So, looking at a few of the parables at the moment- those stories that Jesus told which were deliberately meant to teach something, but seem to do so in a roundabout way that leaves us scratching our heads… we were looking at the Parable of the Talents, which is found in Matthew chapter 25… and here is what I shared with folk. Interestingly, and in a quite groovy way, we had 3 different preachers speaking on the same passage in our 3 services yesterday, and while we all picked up on different aspects and made different links to our own lives/contexts, there was a very cool and solid message of risk-taking coming through… read on:
I remember acting this out years ago, and we had the spoof ‘parable of the 10 talons’ with a vampire… I don’t quite remember whether there was meant to be a huge depth of meaning to that… The thing with this story which Jesus told, as with a number of them- like the parables of the prodigal son, the sower and the good Samaritan, is that many of us have heard it many times, and we know the bits we like- the son is welcomed back, the good soil produces crops, the stranger helps- and in this one ‘well done, good and faithful servant’… the reward that comes to those who are faithful and persevere. The thing is that each of these stories has a sting in its tail (no pun intended)- the prodigal is as much about the hardness of our hearts, the sower about God’s abundant generosity, the good Samaritan challenges us to love with that same generosity of spirit. So what about the parable of the talents…
There’s a phrase right at the start which gives us a hint- ‘at that time’ in the NIV… what time? In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is teaching about his return- the end of things, when the Kingdom of heaven is fully present… its not the same as those parables that talk about ‘the kingdom of heaven is like’, which speak of now, into our lives here and now- this is very much looking towards the future… when Jesus returns, on the last day when everything will change. So the first thing we need to have straight is that the judgement in this story isn’t one that is made on our lives right now- the final judgement will only be on the final day. Until then we’re living in the period at the beginning of the story- the master has gone on a long journey and not yet returned. At that point, we will be judged by what we’ve done, by how we’ve lived- but we’re not there yet… Just as at the end of any exam, match, meal etc things reach their final conclusion, so they do in this context and will do when Jesus returns. This isn’t a negative message- a reminder that things have direction and purpose: that the church is not left to drift along
So for us now, we’re in the place of the servants who’ve been entrusted with something by their master, and we have to decide how to act. Often when someone gives me something to look after, I’m incredibly careful, even cautious, about how I use it- I would be worried to get a scratch on something, or to crease it… one the very few occasions that I’ve met with a financial advisor they’ve concluded that I am ‘risk averse’- which some might find amusing given that my hobbies include lots of things that come under the ‘extreme sports’ banner… Many of us have a tendency to do the same, I’m sure. The thing that challenges me, in the passage we had read to us, is that this is the wrong answer- when we hear of the masters return, the servant who’s been careful and cautious doesn’t receive a word of praise or commendation for not breaking things but is condemned for their risk averse attitude.
The master’s property is to be used, not stored. Its to be put to work, allowed to become what it has the potential to grow into, rather than held stationary. Here, and in every church, we’ve people with many gifts, talents and abilities, and we should encourage folks to use those, of course. But that’s not the whole of the message for us: the church as a whole needs to willing to take more risks. This last week we welcomed 240 pupils from Park School into the church… about half of them had never been into a church before. We had a format that worked from previous years, that we knew the teachers were happy with, but out of discussions it became clear that the less structured parts of the sessions were what really engaged pupils… and so we allowed them to ask the questions for almost half of the time here- with a panel answering them as the questions (sight unseen) were asked. And each day we ran out of time before they ran out of questions, and their questions ranged all over the place- some really challenging, some a great opportunity to share. But at the end of the sessions, each one of us had grown and developed, and each of those young people had heard about the Christian faith from a group of people for whom it is at the heart of our lives.
When we risk things for our faith, when we put it to work, our faith grows, and we grow, and others grow around us, and the church- the kingdom of God, grows too. And if we live like that, we need can be confident that when we stand before our master we will hear those words ‘well done, good and faithful servant’. Being faithful to God isn’t necessarily the same as being faithful to our history, but we’ll leave that for another time!
Have a good day, and take some risks for your faith.