The parable of Jesus that Luke shares with us today does not rate highly in the polls. If indeed, we did a survey among Christians with regard to parables, not only favorite ones, but parables in general, it is likely that this story would be missing from the list entirely. With slight variations, it appears in Matthew and in Luke, in Matthew as the Parable of the Talents and in Luke as the Parable of the Pounds, but while each writer has his own unique elaborations, in substance both of them are writing the same story.
It should be said that Jesus in this parable does not intend to lend support to our Wall Street syndrome, investments in the market, or growth funds recommended by our broker. But in today’s economy with all its complications, the ups and downs of bonds and stocks and bank certificates, the interest rate, inflation, and tax structures, good stewardship requires just a little more savvy than a tin can buried in the yard.
Nor does the story advocate an economic policy whereby the rich get richer, and the poor become poorer, as the parable appears to say, “to everyone who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away from him.” And certainly the parable does not support the growing fiction spread by those who merchandise religion that when you give your heart to the Lord you will be blessed with higher profits, better business. The religion hucksters tell us, “Try this wonderful new product,” “Jesus!” And the promise is that he will make you feel good, even help you get rich quick,
The point is this. To each of us in equal measure has been given that most intimate relationship with God as children of his family. Through Jesus Christ, his Son, he loves us so much that he went straight to Calvary to die for us. He was willing in his love to take our chains of guilt on his own hands and feet and let them bind him to the cross. He wore the crown of thorns and suffered scorn from those who had refused and still refuse to have him as their king. With such love he has drawn us to himself and laid his claim on us as his redeemed. We are his children now. We are his servants. From aimless wandering without a goal beyond the grave, from our self centered ways that know no business but our own, and from the poverty of nothingness he has delivered us and given us a place in which to serve with noble and enduring purpose, and inherit LIFE – in capitals!
This is our pound, given each of us in equal measure. Gifts and talents have been given us in differing measures but in this important gift there are no advantages or disadvantages one has that others do not have. Each of us received the pound when God took us to himself in Holy Baptism, washed us in the cleansing blood of Christ, locked his promise on our hearts. You heard that right: we all receive in equal measure, none loved less than others, none loved more than others. “Trade with this,” the Master tells us, “until I come.”
But the decliners outnumbered the advancers. What happened to the other seven servants in the parable we are not told, but there were citizens who sent an embassy to tell the nobleman that they would not accept his rule. They would be gainers, go their own way, do their own thing. The lordship of our lives is never easily surrendered. Enslaved by sin and trapped by self, life is reserved as our domain, no interference tolerated. But there is nothing more disastrous to be heard from human lips than this, that “I intend to take control of my own life.” In the end, at Christ’s return, there will be no need as in the parable to summon those who had refused his rule to be destroyed. Self-destruction has already been a fact. Contemporary forms of bondage are in evidence aplenty, and the living hell to which they lead us is the deadly, sad experience for throngs. Decliners far outnumber advancers.
How often we suppose that with our little pound so little can be done. To light a candle in our corner of the world would make no difference anyway, and ill winds that blow across the nations with the force of hurricanes would surely blow it out. “If I had a lot of money,” someone says, “or if I were a gifted and important person in the power structures, then I could…” Could what? The question is not whether we would be more faithful (given riches, power, and position), but whether we are faithful with the pound we have. The spiritual capacity we have been given will enlarge as it is used. It will be lost if never used.
We must use our gift. Be faithful to our trust. Trade with this until I come. Here in our company of faith, I trust that advancers will outnumber decliners, that each of us will take the pound we have been given and employ it and invest it as his servant. I believe that every day is given as an opportunity to exercise the spiritual capacity we have been given, to be a part of God’s plan in the world, and that whatever plan we have, ought never to contradict his plan. Each day is an investment in his love, for every day belongs to him and is in trust for us. Then we can move out through the garbage that piles deeply on the paths of life – anxieties, reverses, tragedies – or if not the garbage, then the happy things he gives us in such abundance, and we can know that taking Jesus at his promise, we can risk, invest, and work for him. The top line in discipleship, never the bottom line, is taking seriously our relationship with him, at least as seriously as he took his relationship with us. He died for that. A risk on our part is surely appropriate.
That may mean saying to a neighbor with a sorrow filled heart, “Come, let me share it with you, I know a Lord who heals.” Or it may mean saying, “The pathway you are taking, what you are doing is wrong! Stop it now. I know a Savior who can get things turned around.” It may mean many things, but as faith grows and responsibility and trust increases, the opportunities for our investment and our risk will pop up everywhere. Then may we hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”