Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dangerous to Play it Safe

14"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents* of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' 21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' 22"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' 23"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' 24"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' 26"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28" 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV)

Obviously, the talents in the parable do not refer to money, but to general abilities and spiritual gifts that God expects us to grow and use wisely, not bury. And yet He has cloaked this lesson in some practical advice about managing finances. Let’s just list what we can learn from the story:
• Each person is given in life according to his or her ability.
• God will call us to account for how we have used what He has given us.
• If He’s pleased with how we’ve grown the initial investment, He’ll put us in charge of more. (This probably has applications for both this life and the next.)
• When we use our resources wisely, we are invited to share in our Master’s happiness – that abundant life thing. (Again, may have applications for this life, and certainly for the next.)
• God harvests where He has not sown and gathers where He has not scattered seed. (You got me?!?)
• God does not reward fear.
• A very minimum of what we can do with our resources is to put them in the bank and let them earn interest.
• Those who grow their initial investment, get more – even unto abundance. Those who don’t will have even what they had taken away from them.
• The person who does not grow the initial investment God has granted is a “worthless servant.”

This is a power parable – so much to be gleaned from it, but let’s zoom in on the lessons of financial stewardship. The foundation of this parable is a gift from God – God’s initial investment in each of us according to our ability. This is not “playground fair” by any means, but the hard truth is that we are not all capable of the same level of success in life. God has given all of us something, but Scripture clearly supports that to some, He gives more, both in material resource (think Solomon with the silver spoon in hi s mouth from birth) intellect and spiritual gifts. Bummer! Get over it, life’s not fair.

What we each do get, however, is a chance to build on what God has given us. And it seems from this parable that what we make of that chance is where our will impacts our destiny. Are we going to stick our necks out, take every opportunity in our radar and stretch and grow our resources through much effort, and yes, even some risky investments? Or are we satisfied with living from a public entitlement or perhaps an inheritance and burying the resource God gave us to improve our own lot?

God does not reward fear or laziness. If we are afraid to try for that promotion or if we let college pass us by because we don’t think we can make the grade, our lack of faith will have a consequence in our lives. Even the rock bottom minimum of what God expects from us is an investment: “You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers.” It’s clear that standing still in life is not God’s will for us. If we want to share in our Master’s happiness, we need some upward mobility in life – in career, education, skill level, civic involvement – use those talents, Servant!

This does not mean we need to accumulate more stuff and things. I see this clearly in the parable when the Master comes to settle accounts. What happened to all the talents at the end of the story? Did the servants get to keep them? No. They all went back to the Master and then the Master said He would give them more. The point of reaping a good harvest is to return it to the Master – to use the harvest for His Glory. Do you think the story would have ended differently for the top servant if the Master had come back to find that the servant used his five talents, plus the five he earned, to purchase a nice plot of land and build a huge home on it?
God promises an abundance for those who grow their talents, but we must give back to the Master what is His. We must remain ever-cognizant of the fact that we only have what the Master has given us.

Contemplate this: Am I playing it too safe with my money, career or education? Will God be pleased with what I have added to the resources He invested in me? Am I giving back to the Master from the harvest of my God-given talents?

* A talent was worth more than a thousand dollars.

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