I didn’t know much about investing until eighteen months ago, that was my husband’s department and I pretty much left it to him, my main concern being that any investments we made were ethical. Since his passing, I’ve been learning about high, low and medium risk investments and at this stage of my life, I, like many of you I’m sure, am choosing lower risks options for my own limited portfolio. But today’s Gospel tells a different story and calls us to a different level of risk management.
As we approach the end of the liturgical year, we come towards the end of the Gospel of Matthew. As I’m sure you are aware, the lectionary runs on a three-year cycle with each of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke being assigned one year in the cycle and the Gospel of John distributed among all three. The parable of the talents which we heard today is situated near the end of Jesus’s discourse on the end times.
‘Talent’ was originally a monetary term referring to a particular unit of gold or silver. In Jesus’s day, a talent was a unit of money approximating fifteen years of earnings by a day labourer. So each of the talents handed out by the landowner is enormous. Five talents was equal to a lifetime of a labourers earnings. So originally, talents were a monetary unit which later became transliterated as gifts or abilities.
So here is where it gets interesting: the master goes away, he doesn’t give detailed instructions about what they should do, and he doesn’t hover over them to make sure they aren’t wasting his money. He gives them space and trusts them to make good decisions. He gives them the opportunity to grow, to flourish, to be successful.
Though the master gives them no explicit directions, the first two use their intelligence and initiative to multiply the wealth given to them. The third one however misses the opportunity to maximize what has been entrusted.
This parable demonstrates the exceptional love of God, shown not only in generosity in entrusting full talents, but also Gods willingness to give space to human beings to live and flourish creatively. God gives us this space so that we may be people who have a hand in shaping our world, our communities, our future.
Faithful living is not static, not just an idea. We’re meant to put our skills and our resources to productive use, but sometimes we hold back – why ? Perhaps we are afraid, we feel our talent is too small to make any difference . In the parable it is fear and distrust that paralyzes the third person. Out of fear an opportunity is lost.
Jesus told this story in the middle of his own ‘high risk’ venture, during the last few days of his life. Earlier he had made a decision to leave the safety and security of Galilee and go to Jerusalem where the religious authorities would regard him as a threat to the status quo and their own power, and the Roman authorities would regard him as a disturber of the peace.
What do we do in response to God’s trust in us which is neither trivial nor accidental? We have choices and powers that have real consequences. What we do or fail to do shapes our lives, our church, and our world. Perhaps our personal faith has not seemed like a high-risk venture but a place of comfort and security both now and in the hereafter. Faith may be a matter of beliefs subscribe to intellectually, about living a good life and avoiding bad things, but our faith calls to more than that.
In this parable Jesus invites us to be his disciples: to live our lives as fully as possible by expanding the horizons of our responsibilities. To be his disciples is not so much about believing but about following him. It is to experience renewed responsibility for the use and investment of our precious lives. It is to be bold and brave, to aim high and care deeply.
The person entrusted with one talent was not a bad person but rather one who was prudent and careful, not one to take chances. We have to wonder how the first two would have fared had their high-risk investments turned out badly and they’d lost it all.
The greatest risk of all it turns out is not to risk anything, not to invest deeply in anything, to commit ourselves fully to anything. When we stop to think about it, marriage is a high-risk venture, parenting is a high-risk venture, and faith in Jesus Christ is the highest risk venture of all. But it’s a greater risk to play it safe, to live cautiously, to settle for safe and comfortable. This parable calls us to risky living out of our faith, to love deeply, to give generously, to risk all we have for the Gospel. It is an invitation to live the adventure of faith: to risk it all to be a disciple of Jesus.