November 16, 2014 (Year A Proper 28) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:14-30

This reading is the second of three parables about the judgment at the end of this age, when Jesus returns.[1] Last week we were encouraged to always be prepared for Jesus’ return by living lives characterized by good deeds so that we are recognized as followers of Jesus. We were left with the command to stay awake as we wait. This week, we receive a description of what staying awake looks like lived out.[2]

We have a tendency to read the word “talent” as a natural or spiritual gift.[3] But what if the “talents” in this parable refers to “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” as the property of the master which we have been entrusted to tend?[4] This seems more fitting given the enormous value of a talent as currency in Jesus’ day, where these servants are entrusted with the equivalent of 73, 44, and 15 years’ worth of wages.[5] We, as Jesus followers, are called to live into the invaluable knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have been given and live lives that profit God’s mission.[6]

The first two servants faithfully put the master’s property to work for their master. Jesus has entrusted us with invaluable information about the kingdom of heaven. What, as church, do we know about the kingdom of heaven?

When the master returned, his delight is not in the amount of profit that the servants have made, but their faithfulness to his mission.[7] Both of these servants are welcomed into their master’s joy. While we wait for our Master’s return, in what ways are we, as church, called to live out, to invest, this knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have been entrusted with?

The last servant, the one whom to whom the master did not entrust much, did not trust his master. Because he did not trust his master, he was afraid and did not act upon the little property that he had been entrusted with.[8] In what ways can we, as church, demonstrate our trust in Jesus by more fully investing the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have received?

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[1] John Walvoord states that this is “the sixth and concluding illustration that our Lord uses relative to preparedness for the second advent.” (John Walvoord, “Christ’s Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age: the Parable of the Talents.” Bibliotheca sacra 129/515 (1972): 206.)

[2] E. Carson Brisson, “Between Text and Sermon: Matthew 25:14-30.” Interpretation (2002): 307.

[3] For a brief discussion of the source of our English word, see footnote 15 in Ben Chenoweth’s “Identifying the Talents: Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).” Tyndale Bulletin 56/1 (2005): 65.

[4] After discussing the range of interpretations for the meaning of “talents” in this parable, Chenoweth makes a compelling argument for interpreting this term as “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” in his essay (Ibid, 61-71). In particular, Chenoweth uses Matthew 13:10-12 as foundational for understanding this parable in its literary context: “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.'” (NRSV)

[5] A talent = 5000-6000 denarii; a denarius = 1 day’s wage; so 1 talent = 13-16 years worth of wages. Using the average and rounding up, then 5 talents = 73 years worth of wages, 3 talents = 44 years worth of wages, and 1 talent = 15 years worth of wages.

[6] For the progression of these three parables, see Chenoweth, 71.

[7] Walvoord, who holds to the more prevalent position that “talents” are spiritual gifts, comments that we should not expect each other to have the same talents, but all are called to be faithful with what we have been given (Walvoord, 208).  His comment here is helpful, even if one takes “talents” to be “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God.”

[8] Walvoord makes clear that “Works are not the ground of salvation; they are simply the evidence of faith. Here works are presented as an evidence of true faith in the Lord.” (Walvoord, 210).

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