Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus tells us that one day a man went away on a journey. But before he left, he entrusted his assets to three of his servants. They were each given “talents.” The Greek word talanta literally means “weights.” Back in those days, a talent or weight was valued according to the kind of metal of which the weight consisted. It could be a talent of copper, gold, or silver. The most common talent was silver. Assuming that these were silver talents, then they could have been worth more than $1,000 each. So one servant was given five talents, or over $5,000; another two talents, or more than $2,000; and the last servant was given one talent, a “measly” $1,000 or so. How many of you could use even a measly $1,000 right now? I know I could!
Now Jesus told many of His parables as a way to explain what the kingdom of God is like. The parable of the talents is another one of those. And so, you see, the characters in the story represent various types of people in the kingdom. Who is this rich master who went away to a far country? It’s the Master…JESUS.
When He told this parable, Jesus was well aware that within weeks He too would go on a long journey. He would depart from the top of the Mount of Olives and ascend up, up and away to a far land—to the distant heavens—and there take up His place at the right hand of the Father. In the same way that verse 19 tells us that the rich man would be away for a long time, Jesus knew that His return would not be as soon as some people might think. Yet Jesus also knew that He, like the rich man, would return to receive back His property and obtain a careful accounting from each servant.
Now who are these three servants in the parable? They represent you and me, and every other person who is called to serve the Master. They symbolize every servant of God who is born into His house, bought with His blood, and employed for His praise and profit.
1. God has entrusted much responsibility to His servants.
Verse 14 says that the man “called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.” So the first point I want to make is that God has entrusted a lot of responsibility to His servants.
While the rich man called his servants to manage his financial empire, the Lord Jesus has called you and me to manage His earthly kingdom. We have been given an enormous responsibility. We manage the earthly affairs of the Master of masters…the Lord of lords.
God has entrusted much to us. King David in Psalm 8:3-6 expressed his wonder at how much trust God has placed into the hands of human beings: 3 “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” Think of it! God went to all that work to create a perfect world; yet He put man in charge of it all. What incredible confidence He has in His finite and fallible creatures!
Verse 14 tells us that the servants were commanded to manage his “goods,” or his property. Servants in those days owned nothing themselves. Everything they had, even their spouses and their children, were the property of the master. And even when he would go off to a far country, they had no right to say, “The boss is gone now, let’s take our money and run.”
Let’s face it, everything we call ours is really His. Even our own bodies are not ours. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20: 19 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
As servants of Jesus we own nothing. We are managers of God’s property. Our knowledge of the “mysteries” or “secret things” (1 Corinthians 4:1) is still the knowledge of the mysteries of God. Our husbands and our wives, our sons and our daughters, our houses and our land, our spiritual gifts and our ministries, our time and our talents—they are all His property, entrusted into our care until He returns to receive them back.
Now if we would only realize that we are but tenants on His land, we would be less selfish and demanding; if we would only realize that we are not the king of the castle, but He is the King, then we would not be so quick to run away from our responsibilities. In fact, we would ask His permission before we did anything.
Now before I leave this point about God entrusting great responsibility to us, we must not ignore the fact that not all of us have equal responsibility. Verse 15 of our text says, “ ‘And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability….’ ”
Not every servant was entrusted with the same number of talents. One was given five talents, another two, and the third servant was given only one. What we discover is that God makes us managers according to our “manage-ability.”
The master in this parable is not only wealthy; he is also wise. He knew that his servants did not have equal ability. Likewise, God never gives to us more than we can handle. He knows our strengths and He knows our weaknesses. God never demands from a man abilities which he has not got; but he does demand that a man should use to the full the abilities which he does possess. Peter said it well in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
2. But many of us don’t make the most of what we’ve got.
So my first point is that God has entrusted to each of us some kind of important responsibility in the kingdom, though it might not be equal to the responsibility given to someone else.
The second point I want to stress, and it’s something that Jesus wished to stress, is the fact that although God has entrusted something to each of us, some of us who have been entrusted with little don’t make the most of the little we’ve got.
Servant number three was given only one talent to invest. We’re told in verse 18 that upon receiving his talent, he “went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.” Now at first glance, this doesn’t appear to be such a terrible thing to do. His master told him to look after one talent and so that’s what he did. He buried the talent for safekeeping. In those days, it was common to hide some of your money in case some invading army conquered the land and took over the banking system.
