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PROPER28 Use It Or Lose It

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Proper 28

Pentecost 25

Ordinary Time 33

13. Use It Or Lose It

Matthew 25:14-30

"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his

slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five

talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his

ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five

talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more

talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made

two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent

went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled

accounts with them. 20Then 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.' 21His 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.' 22And 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.'23His 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.' 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and

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hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'

26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the

bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own

with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the

one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for

this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where

there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

The parable has given us a new meaning for talents. At the

time of the parable it was a unit of measure for silver or gold.

Now we have talent shows, talent searches, talent contests. The

beauty pageants that came under attack from feminists for being

sexist with their emphasis on bathing suit competitions have

tried to shift to the talent of the women. Scholarships are

offered as prizes so that talented competitors may continue to

develop their talents.

Some people still put the emphasis on the monetary nature of

the talent which was given to each of the slaves. They find the

parable an admonition for stewardship. They stress the

importance of investment of money to produce a good return.

A college president was once ruminating on the nature of

government and foundation grants. His observation was that the

biblical statement that to whom much has been given more will be

given was accurate. Some of the neediest colleges that did not

have a previous track record of receiving grants had difficulty

getting any. Wealthy colleges with large endowments from

previous grants seem to have an easy time raising even more money

through such grants.

The question arises, of course, as to whether these

applications of the parable are what Jesus intended when he told

it.

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Context

Context of the Scripture

Matthew 25. The parable of the wise and foolish maidens

immediately precedes the parable of the faithful and unfaithful

slave. In both parables the emphasis is on what should be done

while waiting for an absent lord.

The parable of the wise and foolish maidens stresses the

importance of preparedness. Having sufficient oil for the lamps

stresses the inward nature of the preparation. The parable of

the Talents stresses the active, outward use of that which was

received from the owner of the property.

Both end with those who were faithful in waiting for the

coming of the Lord being rewarded by entering into joy with him.

Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27. The parable of the

Talents in Matthew has many similarities to the parable of the

Pounds in Luke. They are both set in the latter stages of Jesus'

ministry. Luke places it in Jericho as Jesus was headed for the

last week in Jerusalem. Matthew has his parable in Jerusalem two

days before the Passover.

Both parables address a high expectation that Jesus is about

to inaugurate the coming of his kingdom in some significant way.

The parables are told to meet that expectation, but at the same

time to lessen the expectation of the immediacy of the fullness

of the kingdom. The early church no doubt understood the

parables as messages telling Jesus' followers what they should be

doing in his absence following his death and resurrection.

Some marked differences between the accounts in Matthew and

Luke indicate two separate streams of tradition. Matthew says

simply that a man was taking a long journey; Luke says it was a

nobleman going to receive royal power for himself. In Luke a

note is inserted that the nobleman was hated by the citizens and

they objected to his rule. Matthew has no such suggestion.

In Matthew the three slaves received differing amounts:

five, two and one talent. In Luke each received the same amount.

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In Matthew the two faithful slaves doubled the amount received.

In Luke as in Matthew only three slaves reported on the return of

the nobleman but the first doubled the amount while the second

only realized 50% return on the ten pounds. In Luke the rewards

were commensurate with the earnings. They were given authority

over ten and five cities. In Matthew the reward was only

approval and participation in the joy of the master.

In both instances the one talent or pound was given to the

slave who had earned the larger amount from what was entrusted to

him. In the Luke account a protest is registered against giving

more to the one who already had the most. No such protest is

found in Matthew's account.

Context of the Lectionary

The First Lesson. (Judges 4:1-7) The account is of the

reign of Deborah as Judge. The Israelites were subject to King

Jabin of Canaan who maintained his rule through Sisera as

commander of the army. Deborah orders Barak to confront Sisera

with assurance of God's support in the endeavor.

The Second Lesson. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) Paul

admonishes the Thessalonians to be faithful while waiting for the

Lord's coming. They are to avoid the dangers of laxity in

guarding against idle and evil activities. They are to support

each other in faith, love and hope of salvation through Christ.

