September 23, 2018 | “Bags of Gold / How to Wait” • Matthew 25.14-30


Scripture Reading • Matthew 25.14-30 (NIV)

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

 

One of my brother’s hobbies is shopping at pawn shops.

One time I was able to hang out with him when he made his usual pawn shop rounds. Before we walked into the first pawn shop, he warned me, “Before we go in there, I have to warn you, this one is really intense.” Before we went in to the next one, he warned me again, “This pawn shop is intense.” He gave me the same warning before the next one. I realized, every pawn shop he was bringing me to was intense.

I could give you the same warning with all of the parables we have been reading. 

Before we go any further, I want to warn you all, this parable is intense!

This section of Jesus’ teaching comes just as Jesus leaves the Temple after a high stakes conversation with the Pharisees.

As Jesus and his disciples walked away from the Temple, for some reason Jesus’ “disciples came up to him to call his attention to [the Temple’s] buildings” (Mt. 24.1 NIV). “Do you see all these things?” Jesus asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Mt. 25.2).

The Temple was the center of life for Israelites. It would have been really hard to imagine Israel without the Temple and Jesus says it will be torn down and turned into a pile of stones. It must have shocked the disciples. Later when they were sitting together on the Mount of Olives, they asked Jesus to say more about it. “When will this happen? What should we watch for? Will there be any signs?”

Jesus tells them about strange and troubling things that would happen before he returns … he warns them to persevere … to keep watch and be ready … because Jesus, “the Son of Man, will come at an hour when no one expects him” (Mt. 24.24). Then Jesus offers a rapid fire string of parables about what it looks like for his disciples to wait. Jesus tells a story about a master who leaves and puts a servant in charge of his household, and says it would be good for the master to come home to see his servant doing what he is supposed to do. Then he tells a story about bridesmaids waiting through the night to welcome a groom – some are prepared and some aren’t and things go better for the ones who are prepared.

Then Jesus tells our story, the one about the master who entrusted his wealth to his servants before a long journey. 

Sometimes we call this the “Parable of the talents.” The translation Jim read, doesn’t say the master gave his servants talents – it says “bags of gold.” 

For ancient Israelites “talents” were units of money. Talents were worth, something like, “fifteen years of a typical worker’s wages” (Long, 281). This man entrusts his servants with a lot of money. 

The first servant was trusted with five bags of gold. He put the money to work and gained five more bags. 

In a similar way, the one with two bags of gold gained two more bags. 

Here the pattern changes – “The servant with one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master returned.

He settled accounts with his servants.

The guy with 5 bags of gold brought the other 5.

‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Mt. 25.20-23).

Then “old-one-bags” shows up.

‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest (Mt. 24-25).

That pattern we picked up on with the first two servants breaks down here.

The third guy doesn’t talk about being entrusted with anything. His impression of the master is jarring and very different from the master who praises his servants and invites them to share his joy. This guy seems to have the idea that the master is a tyrant. He can’t think creatively or take risks, he is so afraid of his master.

The master lives up to third servant’s expectations.

The master does not appear to be pleased with this servant.

 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 25.28-30). 

Did I mention this was an intense parable?

The parable about the bags of gold matches the themes in this section. Jesus wants his disciples live faithfully while they wait for him to return … faithful waiting means putting faith into action … taking initiative … taking risks …  following Jesus and doing the kinds of things Jesus did – which Jesus defines in a parable about sheep and goats just after this, “feeding the hungry … giving the thirsty a drink … welcoming strangers … giving clothes to people who need them … caring for the sick … visiting prisoners … “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 26.37-40).

The parable asks us what would it look like, in our lives as good and faithful servants, to put the bags of gold, the good news, the relationship with God, we have been entrusted with to work? What would it look like to stake our lives on the gospel … trusting that what Jesus says is true and that what he wants most is for his disciples to continue his work, offering compassion and care for the “least of these?” The parable encourages us that faithful living is worthwhile, even in the midst of pressure and difficulty … because, the future is God’s and God is trustworthy.

There is also something that bugs me in this parable. 

Why is the third servant’s understanding of the master and his relationship with the master so different from everyone else’s? Why does he seem to have such different expectations of the master?

Tom Long writes in his commentary on this parable,

“So, the parable is about wise and foolish disciples–those who live the gospel now and those who do not. But the parable also cuts in another direction. It is not only a story about the moral character of disciples but also a story about the moral character of God. What kind of God do we serve? Note the trembling speech of the one-talent-slave: ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man … so I was afraid.’ Now, up to this point in the parable is there any basis whatsoever for this depiction of the master? Absolutely not. This master has entrusted his slaves with vast amounts of money … in a culture where slaves were expected to their duty without receiving praise [or pats on the back] … astonishingly this master gives them extravagant tribute, increased authority, and perhaps even welcomes them into his home as members of the family … In other words, everything in this story leads us to see the master as an extraordinary man–trusting, welcoming, generous, and benevolent … The story is not about a generous master suddenly turning cruel and punitive; it is about living with the consequences of one’s own faith. If one trusts the goodness of God, one can boldly venture out with eyes wide open to the grace in life and can discover the joy of God’s providence everywhere. But to be a child of the generous, gracious, and life-giving God and, nonetheless, to insist on viewing God as oppressive, cruel, and fear provoking is to live a life that is tragically impoverished” (Thomas Long, “Westminster Bible Companion: Matthew.” pp. 282-283).

The parable invites us to live faithfully and asks us, who are we living faithfully to? What and who has been shaping our understanding of God? Are they reliable? Are they accurate? Are they pointing to the God Jesus reveals to us, the one who generously and graciously entrusts us with love and goodness and invites us to put it to work? 

Living faithfully matters. 

The character of the one we are faithful to matters just as much.

SPCCBulletin09.23.2018

Advertisements