So this third servant perhaps said to himself, “I’m going to keep my master’s money safe and sound by digging a hole and burying the talent it might get a little muddy, but at least it wouldn’t be stolen.”
But what did the master think of this servant’s logic when he returned? He was not impressed at all. We’re told at the end of the parable that not only was he fired from his job, but the master ordered that he be thrown “into the outer darkness,” a place where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It’s scary to admit this, but did you know that many of us are just like that poor one-talent servant? Many of us don’t make the most of what we’ve been given. And because we don’t make the most of what we’ve got, even the little we have will one day be taken away.
I want us to take note of the behavior and attitudes that characterized this third servant and caused him to displease his master so much.
The Fear of Failure
Upon the master’s return to ask his servants for an accounting, the third servant tries to justify himself, saying in verse 24 of our text that he knew his master to be a “hard man.” And then in verse 25 he says that he was “afraid,” and therefore went and hid his master’s talent in the ground. So we see that the first thing that characterized this third servant and that caused his master’s displeasure was fear.
He buried his talent because he was afraid. Afraid that if he took the talent and invested it, he might risk losing it all and then have nothing to return to his master. For fear of losing everything, he did nothing.
Fear is probably the most powerful enemy of success. So many people miss opportunities to do something significant with their gifts or talents or possessions simply because they fear failure. You may have been blessed with a natural ability to sing, but much of this talent has gone to waste because you fear you’d fall apart once you stepped on the stage. Or fear of being booed by an audience. What a tragic thing it will be if you bury your God-given talent.
Some of you have been given a naturally warm and loving personality. Yet you’ve never allowed yourself to get close to anyone because of the fear of rejection. And so you’ve buried a treasure. It’s buried so deep that most people don’t even know that you have it. Instead of warmth and love, they see you as cold or shy. Only you know that deep down inside there is something in your possession of great worth.
Some of you have been given a marvelous gift of communication. But because you think that you might say the wrong thing, you freeze up, you lock your lips, and you’re paralyzed because of fear.
How many of us, because we fear to step out and invest the gifts and abilities God has given us, are missing opportunities to use and develop our talents to their full potential? We leave the treasure lying buried in the dirt.
That’s the first characteristic of the third servant: He was paralyzed by the fear of failure. Now let me mention a second characteristic: laziness.
Servant number three had one more tragic flaw. When the master returned to settle accounts, he indicated what he thought of that servant’s decision to bury his talent. In verse 26 the master called him a “wicked and lazy servant!”
If fear of failure is a great enemy of success in the kingdom, laziness at least runs a close second. It probably took servant number three all of five minutes to dig a hole and bury the talent. He saved himself all the time and energy needed to think through all the investment options that were available to him. He couldn’t be bothered researching the possibility of buying a house or a piece of land at a bargain price and finding good tenants. Nor did he even have enough ambition to make a trip to the bank and take the time to decide on whether to invest the talent in a daily-interest shekel account, or a fixed-interest foreign-currency account, or whatever. This man was just plain lazy.
The Bible has a lot to say about lazy people. Proverbs 10:4,5 declares: 4 “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. 5 He who gathers in summer is a wise son; he who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.” Proverbs 20:13 advises, “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.” And I love this line from Ecclesiastes 10:18, “Because of laziness the building decays, and through idleness of hands the house leaks.”
We can be lazy at school or work. And we may be too lazy to pray for other each day.
So we have seen that God has entrusted us with much responsibility; yet even when this responsibility is smaller than that received by others, many of us fail to make the most of what we have been given. Like servant number three in Jesus’ parable, we may be paralyzed by a fear of failure, or we may be lazy, or both. Now I want to make a third point: There are serious consequences for a person who doesn’t make the most of what he’s got.
3. There are serious consequences in failing to make the most of what you’ve got.
Losing What You Have Been Given
The first consequence of fear and laziness for servant number three was the loss of even the one talent that had been entrusted to him. When his master returned and found that the servant had been negligent and had buried his talent, he was angry. He said in verse 28 that the talent should be taken from him and given to the servant who had 10 talents. Now in this parable Jesus is not justifying taking from the poor and giving to the rich (a kind of Robin Hood principle in reverse). What Jesus is doing is teaching a simple principle of life: If you don’t use it, you will lose it.