The Gospel. (Matthew 25:14-30) The parable is given to

make the disciples aware of their accountability even when Jesus

would no longer be present.

The Psalm. (Psalm 123) This is a psalm sung as pilgrims

came up toward the temple at Jerusalem. It is a plea for the

Lord to have mercy on those who were faithful despite the scorn

and contempt from others.

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Context of Related Scripture

Psalm 112:10 Ä Weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18 Ä Those who have, to them more is

given; those who have not lose everything.

Romans 12:6-8 Ä Diversity of gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:4-30 Ä Varieties of gifts.

Philippians 2:7 Ä Jesus takes on the form of a slave.

2 Timothy 4:8 Ä Crown of righteousness is the reward.

Hebrews 12:2 Ä Jesus at the right hand of God.

Revelation 3:21 Ä Place on the throne given as reward to

those who conquer.

Content

Content of the Parable

The content of the parable is probably interpreted

differently depending upon when and by whom it was heard.

1. By the Disciples from Jesus. When the disciples heard

it, they may have wondered at the story of a man who was going to

a far country. They may have thought that they were the slaves

who had received the five talents and were faithful in using

them. After all, they were the inner circle of Jesus' followers.

They may have thought that the other followers who were not as

close to Jesus were the two talent people. In the context of the

opposition from the scribes and Pharisees, they may have

identified them as the one talent slave who was reprimanded.

Jesus no doubt intended the parable to be a warning and counsel

to the disciples in preparation for his impending death.

2. By the Early Church. When Matthew wrote his gospel the

death of Jesus was already about 50 years in the past, more than

a typical generation. It was a long time. The church was

experiencing persecution and other difficulties. Expectations

were high that Jesus would return and establish his kingdom in

its fullness.

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The parable would be a message to continue in faithfulness and

activity in anticipation of the reward they would receive at his

coming.

3. By the Contemporary Church. Today the delay of Christ's

return to bring the kingdom to fulfillment is even longer than

for the early church. Many faithful servants would not receive

reward for their faithful service if they waited for a second

coming. Nevertheless, those who have served Christ and used well

the gifts bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit have known the joy

of realizing the kingdom in their lives and in the extension of

his kingdom on earth. The parable is a message calling for

continuing faithfulness in using gifts received from the master.

Precis of the Parable

The kingdom of God is like a man of some wealth who has to

take an extended business trip. He calls together three of his

trusted workers. He leaves them with the responsibility for

managing his business while he is gone.

To the most capable of the three he gives $5000 as working

capital. To the next he gives $2000. To the third he gives

$1000. As soon as he departs the first two immediately put his

capital to work. The third is fearful of his boss. He knows he

is a shrewd, hard-nosed entrepreneur. He is fearful that he will

lose the $1000 by bad investment. He does not even trust the

banks. So he finds a safe place and hides the money so he will

be sure to have it when the boss returns.

Eventually the businessman completes his travels and

returns. He calls together his three subordinates and asks them

to give an accounting. The first two report that they have

doubled the original capital. He commends each of them and

assures them of tenure in partnership with him. The third comes

forward in a fawning manner. He relates how he knows the success

of the boss so he played it safe. He hid the money to be sure he

would not lose it.

The man is unhappy with the third worker. He scolds him by

saying that he should at least have put it in a saving account so

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it would earn interest. He orders the $1000 transferred to the

account of the worker who now had $10,000. He comments that

those who do well with what they are entrusted will be given

greater responsibility. Those who do not even act responsibly

with the little they have will have that taken from them.

The businessman proceeds to fire the third man who goes out

to join the multitude of homeless and unemployed.

Thesis: If you don't use your abilities, you lose them.

Theme: It is not how much you have in the kingdom, it is

how well you use what you have.

Key Words in the Parable

1. "It." (v. 14) The antecedent to the pronoun goes back to

v. 1 of the chapter, referring to the kingdom of heaven.

