November 19, 2023
Psalm 90:1-6, 12-17
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word “investment?”
Generally, we probably think of growing our money, and recognize that investments do not come with guarantees.
In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the first two servants had good results with their investments; however, the third servant was afraid to invest for fear of losing what little he had.
When the master returns for the results, the first two prosperous servants were rewarded with more responsibility and blessed with joy.
Sadly, however, the third was punished. His talent was taken and given to the one that had gained the most from his investment.
This parable seems very harsh as the punishment for the poor servant who did not invest was thrown into “outer darkness.” It seems unfair, and I find myself wanting to rescue him. I want to plead his case that at least he had not squandered the one talent he had been given, and still had it to return to his master.
While I process all this in my mind, I think about the sentence that reads:
“For to all who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance, and those who have nothing, what they have will be taken away.”
I read this and gasp! I am still reading the Bible, right?
I mean, this is Jesus talking, right?
How many of you are with me here? How many of you think Servant Three is getting treated unfairly, and without compassion?
On the surface, it may appear Servant Three, and all people without, are getting a bad deal, so we have to dig deeper into what the parable is saying to us, because we know Jesus doesn’t do bad deals. So what’s up here?
What Jesus wants us to understand is that we cannot allow our fears to outweigh our faith.
The Master expected the servants to have faith that more would be provided when they invested their talents when they took action to invest them.
Servant One and Servant Two doubled what they had been given by “going at once” to trade them, while the last servant dug a hole and buried his talent so as not to lose it so that he could return the one talent to the Master upon his return out of fear that something bad would happen to him if he did not return the talent.
In her book, “Choose Calm,” Nadia Hayes writes in her introduction:
“Anxiety is the worry that never ceases to unravel, the apprehension that takes hold when entering a new situation, and the feeling of discomfort that leads to a mild current of panic. It isn’t until we understand anxiety as a lack of confidence in ourselves that we begin to grapple with it, pin it down, and declare victory over it.”
Fear, when we allow it, causes great anxiety. We can second guess every idea that we are considering to the point, we become paralyzed to doing anything, as in the case with Servant Three in our parable.
Jesus, calls us to faith, however. A faith that brings joy in trusting our Master, our Lord.
While fear can separate us from a relationship with God, faith in God brings joy and blessings.
Earl Palmer explains in his book “Trusting God,” that faith is not a leap into the void or a desperate act of the will that trusts without evidence, rather the faith that we experience throughout the Bible is a human response to the evidence we have received of the true and trustworthy character of God. Faith is a trusting response to the living truth we discover in the Gospels.”
Fear of past incidents of bad experiences can affect how we think of our future, even when those experiences may not have been our own. We have to be careful that those fears do not rob us of beautiful experiences in the present.
Fear can be a helpful emotion that saves us from harm, so we have to find the correct balance that does not paralyze our faith in God, and what God has in store for us when we allow ourselves to search out new investments.
When you sit around a table and share ideas with others, you will always find someone who has a negative response to the idea. For an optimist, this can be very frustrating, so maybe it’s a good idea to question further the negative response. Does it stem from a past bad experience or fear. If you can determine the fear, there may be another person or two that has a positive result they can share. This would certainly be the case when comparing the three servants in the parable of the talents.
Taking risks often tests our faith over fear, and we have to make a choice as to whether or not we are going to be able to overcome the fear to reap the anticipated reward. After all, there is power in the present.
One of my commentaries sums it up this way:
“We do not control how people will respond to us, but we do control how we present ourselves to the world. Presenting our truth, the essence of who we are and how we experience ourselves is really all we can control.
The parable of the talents is often used to justify a prosperity-type gospel that explains how the wealth of some at the expense of others is justified. But the world does not always work quite like the story. Wealth is not expanded simply because people are trusted with a little and do well with it, and therefore are given more. The strongest predictors of wealth have more to do with race, ethnicity and family background than they do with hard work or keen investing. Many people work very hard every day and simply cannot get ahead. This is an injustice in our society, and something we should work to reverse. We have enough to ensure that everyone has what they need, so it is a matter of sharing more equitably. What prevents us from sharing what we have? Fear. We are afraid of scarcity. We fear that some will have something they did not earn or have more than they deserve. We fear we will not have enough or that someone else will have what is ours. We are afraid of what others might do with their wealth, that they might squander it or use it in unwise ways.
When fear over the things we cannot control drives our decisions, we operate from a place of weakness and not from our God-given strengths. Fear causes us to deny our identity because we don’t know how we will be received. Fear denies us the joy of flying. Fear robs us of opportunities to be the fullest version of who God made us to be. And not only that, but fear can prevent us from forming deep and meaningful communities where relationships drive equality, justice and equity.
We will never be able to predict the future. We won’t be able to control how others will react to us. We cannot know how events will unfold or what dangers lie ahead. Fear does not change our ability to see what comes next, but it does steal from us the joy of the present. It clouds our ability to understand and appreciate what is right before us.”
With Thanksgiving coming up this week, let us all set aside our fears to enjoy the present. Let us enjoy the people that we are with, our friends and family, and rejoice in being together. Let us be grateful for a God who has filled our lives with blessings, not saying that we haven’t all faced hardships at times, however, let us give thanks to a God that provides love and mercy that we talked about last week. Let’s give thanks for a God that shows us compassion and steadfast love. Most of all, let us give thanks that we are able to share whatever we have with others, regardless of how little we have, we can always share love and compassion to others in our communities and in our families.
Invest your talents, and have faith that God will multiply them for the blessings of others. It is to God that we give all the praise and the glory.
*Cover Art by Unsplash; used with subscription.