Sermon delivered December 3, 2006
A hot headed woman told the famous Protestant reformer, John Wesley, "My talent is to speak my mind." Mr. Wesley replied, "Woman, God wouldn't care a bit if you would bury that talent."
What are our talents? What does God expect that we do with them? Today we will look at the Parable of the Talents and glean some important lessons so we can avoid becoming ignorant like the foolish woman.
You remember the story. A master gave three servants ten talents. One increased his talent ten-fold, another five, and the third buried his. The first two were rewarded by the master. The third servant received judgment and condemnation from his master.
What does the parable teach us?
- This parable like many others in the Gospel of Matthew describes something about the Kingdom of Heaven. They illustrate characteristics of what heaven will be like, often in very concrete moral terms. Heaven, it appears, is not a place of idleness but co-creativity with God.
- A talent has great value. In a strict monetary accounting, a talent is a Greek coin worth 5,000 - 6,000 denarii (a denari was a Roman silver coin equivalent to a day's wage of a common laborer). One talent then was equal to 15 years wages of a Roman laborer. It obviously represents property, money, and material wealth.
But there is more to the calculation. Orthodox teacher Lev Gillet wrote, "The goods which the master entrust to his servants signify all the natural gifts granted by God to his creatures: health, intelligence, riches, etc. All these exist through God and for God; we are no more than keepers charged with administering these divine assets. But the talents signify, above all, the supernatural gifts, the communication of divine life to men and the graces with which we are showered at every instant" (Gillet, Year of Grace of the Lord).
- Everyone is given at least one talent (v.14-15). We should never think or believe that God our Master has forgotten about us and left us with no talents. We all can contribute something.
- God has given more talents to some than others each according to his ability (v.15). We should not be look at other people's talents with envy or judge those who have less than we do. God has given us exactly what we need and certainly no more than we can handle.
- We are expected to be productive and use our talents to multiply them (v.16-17). If we want to have more gifts and talents, we must use the talent God has entrusted to us. Consider this exhortation in monetary terms. Trading and investing money to build assets involves risk. So too the development and application of our talents involves risk that may include rejection, persecution and loss of intangible characteristics like the esteem of others for the sake of the Gospel. Fear of failure or rejection is not a sufficient reason to bury our talent.
- At some point we must give an account for what's been placed in our care. We will be asked by God what did we did with our gifts. This accounting will take place after we die. Did we feed the poor, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted? Did we use our talents to help others or bury them in self-indulgent excess? Here the words of St. John Chrysostom ring clear: the rightful owners of our possessions are those who need it most.
- Good management and good stewardship are essential requirements of the Christian life. If we know how to discipline ourselves to be productive and to share the smallest gifts, then we will be entrusted with more talents and gifts. This frees us from possessiveness and lethargy (the two often go hand in hand) and prepares us to enter into the joy of our Lord (v.21,23).
- Our perception and attitude towards God affects how we live. Do we see God as harsh and ruthless or as generous and loving? Are we afraid of God so that our life is inhibited and stilted rather than courageously fulfilling our potential (v.24-25)?
- Idleness and laziness imply a self-centeredness that wastes God's gifts (v.26-27). The Master said, "Take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents ... For to everyone who has will more be given and He will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (v.28-29). What is meant here is that sloth, envy, possessiveness, jealousy, or any other vice that stunts and truncates our obligation to develop and apply our talents leads to impoverishment. Generosity, courage, creativity, productivity and more offer satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, peace and ultimately the blessing of the Master.
- The blessing offered by Master is eternal joy which is nothing less than the Kingdom of God.
We must carefully consider the talents God has given us. We must evaluate how we manage them. We must be clear on the obligation our talents place on us particular in terms of how we serve and treat other people who enter our life. God is the giver of our talents. We must be the wise steward. The words we want to hear when our stewardship is judged by the master should be the same as the good steward: "Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord."
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.