2. "A Man, Going on a Journey." (v. 14) This is an

allusion to the absence of Jesus after his death and

resurrection.

3. "Slaves." (v. 14) An allegorical reference to the

followers of Jesus who were admonished to be slaves and to find

greatness by being a slave to one another.

4. "His Property." (v. 14) The implication is that the

Lord as Creator owns the earth and everything in it. We receive

the gifts of the earth only in stewardship.

5. "Talent." (v. 15) A talent which was first a unit of

measure of silver or gold became the highest denomination of

currency. It had the value of 60 times a denarius, thus it was

worth about two months' wages.

6. "At Once." (v. 16) The emphasis is on the immediacy of

the response of the two faithful slaves. They were like the

disciples who dropped their nets and followed Jesus. They were

not

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like the inquirers who hesitated and made excuses when invited to

become followers.

7. "Hole in the Ground." (v. 18) Burying treasure was a

common way of securing precious items. That was especially true

in times of disorder and war. The Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden

in that fashion during a time of Roman destruction of Israel and

not found until 1948 and later.

8. "Joy." (v. 21) The joy is probably a reference to the

heavenly banquet which was a frequent image used for the kingdom

of heaven. The first two used their talents without expectation

of reward other than the approval of the Lord.

9. "I was Afraid." (v. 25) The fear of the third slave is

the key to his failure of character. By not taking any risks he

also misses the opportunities for gain.

10. "Outer Darkness." (v. 30) Throwing out the slave to

outer darkness is the act of the divine judge, not the man who

had gone on a journey. Not to be in the presence of the Lord who

is light ultimately leaves the excluded person in darkness.

Contemplation

Insights

1. Personal Freedom. The Master provides us with the

resources to use for divine purposes. We are left with the

freedom to use them or abuse them. If we know the Master's will

and are about his business, we will prosper in our use of the

resources. If we neglect or abuse the resources given, we will

be held accountable. Rewards are given in proportion to our

faithfulness in using well the resources given.

2. Quality vs. Quantity. The parable suggests that it is

not the size or quantity of the talents given or the return

gained in

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their use that is the significant factor in the kingdom. It is

rather the degree to which we use well that which is given to us.

Indeed, the person who has received much has the greater

responsibility for using the gifts effectively. In the kingdom

it is not the person who has the most wealth or the greatest

ability who is considered the greatest. The judgment rendered is

according to the proper use of wealth, ability or any other gifts

with which a person is endowed. The quality of service is more

important than the quantity entrusted to us.

3. The Master's Goods. The parable uses money to make a

point about the nature of expectations and rewards. It is not a

misuse of the parable to shift the meaning of talents from gold

and silver to abilities. The Master's goods extend to the

material resources for living. Jesus was never concerned with

the spirit alone. He fed the hungry. He turned water to wine at

a wedding. He healed the sick. He also gave his disciples

spiritual goods. He taught and provided examples for prayer and

meditation. He called them to faith and love. He offered

forgiveness for sins. These goods are also from the Master and

they are given for use in furthering the kingdom.

4. The Adequacy of the Goods. The slaves in the parable

were given differing amounts. They received five, two and one

talent. The Master knew their abilities and gave them

responsibility accordingly. We are assured that God never calls

us to a task greater than the goods we are given to do them. We

need not shrink back from the task for fear that we do not have

the support needed to do it if we truly discern God's call to us.

It is more urgent to risk the venture than to bury that which God

gives and fail to use whatever we have to do God's work.

5. Waiting and Working. Jesus had a rhythm in his

teachings. In the parable of the wise and foolish maidens of

last week, the maidens spent some time in waiting for the

bridegroom to come. The parable did not say that the waiting was

wrong. Jesus himself withdrew from his work with the crowds at

times to have solitude

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and to pray. When Martha was too busy at work to spend time with

Jesus, he reprimanded her for her busyness. The parable today

implies that the third slave was wicked because he did not put

his talent to work. Life calls for a rhythm of waiting and

working, both in their proper time and proportion.

