Peeled - Faithfulness

Matthew 25:14-30 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

I buried my own grandpa a few years ago. After the committal an older gentleman hobbled up to me and shook my hand. He wasn’t there because he knew me or my family. I’m pretty sure he didn’t know a one of us. And yet he was there from halfway across the country. And why? He was a Marine. He had hidden in fox holes with my grandpa while bullets flew past and mortars fell around them. Their motto: semper fidelis – always faithful – had been tattooed onto their souls. So he hobbled up to me, shook my hand, and quietly said, “I fought with your grandpa.” Faithfulness. The higher the stakes the greater its importance.

And, yes, there are stakes. Not the kind you get from a cow, but the kind you might have in a business or a horse or a stock on Wall Street and also the kind rooted in eternity. Jesus is talking here about how faithfulness ties together both financial and eternal stakes. Maybe you caught the financial part already. When I was growing up, this parable was always called the Parable of the Talents. And if you know Greek that’s not a problem because you know that in Greek a talent is a unit of money, but in English a talent isn’t anything like that. It’s your gift set. It’s what you’re good at. And the editors of the NIV’s new translation are trying to move us away from that by renaming this story The Parable of the Bags of Gold.

And they were right to do it. Did you catch how Jesus started the story? He started the story by explicitly saying that the distribution of the bags was done, “each according to his ability.” (v. 15) The master divvies up resources according to a person’s ability to manage them. And then the story moves on. Yes, that does mean that we are to use our talents. That is being taught here, but the story isn’t primarily about that. This is a story about what we do with wealth.

And two guys in the story immediately invest. Big time too. They’re financial movers and financial shakers like traders from Goldman Sachs. There are huge profits and huge money getting thrown around here. The scholars say that each talent is worth about 23 years of a working person’s wages. If you want to figure out what that looks like to you, take your annual salary and multiply it by 23 and you’ll come out with a number like what Jesus is suggesting in the story. And that’s just one talent. If you’re the guy who received two talents, you’ve got a lifetime’s worth of wages to invest. And if you’re the guy who’s received five, you’ve got multiple lifetimes of wages to invest, which means we’re talking about significant amounts of what we’ve worked for.

So two out of the three immediately invest. The third guy, however, takes his talent – his twenty-three-years worth of wages – and does nothing with it. Well, truthfully, he does less than nothing with it. He sunk it right back into the earth. He, “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (v. 18) There was no effort at all. He just sinks it back into this life and this world and lets it rot down here. You know how lazy that is? Back then if you had money you could always make money. Interest rates were crazy good. Sometimes they were reportedly up to 50%. Just put the money on deposit and pick it up later and you’d make crazy money. But the guy was too lazy and too selfish – or too faithless – even to bother doing that.

That’s how Jesus’ story unfolds. And already, you can see that it has a gorgeous, saving purpose. It immediately helps us understand that Jesus doesn’t see money or investments as necessary evils. Not even close. He sees them as brilliant resources and even makes the claim that he’s the giver and owner of them. But there’s more than that here. This isn’t Jesus just giving a seminar called A Healthy Perspective on Wealth. This story is exactly what I said it was a moment ago. It’s a part of God’s redemptive work in our lives. It has a saving purpose. And to understand that, we have to admit something uncomfortable about money. Money shows what’s really in us. What we faithfully invest in shows what’s inside us. In other words, we can follow the money right back to what we worship and what we value.

That explains the immediacy of what the first two guys do. They are just so excited to get after it. Their hearts believe in the Master and his cause. They believe in expanding his business empire. They value what he’s up to. And so they dig in. With some incredible results. Even back in the hay day of Apple’s stock you couldn’t ever get the sky high returns these guys were getting. They doubled the value of their portfolios. And when they’re called to account they are terribly, terribly excited about it. “Look, Master, I got you five more.” “Look, Master, I got you two more.” They’re just over-the-top excited about the success of their investments. And why? Was it because they were so excited about the piles of money they had made? No, it was because they were so enthralled by who they had made it for.

Of course, not everybody was so enthralled with him. The guy with the one talent comes back and just rips the Master as he explains why he buried the money. He said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” (v. 24) Do you see what Jesus is getting at? He saying, “It’s not about the money. It was never about the money.” How the money was used showed the servant’s heart. The servant buried the money because of what he believed about the Master. “You’re a hard man. You’re so hard that you even resort to robbery. You harvest what you don’t sow. You gather what you don’t scatter.” And not to hit this too hard, but I think we all understand what Jesus means when he talks about where this guy ends up. In outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So what are we supposed to do with these three people? Does Jesus want us to pigeon hole our level of faithfulness? Does he want us to say, “I think I’m the two talent guy”? Does he want us to be proud that, “I’m the five talent one”? Or, maybe be afraid thinking, “I might be the one talent guy”? What are we supposed to think and do with these three different people in the story? Does Jesus see us fitting neatly into one of his categories?

