from Redeemer Pastor Mark H. Larson
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? Matthew 25:24-26
This week’s gospel is a parable that is so well known it has actually changed the English language. Up until the fifteenth century, a “talent” was simply a unit of Roman currency. But through countless years of preachers allegorizing this parable, the word “talent” began meaning a person’s natural ability.
Continue in that vein, the interpretation of the parable seems quite clear. Put it in Lutheran terms, the Law of this parable tells us we are obligated to use the talents God has given us to the best of our ability, or the punishment of hell awaits us. Then the Gospel comes in with the comforting assurance that all good comes from God, who provides us far more than we need; God’s grace is given in abundance for our use.
Not a bad message as far as it goes. It certainly works during the church’s Stewardship season. But doesn’t it sound a bit moralistic to you? I usually find Jesus’ parables a bit more challenging.
I am fascinated by the master’s response: “You knew, did you?” With what tone do you hear this line? Is it one of anger, or more one of exasperation? After all, this master had just entrusted over 100 year’s worth of wages to his servants. But instead of seeing this as an amazing demonstration of generosity and trust, this particular servant sees it as a setup: “I knew that you were a harsh man.”
What if the “sin” of this servant was that he created in his mind a master who was evil, mean, and harsh when in reality the master was nothing more than good, loving, and trusting. And having adopted that negative view, he acted accordingly. Maybe the “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” is less a threat of judgment and more a description of the world in which this servant is already living.
Then I guess the question for us is how do we see this master?
How we answer that question will in large part reveal the kind of world we think we are living in today.
So in the end this parable not only has the power to change our language, it has the power to change our world.
That sounds like the kind of story Jesus would tell.