Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

The traditional interpretation of this parable is again fairly obvious: take what you’ve been given by God and do something with it…or else it’s outer darkness for you. But I’d again like to ask a few other questions. Actually, just one in particular: why are we so sure the landlord is as awful as the third servant makes out?

I mean, we have no explicit description of him as good or bad prior to the third servant’s speech. More than that, the first two servants do not seem afraid. They take the money they have been given and go out and trade – that is, they go out and risk their wealth in the marketplace. Perhaps that was driven by desperation, but there’s no indication of that. They seem to return their profit to their master with delight and he, in turn, praises them lavishly, rewards them with even greater responsibility, and invites them to enter into his joy.

We might also consider the nature of the master’s charge. He gives the servants talents to invest. We often gloss over that word, but a talent represented about 15 years of income for servants such as these. That is, whether you had received five, two, or a single talent, you would have just been entrusted with a huge amount of wealth. And while the first two servants seem to take that as a sign of their master’s confidence and affirmation and hence risk that wealth seeking to do well by his trust, it’s only the third servant who is paralyzed by fear. So the question I want to ask is why we take his description of the master as accurate and truthful and disregard all these other clues?

Now, I know, the main reason might be because the master seems to confirm the servant’s judgment with his response. But does he? Notice, first, that the master replies to the servant’s charge in the form of a question, “You knew, did you…?” That might be a critique as much as a confirmation, challenging the servant’s assessment. He might also, for that matter, have decided to play the role the third servant assigned him: “If you thought I was so awful, why didn’t you at least invest the money in a bank. Fine, then, I will be the person you’ve described: take his talent and throw him out.”

Might it be that this is less a warning about the threatening nature of God and more a caution that in too many of our relationships we tell self-fulfilling prophecies? That we are limited by the premature judgments we render about the character of others? And that this can be true even in our relationship with God?

So when we imagine God primarily as an enforcer of rules, we get hung up by the legalism of religion. When we visualize God as stern and prone to punishment, we come to believe that everything bad in our lives is punishment from God. When we see God as arbitrary and capricious, that’s what we experience, a fickle and unsympathetic God who meets our expectations. At the same time, when we see God as loving, we find it easier to love ourselves and others. When we see God as gracious, we lead more grace-filled lives. When we recognize God as forgiving, we live in the joy of receiving and giving forgiveness. What you see in life is way too often just what you get.

So maybe I’ll close by asking a second question: what kind of God do you see?

Prayer: Dear God, let us recognize you as the one who comes bearing forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace and allow this true vision of you to transform who we are and how we live. In Jesus’ name, Amen.