Are you ready to risk? Ordinary 33a

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.’

When working in the Gospels it is always a chalenge to know where to begin reading and where to end. The versification of the modern format of the Gospels is not helpful as some of the chapter breaks are arbitary and cut across teachings much the same way the cartogrophers pens carved across the map of Africa separating whole cultures, tribes and collective histories in the quest for Imperial lands.
We know from extant manuscripts that the written form of the gospels was very dense and even unpuntuated, let alone unversified!

Coming to these end times teachings of Jesus it is difficult to know when to begin reading before the passage to be preached from the lectionary. I find it helpful when trying to find the entry point into passages, to look for action passages, which are often the transition and comencement points.
Jesus moves to another place, Jesus enters the synagogue, Jesus crosses the lake, that kind of transition.

To find the access point for this teaching in today’s gospel, one has to backup to Matthew 24:3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things 8 happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The reply of Jesus to that request takes the form of the following teachings:

  • The Persecution of the Disciples
  • The Abomination of Desolation
  • The Arrival of the Son of Man
  • The Parable of the Fig Tree

Underpinning the teachings is the theme,”Be Ready!”
Under this sub section of being ready there are then three parables, namely:

  1. The Faithful and Wise slave who takes care of the staff of the household whilst the Master is away,
  2. The Ten Virgins, five of whom keep themselves properly resourced for the return of the Master,
  3. and finally the Parable of the talents which is the focus for this week’s preaching.

The story is a simple narrative of a landowner who is going away and entrusts his property to his servants in differing proportions, five, two and one.
The unit of measure being termed talent is unfortunate, as it has come to be associated with skills. A talent in fact refered to a sheckel, which was the largest unit of weight in Biblical times but which scholars have not been able to find equivalency for in our modern measuring system.
The best we can do here is to say that the master divided his property into eight parts, five to the one servant, two to another and one to the last. Scripture then also goes on to comment, “According to their ability”
In the later accounting the five talents have been applied to yield another five; similarly the two talents are now four and both enteprising servants are given access to the Master’s joy. The fearful conservative slave who for fear of the Master’s harsh business methods, does nothing with his resource
is punished by losing that resource and also as a final humiloiation is excluded from the “joy of the master”

Now, if you have grown up in the church as I did, you will have heard any number of teachings on this parable, most of which will have been exhortations for you and I as individuals to use our God given talents as skilfully as we can and to achieve, achieve, achieve. After all that is the basis of the Protestant Work ethic!
There is just one problem with that approach. The individual was really not the key component of Biblical, Bronze Age culture. The group was.
Now if we consider that the church is the servant entrusted with the Divine Domain whilst Christ is visibly absent, I behoves the church to be expanding that Divine Domain’s resources through skillful engagement and even entrepreneurial action. Yet when I consider the activities of many church communities I see them acting, not in the inclusive expansive and expanding spirit of the skilfull stewards in this parable, I see rather fear based, suspicious and conserve-reactive (Conservative) laagers. It is even evident in our architecture.
The pictute at the head of this post, is of one of the newest Methodist Churches to be built in Johannesburg. Whilst I am architecturally astute enough to “read” the architect’s intention to embody the African theme, what they have unwittingly created is a fort!
Here is a British block house built by the Colonial forces in South Africa during the AngloBoer war.

A picture paints a thousand words, so let me be brief to close.
I am sadly persuaded that should the church have to give account right now,we would have to accept that the one portion we have so fearfully protected in our fear based, block house forts we call our denominations and our doctrines; would probably be taken away from us and we would lose the joy of the master.
Hey, come to think of it, that’s already happening!


6 responses to “Are you ready to risk? Ordinary 33a”

  1. Peter avatar

    Hi Dawn, Thanks for your affirming comments.
    Is there really a box? Giggle

  2. Dawn Long avatar
    Dawn Long

    Hi Peter

    What I enjoy most about your musings is that they are invariably ‘outside the box’ or sometimes it seems you have just walked around the box and seen it from another side. Although I think this could be a lonely place to be at times…

    I sometimes fear that the Church has once again come to see believers as a means to an end instead of an end in itself. The Church as organisation/ business, dogma, traditions, absolutes, rigidity etc are all the things that have sustained and supported us as well, but they will be cause of our downfall as well.

    This tension of change is a difficult thing to keep in balance.

    Thanks that you are not only able to see the other side, but also have the gift of eloquent-gentleness that leads others to see new things.

  3. Peter avatar

    Hi Phil, Nice of you to take the time to comment and to affirm. I of course concur fully with your comments. Our dear Arch Desmond Tutu has recently been incredibly courageous on this score by taking on the SA Government when they refused the Dalai Llama a visa to attend Desmond’s 80th birthday. SA like so many countries has got into bed with China and now has to dance to their piper. Blessings Peter

  4. Peter avatar

    Hi Katherine Snuggle Bug. Thanks for the comments on the Listening Hermit. I have not worshipped at Lonehill Gracepoint and really don’t want to comment on their ministtry. I simply found the architecture ironic.

  5. Snuggle Bug avatar
    Snuggle Bug

    Hi Peter.

    I love your blog! My name is Katherine and I attend your sermons when in town. My blog and therefore my ‘reply name’ is Snuggle Bug as this is a product I make in Johannesburg.

    More about your last post… I know the Church of which you are speaking in Lonehill. I attended services where they were held before (in a school hall) and they were in the process of securing premises etc for the new Church. I am now astounded to see a picture of the building! The question I have to ask myself is “Is this necessary? Should we not be standing for a more humble, caring and welcoming Christian community instead of the advertisement of ostentacious and abundant living?” That’s just my opinion.

    Anyway, thank you for your sermons, they are inspirational. Now that I have seen your blog, I will be able to connect in Joburg as well.


  6. Phil Ewing avatar

    Hi Peter,
    i really like your interpretation of this parable. It does make brilliant sense to view it from the collective angle as well as the individual. I also think that even if it is viewed from the individual perspective it is not about unbridled free capitalism because Christ was never in support of that.; always having a preferential option for the poor.

    I think that the talents could also be about taking risks with our faith and standing up for it in dangerous situations and not hiding behind the status quo or harbouring behind defences for our own safety, burying our heads in the sand when we should speak out against injustices both within the church ( but entails huge risks involved being a whistleblower), and without the church when speaking up against corruption and social injustice.
    Thanks again for this great post and Blessings

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