Homily Hints

1. Entrusted Property. (v. 14) The Lord gives what belongs

to him for our use. People need to take an inventory of what

they have received and ask how the good master would have his

property used.

A. Material Goods

B. Gifts of the Spirit

C. Personal Relationships

D. A Base in Organizations

2. One, Two and Five Talents. (v. 15) The parable poses

the issue of how persons should consider their contribution to

the church and the kingdom. Persons have received a diversity of

gifts. All are needed for the fullest realization of what the

church and the kingdom should be. It is not the size of the

talent that is important. It is more crucial that all contribute

according to what they have received.

A. Making the Most of Money

B. Making the Most of Time

C. Making the Most of Abilities

3. The Joy of Your Master. (vv. 21-23) The church should

be characterized by joy. Its celebrations should make the

members and the world aware that Christian living is a

celebration of joy and not a somber and heavy burden to carry.

A. Celebrate the Presence of Christ

B. Celebrate the Approval of Christ

C. Celebrate the Participation in Christ

D. Celebrate the Anticipation of Christ

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4. I Was Afraid. (v. 25) Too often people consult their

fears and condition their actions on them. They should look at

what led the third slave to hide the talent instead of investing

it to prosper the master's kingdom. Some are afraid of failure.

Others are afraid of success because it might bring more

responsibilities which they do not want to accept.

A. He did not Understand His Master

B. He Lacked a Spirit of Adventure

C. He Lacked a Readiness for Growth

5. Living with Abundance. (v. 29) The five talent slave

enjoyed the abundance conferred on him by the master. How do we

accept the abundance and live with it?

A. Live with Humility

B. Live Cheerfully

C. Live Responsibly

D. Live Christ-like

6. Thrown into Outer Darkness. (v. 30) Christians should

not be sentimental about what it means to fail to live as a

follower of Christ. The consequences are harsh and real. The

outer darkness is a symbol of how life is experienced without the

abundant gifts of faith, hope and love.

A. The Occasion for Fear. The fear of being left on our

own.

B. The Sense of Failure. The recognition that one has

missed the ultimate meaning of life.

C. The Feeling of Futility. Life is but sound and fury

without hope and what one does eventually passes away if it is

not sustained by the Lord of the universe.

D. The Antidote to Fear. It is to have confidence that

trust and response to the master is a source of approval and joy.

Contact

Points of Contact

1. The joy which the faithful slaves received comes not

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from the immediacy of pleasure. It comes from the deeper sources

of life. They had the satisfaction of accomplishing a task and

being approved as persons of worth. Pleasure that comes from

such things as good food, the thrill of exciting activities and

similar sources lasts only briefly. They do not give the same

underlying joy that can be found in the midst of toil and

difficulty. Jesus had an air of joy about him that attracted

people even while he labored and encountered opposition. Persons

who have the security of trust in him and awareness of his

presence have a serenity despite the troubled world in which they

live. This brings a kind of enduring satisfaction that

transitory pleasures cannot afford.

2. Life requires growth. When we stop growing we begin

dying. Muscles that are not used begin to atrophy. Abilities

not used begin to fade. Skills not practiced lose their edge.

It can be said that a basic law of life is that you must use what

you have or you lose it. The converse of the law is that those

who use what they have gain more and more.

3. Salvation may be given in an experience of a moment. But

to retain it, it must result in continuing growth. While Paul

had a momentous experience on the Damascus Road, he had to spend

a lengthy period in Arabia to work out the full meaning of the

encounter with Christ. He also consulted with the Apostles in

Jerusalem before he was ready to perform his great missionary

works. People have to invest their talents in working out their

salvation once it has been given to them. Those who are born

again in Christ need to grow up to the fullness of maturity in

him.

Points to Ponder

1. A challenge to consider is whether we can double the

return on the talents given us. That takes some risk in trying

to use them. It also takes time and may seem that we are acting

on our own without guidance and support. How do you persevere in

such circumstances?

