow the life of God to flow through us – because it is powerful- like money . The parable challenges us not to sit on the life of God in us but to allow God to move through us. As such our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change
In Jesus’ day, it wasn’t considered foolish to bury one’s wealth. But as much as we may sympathize with and encourage those who are fearful, this way of living will not do when one’s faith is in Christ. There is no religion without adventure
How will you use your time and God’s generosity while waiting for Christ’s return?
The master stands for God and the servants for various kinds of people. Yes, God both rewards generously and is a stern judge. He expects us to be good stewards of his gifts. We will be commended and rewarded for faithfully carrying out his mission. Failure to use what he gives us will result in punishment – by separation from him, the essence of goodness. We are expected to make it grow. He is free to distribute his gifts as he sees fit
Despite the emphasis in the parable about doubling money, the real point is channeling our wealth to worthy pursuits, such as the care of our fellow man. Did we serve the least of our sisters and brothers in the human family ?
‘Good and faithful’ is not mere theological correctness, passive waiting, or strict obedience to clear instructions, but active responsibility that takes initiative and risk.
2. We are reminded that in the days before Christ’s return we need to faithfully carry out his mission AND to use our resources wisely and well. It is about our own abilities and how we use them
God entrusts all people with a portion of his resources, expecting them to act as good stewards of it. Like the two good servants, God’s people will be commended and rewarded when they have faithfully discharged that commission. If like the wicked servant, those who fail to use the gifts God has given them for His service will be punished by separation from God and all things
The master, already possessing the gift of the talents, is inviting his servants to share in his joy. When the first two are finally invited to "enter the joy of their master," they are perhaps not entering a greater fullness than before but rather now are able to recognize the dynamics of joy that undergird the gift of faith. The joy of the master is the joy of the feast that is self-giving, sharing, being distributed into the world. In this sense the interest gained on the talents is like the hundred-fold that the disciple receives when he or she gives everything away to follow Jesus
Gracious gifts of God and to faithfully use our resources wisely and well, according to our abilities before Jesus returns. Everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him. As Christians, we have additionally the most valuable resource of all – the Word of God. If we believe and understand Him, and apply His Word as good stewards, we are a blessing to others and the value of what we do multiplies. We are accountable to the Lord for the use of His resources.
The owner didn’t need to lend even one talent, but he generously did. God’s gifts are always generous. Even the one talent gift was a generous gift.
We need to consider them as gifts from the gracious God and we need to consider that what we do with them becomes our gift to God. The worthless slave is only interested in himself and security not service. There is no gratitude that the master entrusted him with a great sum. The lazy servant tried to blame God for his laziness but it didn’t work. God saw through his “blame-game.”
God gives the gospel not to me so my ability can be put to good use, but to us so our inability might be exposed and God thereby glorified.
In our society, the talent is not a measure of the amount of silver but a measure of the amount of gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to each one of us. While God is away on a journey (although God is never really away from us), we are to use the varying gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to each of us.
3. Talents as Salvation
Rather, we know that salvation is a pure gift and that we cannot earn our way into heaven. A sign of our salvation that is freely given is that we do the works that God wants us to do. Salvation is always a free gift, undeserved and unearned. Knowing that we are saved by God’s grace, we then “do” the works that God wants us to do, not to merit salvation but because God has filled our hearts with love and our actions with compassion.