You know what the truth is? Jesus tells the story not because we always fit so neatly, but precisely because we don’t. The truth is that if we all fit consistently and neatly into these categories, then there’s no point in telling the story. We wouldn’t change or repent or move down the spectrum at all. It’s precisely because we’re on the spectrum and between the categories that makes this story so compelling for us. Because sometimes, we need a massive spiritual wake-up call. Sometimes we need to get shoved down the spectrum in repentance toward more faithfulness. That’s what the guy headed for outer darkness really is for us. He’s a wake-up call. We’re told about him to stop us from ever ending up like him.  

And let’s be abundantly clear about what Jesus is warning us about. He’s not saying we shouldn’t ever take a beach vacation again. He’s not saying we shouldn’t ever take the wife out for a decent dinner or build a nice house. This parable isn’t a condemnation of investing in today. What it is is a condemnation of only investing in today. What Jesus is saying is that if we only invest in this world we’re saying, “God, I think you’re a hard God. I don’t think your eternity or your kingdom or any of your plans are worth investing in. I’m burying my wealth down here.” And if we ever feel ourselves drifting toward that end of the spectrum, a nice long look at the end of this parable is just the ticket to sending our souls repenting and fleeing the other way.

How do I know Jesus meant the parable like that? Because Jesus didn’t tell this story to a mixed crowd. Jesus told this story to the believers. We know that because this story fits right into a bunch of other teaching that Jesus spoke, “when his disciples came up to him.” (24:1) Jesus told this story to his church – to the saved, to the holy, to the believers – call them whatever you want to call them. This story is for us. What that means is that this isn’t a story about how to be saved. It’s a story about what to do once you are. It’s about getting busy and faithfully investing in the team that God put you on. And, in particular, the end of the Jesus’ story is about making sure you stay that way. Because all you can do is run away from that ending.

And run toward the heart behind the story. Did you catch it beating there? Jesus was talking to us – his insiders, his disciples, the saved – and what really was on his heart here were the outsiders. What pressed on him were the folks who weren’t yet disciples; who hadn’t yet heard the gospel; the people who thought God was hard and bad and maybe even a robber. That’s the heart behind this story. This isn’t a guy who like me when heading out tells babysitter, “Elliana is asleep right now. Relax and enjoy. Here’s the remote and a TV dinner.” This is the Savior of the world who has a heart that says, “I’m heading out to make the ultimate sacrifice and the plan is that you make sure the story is told. Invest heavily in that work.” This story is nothing less than clear evidence of a divine heart that’s all caught up in grace and its delivery.

Just as the history around this story is too. You know what was going on here? Holy Week. And I point that out because when we think about how we’ve used our assets it can cause an awful lot of guilt. That’s why it’s important for me to point out that the Jesus who taught this was just days away from saving every soul he was currently teaching. The Jesus who taught this was literally hours from purifying his listeners from every time they had buried money including me and you. That’s not a hard-nosed God. That’s a grace-full God. And I think you know what I mean by that. I’m not calling God a ballerina. I’m calling God the one who saw us bury our resources and still went ahead and loved us with his whole self and poured out his blood so that we could have forgiveness.

And if you think about it, that’s the only thing that can explain the behavior of the first two people in the story. What else could explain their excitement over their investment gains? Are they that greedy? Are they only excited about bottom line? Or are they celebrating the winning of souls? And what else could have the Master dishing out glowing commendations for their faithful investments? Is the Master worse than a hedge fund worker on Wall Street? Is he popping the champagne corks because he’s now richer than ever before? Or is he just that passionate about reaching the lost? I’m pretty sure you know the answer to those questions.

My grandpa did too. I never realized it ‘til I thought this story through, but as I stood there by his grave there wasn’t just one shining example of what faithfulness accomplishes. There wasn’t just the Marine who shook my hand. There was the guy who had his hand shook. My grandpa invested thousands into a church home for my mom. I’ll bet it was at least one biblical talent that he stuck into it. And after he was done investing into a church for my mom, he invested in a Christian college for me. Thousands. And he was just a hard knock farmer. I stood there my hand being shaken as a Christian and a pastor in large part because of his faithfulness.

You know what else is true? I stand here today in large part because of yours. I can only imagine where that all leads for Peace and for the kingdom of God. But then, again, we don’t have to. Jesus made sure we’d know. He had us picture it twice in the story and twice for a reason. Where it all leads. The ending for us all. An ending that we know could only come from Jesus’ perfect cross-given forgiveness. An ending that makes the great declaration about us and starts the eternal beginning with this joyous shout coming from Jesus himself: “Well done! Faithful one! Come and share your Master’s happiness.” I would say I can’t wait, but apparently Jesus thinks I can. So wait I will. In the meantime, we get to be faithful to the Faithful One. The stakes couldn’t be higher or the gains any more glorious. Amen. 

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