This principle has been proved in my own life. Many years ago I played the trumpet and the drums. I practiced hard. I developed a talent. But if you were to hand me a trumpet or a drum right now and I were to try and play them for you, you would plug your ears! I can’t play the trumpet or drums today. Why? Because I haven’t used my talent.
That’s what can easily happen to buried talents. The third servant not only didn’t achieve a profit on his master’s money; he even lost the one talent he was given to manage. This fearful and lazy manager had dug a hole, little realizing that he was digging it for himself! He didn’t realize that if he didn’t use it, he’d lose it.
Sometimes we wonder why others seem to succeed but we don’t. Maybe it’s because we are not using the talents that God has given us. How would you feel if you gave a friend a gift (one you were sure they would like and use) but then you noticed that they never wore the shirt you gave, or never took the game you bought out of the box? Wouldn’t you be a bit offended? You might think twice about ever giving another gift to that thankless person.
I wonder if God sometimes feels that way about us. He has given us gifts. We have buried them in the ground out of fear, or because we’re just too lazy to do anything with them. Why should God ever give us more gifts and more responsibility if we aren’t faithful to use what He has already given us?
Jesus said to a group of “religious” people in Matthew 21:43, “ ‘Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.’ ”
Future Everlasting Darkness
If losing the only talent he had was not enough, then the third servant heard his master call him an “unprofitable servant” in verse 30, and order that he be cast “into the outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here was the second consequence of his failure to make the most of what he had.
What could Jesus possibly mean by these harsh words? Remember, we learned in verse 19 that the master returned to settle accounts with his managers “after a long time.” This speaks to us of Jesus’ own return. Yes, it’s been two thousand years and He hasn’t returned yet. But this “long time” is coming to a close. The signs are clear. And one of the reasons He is returning is to settle accounts. Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Jesus will look for a profit on his investment.
Here Jesus is not talking about just our natural gifts or talents. Here He is talking about how we will deal with the greatest gift of all, the one gift that God has offered to everybody…the gift of salvation. The greatest gift that you have been offered is the gift of Jesus, God’s Son…the gift of the Savior. We read in John 3:16-18:
16 “‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.’ ”
God has given us the one gift that, if accepted, will give us eternal life, a life in heaven full of reward and personal fulfillment. But if we reject it, because we’re afraid or too lazy to receive it and act upon it, then even the life we have now will be taken from us. In place of eternal life, we will be cast “into the outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
To conclude, I don’t know about you, but I want to be most like the first servant, not the last one. It says in the parable in verse 16 that the one “who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.” In another Bible version, we read that this man “went AT ONCE.”
One thing that set this servant apart from the third servant was his faith. And there were two things that showed that he had faith. First of all, he took a certain measure of risk. He could easily have taken the safe route and buried his talents too. But instead, he took his money and invested it.
Another indication that this was a man of faith was the fact that he “went at once.” Alexander the Great, when asked how he had conquered the world, replied, “By not delaying.” This servant didn’t waste any time in investing his master’s money. He didn’t want to lose even a day’s interest on that money, so he “went at once.” He wasn’t fearful or lazy, but he believed so strongly that he could make a profit with his master’s money that he “went at once.”
There’s a man named Lee Iacocca and he was the chairman of Chrysler Motors. Iacocca said, “Obviously, you’re responsible for gathering as many relevant facts and projections as you possibly can. But at some point you’ve got to take that leap of faith…because even the right decision is wrong if it’s made too late.” “You’ve got to take that leap of faith.” Very few things are ever accomplished unless we step out in faith and take certain risks.
Many of us have problems making decisions, taking steps of faith. And we end up being poor managers of God’s resources.
It’s no accident that I’m sharing this message with you. God planned this encounter before you and I were born; He wanted you to receive this message. God is offering you His free gift—His son Jesus. You can take Him or leave Him. But before you leave Him, before you reject Him, at least take a good look at Him. Take a close look at this gift, this treasure.
Read the instruction manual, the Bible, before you say to yourself, “Jesus doesn’t work for me.” I can tell you from life experience that Jesus works! I’ve read the instruction manual. I’ve read the Bible. And one day I decided to believe that Jesus works, and at that moment God flipped on the power switch and Jesus started working in my life. I have never been the same since.
God has given you gifts and talents. Use them. And God has given you the greatest gift of all, Jesus. Don’t reject that gift. Don’t bury Jesus. Take a step of faith and believe and follow the instruction manual. He’ll work for you too!