TITLE: O How the Lowly Are Fallen SCRIPTURE: Matthew 25:14-30
"O how the mighty are fallen." Most of us have heard that saying. It comes from the Bible. "O how the mighty are fallen" is part of David's lament over the death of King Saul and Saul's son, Jonathan. Saul was the king -- the Lord's anointed. Jonathan was David's best friend. The two of them were killed in battle. David grieved over the death of the king -- but he especially grieved over the death of his friend Jonathan. "O how the mighty are fallen," he cried (2 Samuel 1:19 ff.). We can hear the grief in his voice.
"O how the mighty are fallen." We're familiar with the phrase, because we hear it so often. Someone in Washington gets too big for his pants, and falls on his face.
"O how the mighty are fallen." Some years ago, an airline stewardess asked Muhammad Ali to buckle his seatbelt. Ali said, "Superman don't need no seat belt." The stewardess said, "Superman don't need no airplane, either." Ali fastened his seat belt.
But in our story today, the problem isn't the mighty falling -- it's the lowly -- the ordinary person -- you and me. "Oh how the LOWLY are fallen."
Jesus told about a rich man who went on a journey. He gave five talents to one -- two talents to another -- and one talent to the third.
The talent that Jesus was talking about wasn't a special ability, like a talent for music or football. In Jesus' day a talent was an amount of money -- a large amount of money. If Jesus were telling the story today, he would say that one man got five million dollars -- and another two million -- and a third one million. The master left his money with the three men and went on a journey.
When he returned, he found that the man with five million had worked hard and doubled his money. Likewise the man with the two million. But the man with one million had just buried his money for safekeeping. He didn't even take it to the bank to open a savings account.
The master took delight in the work of the man with five million, and gave him a promotion. Likewise the man with two million. But he was NOT pleased with the third man. He said:
"You wicked and lazy servant!... 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 he took the money from that servant and gave it to the other two -- and he had that servant cast into outer darkness, "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
"Oh how the lowly are fallen." This is an unusual story. A biblical scholar (Bruner) has this to say about it:
"In almost every other parable in the Gospel,
pride of some sort is attacked.
This parable is unique in attacking humility"
But it isn't really humility that Jesus is attacking here -- not genuine humility. What Jesus is attacking is something quite different:
-- He is attacking the kind of attitude that says, "I'm afraid, so I'll just hide out."
-- He is attacking the kind of attitude that says, "I can't do much, so I won't do anything."
-- He is attacking the kind of attitude that says, "I'm not going to worry about the other person. I'll just take care of myself."
As you might have guessed, Jesus didn't tell this story just to be telling a story. This was really a story about his going on a journey -- his ascending into heaven after his resurrection and leaving the world in our hands -- leaving the Gospel in our hands -- leaving the church in our hands.
The question is whether we will be faithful to work for Christ while waiting for him to come again. Jesus told this parable to let us know that he will reward the faithful when he returns -- and to warn us that he will punish the unfaithful.
The danger is that we will be tempted to say, "I'm just an ordinary person. I don't have much money. I don't have any special talent. I have to work hard just to keep the wolf from the door -- so I can't be expected to do much for anyone else."
But Jesus gave this parable to say that he expects each of us to do our part for the kingdom of God -- whether we are a five-talent person or a one-talent person.
The truth is that most good work is done by one-talent people. If all the one-talent people stopped working, we would all starve. Five-talent people do lots of good too, but not without the support of one-talent people.
And the truth is that most of us are one-talent people
God has endowed each of us with something -- and it is important for each of us to use our something. Martin Luther captured something of the significance of the one-talent person when he said:
"A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God."
What he meant, of course, was that even the most ordinary person has blessings to offer. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus warned us that he will hold us accountable for our stewardship of the blessings that he has given to us. He will hold us accountable, because our one-talent blessing is important -- can make a real difference.
One of my favorite stories about one-talent people has to do with Mother Teresa, who was speaking in a Minneapolis church. After she spoke, a woman in a wheelchair raised her hand to ask a question. The woman spoke with great difficulty, because she suffered from cerebral palsy -- but eventually it became clear that she was asking what she and those like her could do for others. Mother Teresa hesitated not at all. She said:
"You can do the most. You can do more than any of us because your suffering is united with the suffering of Christ on the cross and it brings strength to all of us."
"You can do the most." Does anyone here believe that? I do! The woman in a wheelchair joined a group called The Sick and Suffering Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. She said, "We are fortunate to have a share in Christ's cross." She also prayed:
"Lord, let us suffer without regret, for in your will and in our gracious acceptance of that same holy will lives our eternal destiny."
That woman lived for a year after she met Mother Teresa. During that year she bore witness to her faith -- a witness that few of us will ever match. This one-talent woman -- most would have considered her a no-talent woman -- was able by the grace of God to give a five-talent witness during that year. Her witness continues even today, years after her death, in the re-telling of her story. "What can I do?" she asked. "You can do the most!" was the answer -- and that was true.
We give a blessing back to God whenever we use what God has given us to bless others. And it is circular -- we receive blessings in return for the blessings that we give.
All of us have the potential for blessing others:
-- We all have the potential for making the love of Christ known through the love that we show others.
-- We all have the potential for bearing witness to what he can do in our lives.
-- We all have the potential for drawing others to Christ.
Young or old -- rich or poor -- male or female -- married or single -- athletic or wheelchair bound -- possessing five talents or one -- our lives lived in faith can have great power. Our lives lived in love can transform. Our lives touched by the Holy Spirit can do wonderful things that we will fully understand only when we get to heaven.
"What can I do?" you ask. "What can people like me do? What can young people do? What can old people do? What can busy people do? What can a single mom do? What can an introvert do? What can a klutz do? What can I do?"
The answer is "More than most!" By the grace of God, "More than most!"