Risking the way of Jesus
1 Thessalonians 5.1-11
As a young boy growing up in England, my attention was often captivated by tales of buried treasure. You’d hear of people finding a Roman coin or a medieval brooch in an ordinary field with a metal detector; but every now and then a real hoard was found.
In 1939, for example, the ‘Sutton Hoo’ treasure was found in Suffolk. It was the site of a seventh century royal burial, with a whole ship interred under the earth. And just in 2009, someone found 5 kg of gold and 2.5 kg of silver dating from the same century. These treasures had been buried for fourteen centuries!
Today’s Gospel Reading tells of buried treasure. A rich man has three servants. Each is given an absolutely amazing amount of money. Ten talents, five talents, one talent, all huge amounts of money.
In English, we speak of our natural gifts as ‘talents’, don’t we? The first time this use of the word ‘talent’ was recorded was 1430. And this meaning of the word ‘talent’ comes from this parable. In the days of Jesus, a ‘talent’ was the largest unit of currency. It was worth about twenty years’ wages for a working man. This huge amount became the word we use for natural gift or attribute.
We often tell this parable about stewardship. So the preacher often asks, How are we using the talents that God has given us? What a great gift this passage is as we bring our stewardship season to a close! Yet to be honest, this parable isn’t really about stewardship. It’s more about taking risks in a world in which the Lord is surely coming.
Last week, we spoke about the ‘coming’ of Jesus, what the Bible calls the parousia, the ‘being alongside’ us of Jesus. We said that Jesus is alongside us all the time through the Spirit—but often we experience an absence of Jesus more than his presence. We wonder just where he is when we look around at the evils of the world, the follies of the church and at our own restless hearts.
In this parable, the master of three slaves is absent. He’s gone on a long journey and entrusts his property to his slaves. He is fabulously wealthy; he has eight talents of silver and gold. A talent weighed over 30 kilograms and was worth more than 120 years’ wages for a labourer. A talent was more money than anyone could expect to see in a lifetime.
The master entrusts his whole fortune to the slaves. I think that’s what the parable means; he doesn’t just entrust ‘some’ or even ‘most’ of his property to the slaves; he entrusts the lot to them. The master is playing for keeps.
There’s a reckoning coming. “After a long time”, the master returns. It must have been a lo-o-ong time, because the first slave has had time to double his money to ten talents—and the master only had eight to begin with. The second has also done equally well, doubling his money to four talents. That’s half what the master started with! The master now has fourteen talents.
The spotlight falls on the third slave. Did he do equally well? Did he double his money as well?
We know the answer.
He buried his share of the money. He didn’t lose a cent of it!—but he didn’t use it either. He could have just put it in the bank and got the interest. His master would have been better pleased.
Why didn’t the third slave do something with the talent of gold he’d been entrusted with? He answers that question himself:
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.
The third slave’s beliefs about his master’s character stopped him from trusting the master. How often to Christians imagine that God is a harsh master, ready to judge them if they fail? And how often does that stop them from risking adventures of faith?
The third slave was afraid of the master. Afraid of failure. He didn’t lose anything—but he didn’t risk anything either.
And risk is what this parable is about.
We hear a lot about risk these days. We hear about avoiding risk, we hear about risk management, risk assessment. And of course, that’s all good. But we’re not talking about reckless behaviour. We’re not talking about ‘hang gliding for Jesus’. We’re talking about using what God has given us in adventurous ways.
I believe that we’re being adventurous in receiving a new minister in our team. The Rev’d Josie Nottle will work with youth and young families on a 50% basis, while she works across the Bremer Brisbane Presbytery for the other 50% of her placement. We’re in for an adventure. We don’t know how it will end. I’m looking forward to the journey! I’m looking forward to the increase that will come from this new beginning.
We support people who are adventurous in faith. Last night, we heard from Remember Seven, who are very well known to us. This band does amazing work among orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia; Katie and Joy have also worked with sex workers in the Philippines. The 1994 Assembly of the Uniting Church had as its theme, ‘Risking the Way of Jesus’. Remember Seven are using their gifts in risky ways for the Lord Jesus.
Our congregation supports James Hughes and the Rev’d Michelle Cook in Mapoon, an Aboriginal town in Cape York Peninsula. Michelle and James are risking a great deal to reach out to Indigenous people and to help the church develop there.
As we live waiting and looking for the Lord to be alongside us, we are meant to be adventuresome. Faith is an adventure! It’s not about believing a set of facts about God; faith is trusting the Lord Jesus in, with and through the muck and mess of our lives.
That’s why we can take risks when we have this trusting faith—then, we trust the God who leads us, whatever happens.
Perhaps it can also help to turn it around. This parable isn’t just about our trusting faith in God. It also shows that God has faith in us. God has faith in you and me. God has more faith in me than I do in myself.
Just as the master entrusted everything to the slaves, so God has entrusted everything to us. We are God’s hands, feet, voice. God trusts us. Can we believe that? Is it possible?
The Apostle Paul speaks about the treasure that we have in 2 Corinthians 4. He writes:
…we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“But”, Paul says,
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
I wonder if sometimes we look at the clay jar but fail to see the great treasure God has placed within us? When we look to Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”, we have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” right here within.
I feel sorry for the third slave in the parable. His terror of the master was his undoing. Yet the master wasn’t going to take the talents from his slaves; he was giving them away, he was setting his slaves free!
In Christ, we are free. We can take risks, we can make mistakes, God is good! Let’s be a congregation that risks the way of Jesus. Amen.