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2. What do you do when you experience the absence of Christ

in your life? Almost everyone has periods of spiritual dryness.

It feels as though they are no longer in touch with God. Is it a

time of testing of faith and trust? What kinds of patience and

waiting do we have to exercise in the expectation that the absent

Lord will return to us? What kinds of disciplines can we follow

which will help us recover the awareness of his presence in our

life again?

3. All men (persons) are created equal according to the

Declaration of Independence. Yet it seems obvious that not

everyone is equally endowed. The parable says that the slaves

had differing amounts with which to work for the master. Is

equality to be thought of in terms of opportunity to fulfill

their possibilities? Or is it in approval for how they perform

with what they have? Or is it in ultimate worth before God as

persons of value?

4. The judgment pronounced on the slave who tried to protect

the talent was severe. He was called wicked and lazy. We

usually do not associate wickedness with lack of action. We tend

to think of it as some dastardly actions which do injury and harm

to others. We do not usually assume that it applies to what we

fail to do in using the gifts granted to us. The consequence of

being thrown into outer darkness seems contrary to the general

image of a heavenly Father who is merciful, compassionate and

forgiving. How do we reconcile this image of the Lord with

John's statement that God is love?

5. How do you cope with the feelings of members of the

church who think that what they have to contribute is of little

worth? They may compare themselves with the people who can

perform before the whole congregation: the eloquent preacher, the

competent choir director, the beautiful voice of the soloist, the

charismatic teacher. Some members may resent those who are

elected or appointed to positions of prominence. How does the

church recognize and approve the services of the one talent

person who makes good use of what he or she has?

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Illustrative Materials

1. Use It or Lose It. A long distance jogger has to start

slowly and build up to the capacity to run several miles. The

experts advise that one needs to run three to five days a week,

with days in between to recover. If one ceases running, however,

in three days one is already losing muscle tone. In three weeks

one needs to start over to rebuild stamina.

__________________

Recent research with persons in retirement homes

demonstrates that exercise restores bone structure. With weight

lifting, even persons in the late eighties or early nineties have

shown improvement. Some who were using walkers or were confined

to wheelchairs found that they could walk unaided again.

2. Use the Talent You Have. A football star for a college

team was having trouble in a course on church history. He was

barely doing C work. He came to see the professor about the

problem. The professor knew he had some limited ability and

preparation. The student had dropped out of high school and

obtained a General Equivalency Diploma in the armed forces so he

could enter college. The professor pointed out, however, that he

was not necessarily expected to be a star in every area. What he

should do is the best he could with the abilities he had. Just

because he could run faster than anyone else on the football team

did not mean he could beat everyone in the classroom. He should

be satisfied that he had put forth his best effort and did the

best he could. He accepted the counsel and in fact got a low B

in the course. Later when he became a professional football

player with records for touchdowns scored, he still visited that

professor when he returned to campus.

3. Servanthood. A church executive headed a large church

agency for years. He was well-known and highly respected

throughout his denomination and in larger church circles.

Eventually he came to the age where his energies and abilities

diminished. Upon

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his retirement he found satisfaction in assuming the job of

janitor in the congregation to which he belonged. He expressed

his gratitude for being able to serve the church in that way

after years of benefiting from the services of others who did

that kind of work.

__________________

A missionary to India came to the age of retirement. To

supplement his income he became the custodian of the church in

the community where he retired. He kept the building in tip-top

shape. In a quiet way he became a presence in the church and

community. His service was a role model of modesty, competence

and devotion to his work. He gave witness by this ministry.

Everyone understood why he had been an effective missionary.

4. Approval for Service. The Director of Christian Education

was telling a story about the importance of doing work in the

church. At one point she turned to the children and asked, "Now

who is doing the most important work in our church?" Immediately

one of the younger children piped up so the whole congregation

could hear, "The janitor." After a brief pause, everyone burst

into laughter and applause. It was an affirmation of what the

child said to the delight of the red-faced janitor!

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