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‘For IT will be like a man going on a journey.’
What will? What is ‘it’?
On Wednesday of Holy Week, as Jesus left the Temple, His disciples marveled at the beauty of the Temple and it’s impressive architecture. Jesus answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ (Mat.24:1-2) After that, they went to the Mount of Olives, privately. And they asked Him, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age’? And Jesus answered them…’ (Mat.24:3-4).
As to the question of ‘WHEN these things will be,’ Jesus says, ‘concerning the day or the hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven or the Son, but the Father only.’ As to the question of ‘what SIGNS to look for,’ Jesus says, politically, ‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.’ Religiously, ‘many false christs and false prophets will appear and many will be led astray. And those who are not led astray, will be subject to great tribulation and hatred and even death.’ And these ‘signs’ signal just the ‘beginning of birth pangs.’ (Mat.24:4-8)
When you see these signs, then you will know that the ‘close of the age’ is coming, and the ‘new age’ will begin when I come again to judge between those who will be a part of the new age and those who will not.
We cannot properly understand the meaning of the parable before us this morning, unless we understand in the proper context. Jesus speaks this parable to His disciples on the Mount of Olives in answer to their question. Having answered the ‘when’ and the ‘what,’ He now answers the even more important, ‘how.’ How should the disciple of Jesus live in these last days at the close of the age, when these signs are clearly taking place all around?
That’s what ‘it’ is. ‘It’ is the life of the believer during these last days. ‘It will be like a man going on a journey. He called His servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.’
The ‘man’ is Jesus. He is the master and it’s His property. The ‘servants’ are specifically, His servants. Everyone is a servant to one master or another. Some serve master mammon. Some serve master Jesus. But “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’ (Matthew 6:24)
This parable is only about those who serve master Jesus. They were at one time, slaves of master mammon. But Jesus called them out of darkness and into His marvelous light and they live under His good and gracious rule.
A ‘talent’ is a huge sum of money. In the currency of the Roman empire, one ‘silver talent’ was worth about 7,300 denari. A denari was the equivalent of a days wage. So if you worked 365 days a year and never rested on the Sabbath Day, a ‘talent’ would be worth over 20 years wages. A ‘gold talent’ was worth 30 times more than a ‘silver talent.’
‘To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one.’ It’s the ultimate economic stimulus program.
Our Lord is not a Socialist. There’s nothing ‘egalitarian’ about this kind of distribution of wealth. He ‘entrusts’ to each ‘according to his ability.’ Some are entrusted with more, some with less. And its not based on ‘favoritism’ or ‘party politics,’ but on ‘ability.’ All may be equally willing and equally faithful, but not all are equally able. Some grew up in the church, some are brand new to the faith. Some had great Sunday School teachers and influential pastors, some carry the scars of bad examples and unfaithful teachers. Some have more ‘ability’ than others.
‘And then He went away.’ No contracts, no guidelines, no threats. He just distributes His property and goes away.
You know what that’s called? Some might call that ‘negligence,’ or ‘bad management.’ But Jesus calls it ‘trust.’ ‘He entrusted’ it to them. ‘Trust’ is a risky thing. ‘Trust’ can be broken. ‘Trust’ can be betrayed. No guarantees, no insurance in case of failure. The one who ‘trusts’ is completely vulnerable. ‘Trust’ simply ‘trusts.’ It’s always much safer to ‘not trust.’
I read a story recently about a girl who went to college and said that of all the girls on her dormitory floor, she was the only one whose mother had not insisted that, before leaving for school, she must go on the pill. She wrote a beautiful letter to her mother, ‘thanks for trusting me Mom.’ There was something very special going on between that mother and daughter.
‘He entrusted to them His property. Then He went away.’ There’s something very special going on between this master and His servants.
How do you handle a ‘trust’ like that? That’s what ‘it,’ the life of faith in ‘these last days,’ is all about. How do you handle the master’s trust in you?
The one entrusted with five talents put them to work as did the one entrusted with two. They ‘traded with them.’ Today we’d probably say, ‘they helped the economy.’ Which is just what the master intended them to do. Only the economy that He had in mind is not the ‘economy of the nation,’ but the ‘economy of the Kingdom of Heaven.’
