Parable of Talents and Rewards, #37

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey. He called his own servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents,[a] to another two talents, and to another one talent, depending on each one’s ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received 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 came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

22 “The man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

24 “The man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a harsh man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

26 “His master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy servant! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then[b] you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and I would have received my money[c] back with interest when I returned.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Three men, three outcomes. It’s one of Jesus’ longest parables. And it’s a formidable one, and we often scan rather than intently read. “Too many words!” If we do this, we’ll minimize its impact. “Too much repetitive thinking!” But these three men explain the mechanics of lives lived—for good, and for those not-so-good.

Three men, money entrusted. So what’s the outcome, why is this literary redundancy? Could it be that Jesus wants something sharp here—something straight to the point? To me anyway, stress is put on the abilities of these three. No more is given more than they can handle, and no one gets the same.

Three bags of money, three investments. We see exactly how they operate under this responsibility, the first two double what they received. Now the “talents” here are not personality giftings, although they could be. Talents here refer to actual cash, something tangible. The parable here is practical—something that can be quantified.

The first two are commended. The third not so much.

The first two take a risk, and after all, isn’t that what should be done? The first two double what they’ve been given. The third, given the least, chose to bury the money given to him in the ground. He was scared and figured that taking a risk was too dangerous, but we’ll discover that action was the real danger.

So what is Jesus saying here?

Seeing talents as our resources: time, energy, ability, and opportunity, we determine that these are things that each are freely given to all three. Now a talent would have been $6,000 dollars in today’s economy, it would’ve taken 20 years for a laborer to earn that much. If we do the math we’re talking about a lot of money—an insane amount of money!

I think the issue was fear—the text tells us that in verse 25. The third guy wouldn’t take the risk with that which had been given. It’s out of pure panic he decides to stash the money away, and yet we see that he expects commendation. He thinks that what he did was something good—something noble and safe.

The master was really angry.

He states that even doing something like turning the money over to bankers would’ve generated something at the very least. Interest maybe? But apparently, even that was too risky to this third man.

It seems to me, (as I’m on my third cup of coffee—and praying) that following Jesus is risky. We can be afraid, so fearful that we commit to doing what is wrong at the end of it all. The Kingdom of God demands that we take chances, even if it seems like a challenge to us.

We should pray for and then do big things, so big that they necessitate grace to pull it off and make it work. We mustn’t make our discipleship safe—the Father wants us to take chances, and live in a way that’s iffy. Perhaps that is the beating heart of this parable. It seems like God rewards those who are willing to “step out of the boat” and to walk out in a certain amount of “danger?”

I think that this might be the whole point.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28, CSB

Art by Eugène Burnan

The Parable of the Growing Seed, #21

Mark 4:26-29

 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.” 

“The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

From a seed to a plant. We have no idea how this happens, it just does. This is a “kingdom” parable, one of several that explain what God’s realm is, and how it happens. In this particular story, we’re told how the Holy Spirit works. It also explains our role in this (which isn’t a whole lot).

The farmer puts the seed in the ground—and that’s it. He’s done his work, there’s nothing more he can do. He doesn’t do anything else from this point, and honestly he can’t. And yet the soil needs to be prepared—plowed, fertilized and tilled again. You might say he creates the conditions (that’s what makes a good farmer, I guess) for something to happen.

He doesn’t massage the seed, coaxing it to grow. He doesn’t sing to it, or tell it about the wonders of being lush and green. He does zero. The seed grows on its own. He goes to bed, and gets up. After several days, bingo! That seed turns into a plant—something green and alive. He doesn’t do a thing. Life occurs without his work.

The point is this. God’s work is done invisibly within us (and that’s a relief)!

“The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”

Robertson’s Commentary

God’s kingdom works pretty much like this. The farmer doesn’t cause the seed growth, all he does is go to bed! He sleeps and waits and watches. It grows and he hasn’t the slightest. It’s a complete mystery. He has done everything he can, and God has done the rest. He “shares” in this amazing transformation, but the father has done it all.

We trust in a process we cannot see, or really understand.

We don’t dig the seed up every morning to see what’s happening. We just let the (super)natural happen. And it does!

The farmer has faith in the process (after all, he did plant the seed), but that’s it. There’s a verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 the should be considered. It gives us confidence and a definite trust in this process of growth. The Apostle Paul understands this “principle of growth.”

“We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing.”

We must trust God completely to grow. We’re responsible for tilling and planting. But you need to understand what happens after that is up to him. The kingdom of God is supernatural. It’s exactly how the kingdom happens—and we must be patient and wise.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold Glascow

On the Rock, #13

Matthew 7:24-26, NCV

“Everyone who hears my words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. 26 Everyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”

Embedded in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are these words: they absolutely penetrate any “religious” sensitivity we think we have. This parable Jesus taught carries the full weight of divine authority. Up to now, Jesus’ listeners just might reduce his words to nice religious platitudes–something future, and maybe conceptual. I must warn you, this isn’t the case.

Obedience is the critical idea here. If they’re wise, they are told to put all they’ve heard into practice. It’s really not enough to hear and respect what Jesus declares–they must do the words. Jesus isn’t simply a great moral teacher, all that he says is authoritative; and not just in a benevolent, superficial way–what he says are the very words of God to people, like you and I.

There are two builders in this parable. Two different men; the wise and the foolish.

The each have their own strategies, their methods are quite different. Both listen; but one responds with careful planning. He understands the potential dangers–rain, floods and wind are going to happen. It’s funny, our Lord never “sugarcoats” life. Nasty things are going to happen, weather that’s quite hostile. Following Jesus never gives us any immunity; there are no special favors given to a believer. (Only comfort.)

The other (Jesus addresses him as foolish) are those who’ve decided to take a shortcut in all of this construction stuff. Maybe it takes too much time? But he decides to implement the work as soon as he can. Maybe his motive is just wanting to put Jesus’ words into practice. Maybe (just my conjecture) he feels compelled to initiate Jesus’ teachings as soon as he can? Maybe he’s got a noble reason in this? (In God’s kingdom however, I’ve learned that there aren’t any instant breakfasts on the menu.)

Obedience is mentioned twice. Enthusiasm is never mentioned; eagerness in all of this is not good spirituality it seems. Careful work (and planning) are critical issues. This is just an example–Matthew 5:3 is the first Beatitude:

“They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty,
    for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

How diligent are we putting this into effect? Do we just slap it down and move to the others as quickly as we can? Many commentators refer to the Beatitudes as the “foundation stones” of the disciple’s life. Many believe that each one builds off the other–they compliment and support each other. Sometimes I wonder about my own foundation; am I laying it right, and level?

I want to stress that your take your time laying down his words. Examine carefully what he’s telling you about your construction. He’s our true Architect–we are only the builders. We read his plans, examine his blueprints. We really need to be faithful.

“Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it.”

1 Corinthians 3:10

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”

1 Timothy 4:15