And don’t you just get the feeling that both of these servants had a lot of fun ‘trading’ with what the master entrusted to them? And lo and behold, they discovered that the more they traded with the master’s ‘talents,’ the more they produced. Each one ended up with twice as much as he started with.
And who do you think was more pleased and excited about that, the servants or the Master? The servants can’t wait until the master returns. ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I made five talents more.’ And the other is just as excited to hand over all that the master’s property has produced under his stewardship. They are so grateful for the trust that He has bestowed upon them. ‘Thanks for trusting me, Master.’
And in His joy, the Master says, ‘well done, good and FAITHFUL servant. You have been FAITHFUL with LITTLE.’ Notice, the master does not commend them for their profitability or success, but for their faithfulness. Faith simply takes hold of, embraces what it is entrusted with.
And notice too, that He calls what He had entrusted to them ‘a little.’ We thought it was a huge and extravagant amount. But He calls it a ‘little.’ ‘I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ‘You thought that was fun. Wait until you see the joy I have in store for you.’ His joy is their joy.
But there still one more servant to consider. What about the one who was entrusted with one talent? Maybe he wasn’t as ‘able’ as the other two. But he was just as ‘trusted’ as the other two. And the joy set before him was the same.
‘He went and dug in the ground and hid his masters’ money.’
Here is a man who knows nothing of that ‘special relationship between servant and master’ that we have been talking about. For him, everything that the master entrusts to him becomes a stifling limitation and a burden that he feels obligated drag around with him where ever he goes. He wishes that the master had never entrusted him with a thing. Then he would be free to serve master mammon without the hang-ups and the sense of obligation to the master that nags at him. He would gladly squander the whole ‘talent’ on reckless living, but deep down inside, there is that nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, the Master will really return and demand an accounting of his stewardship.
‘I know what I’ll do’, he says. ‘I won’t disavow my baptism or my confirmation or all of those sermons and Communion suppers that were entrusted to me. No, I’ll just ignore them. I’ll wrap them up in a handkerchief and bury them in a safe place. That way, if I ever actually have to give an account of what was entrusted to me, I can dig up the past and present my baptismal certificate and confirmation certificate to the master. I’ll say, ‘here, you have what is yours.’
Sure enough, the day came for this servant just as it did for the others. And the man dug up his ‘talent’ and presented it to the Master just as he planned. ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid.’
In his Large Catechism explanation of the 1st Commandment, Luther makes the point that your God is whoever you believe Him to be. ‘To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in him from the heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart that makes both God and idol.’ This man believed that God is a ‘hard man to be feared.’ And so that’s the God he got.
The Master uses the servant’s own words to condemn him. ‘You say that you believe that I am a hard man reaping where I do not sow and gathering where I have not scattered seed. No you don’t. If you really believed that, ‘then you would have invested my money with bankers, that at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.’ The truth is, ‘you are a wicked and slothful servant.’ ‘Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has, more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
So, the critical question here, as we think about our life at the ‘end of the age’ is, ‘what do you think about Jesus?’ Is He a ‘hard man to be feared,’ or is He the good and gracious Lord and Master who ‘entrusts’ you with what is His, that you might share in His joy?
Before you answer that question, let me remind you that it was with divine joy that Jesus came into this world to trade with what was entrusted to Him by the Father. And the Father entrusted the Son with ‘much,’ in fact, with everything, ‘according to His ability.’ For His is ‘able’ to redeem the whole world.
Jesus traded with the all of the divine attributes that are rightfully His, healing the sick, casting out the demons, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, and absolving repentant sinners. He is the ultimate ‘servant of the Lord’ who trades with everything the Father has given to Him, even His body and blood.
The Servant of the Lord has handed over to His Father all that belongs to Him. Christ has used the holy capital entrusted to Him by the Father and produced an entire kingdom of Christians, and you are included in that great number.
And in His joy, the Father calls His Son from the grave and says, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ And you, who are raised with Christ and result of His faithful stewardship, ‘share in the joy of your master.’
There is something special going on between you and your Master.