We are all familiar with the phrase, “use it or lose it” aren’t we? For older folks it is a strong warning to keep exercising our minds and bodies to keep them in the best of shape as possible. Some people have applied it to democracy: get, stay active and involved or lose it. Others apply it to health or vacation benefits on the job – use it or lose it at the end of the year. However, the advice to “use it or lose it” is sound advice for how live life. Jesus was getting at this in his parable of the talents.
When I was a teenager, I fell in love with language and words. I read voraciously. I dabbled at writing. But most of all I was fascinated by foreign languages. I don’t want to imply I was good at languages - my grasp of grammar remains pathetic. But I loved a well-written book; I loved the sound of French which I studied for five years. I was thrilled to learn Spanish after college and to spend a year abroad in South America where I began to master Spanish, even dream in Spanish. I was introduced briefly to German and Latin. I loved studies the similarities in language. Later, in Seminary I was an eager, struggling student of biblical Greek and Hebrew, loving the different shapes for letters, learning how language shaped consciousness and experience shapes language.
That was at least 5 years ago. Today I can catch a word or two of Spanish and French. I need lexicons and dictionaries to review Greek or Hebrew. I should be fluent but I’m not. And the reason I am not is simple: I was afraid. I was frozen by fear when it came time to speak another language. I was afraid of saying something wrong. I buried my love for languages deep inside. I still am fascinated by language, words, and writing but fear holds me back. The same is true for playing piano and guitar, and decorating cakes. As I have aged I have not keep up. So I have lost those talents in all but some rudimentary form.
Jesus’ parable of the talents is a warning about how we are to live in the world. While “talent” does refer to money to a huge sum of money in his day, it is also symbolic of much more. The talents in Jesus’ parable refer to the gifts, abilities and gifts that God has graced each one of us with. The master rusts his slaves with an important task. The three slaves receive 5, 2 and 1 talent respectively. The first two slaves double the investment, pleasing the master who calls them “good and trustworthy.”
Using the talents well, the first two slaves get to experience the joy which God possesses and experiences. God gives joy because He is joyful. He is the source of joy. So using our talents well creates in us the ability to experience and know joy.
In contrast to the first two servants, the slave with the one talent buries it in the ground out of fear. So, he returns that one talent to his master. He explains away his actions. He considers the master a harsh man, a man who reaped where he did not sow, and gather where he did not scatter. His experience of the master is vastly different from the first two slaves. The third slave covers his own lack of success by projecting onto his master negative traits that kept him from acting productively.
The master is outraged with the third slave. The slave is called wicked, lazy and worthless. He is criticized for not even investing the money with the bankers and getting some nominal interest. This hapless slave is then thrown into the outer darkness.
What is Jesus getting at here? The slave didn’t steal the money. He didn’t run away. He was honest about his feelings and motives with the master. In the long run, none of this matters. He was entrusted with something important. Because of fear, he failed.
The parable reminds us that each of us is gifted by God. Each of us has many blessings. We have abilities, resources, skills, or opportunities. Anything that God has trusted us with — our job, our family, our material goods, hobbies, even how we use our free time — can be considered a talent.
In the kingdom of God, everybody gets something. There is no such thing as a no-talent person. Scripture says, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." (Romans 12:6) God has given us gifts, talents, skills, abilities, experiences, personality traits, temperaments — all to make you, you. There's nobody else like you in the world. God made you – each of us for a purpose.
What we have comes from God and belongs to God. The primary reason God has given us these talents but to build up the kingdom of God, so it can bear fruits of love, forgiveness, peace, justice, joy and righteousness. Someday, may even today, God asks us: What have you done with what you have been given?
I think back on my buried treasure, my fear of speaking foreign languages, my fear of writing and leaving myself open to criticism – has not only diminished my life but has kept me from significant ministry. I’ll never know who I could have helped, how my life would have grown if I had but given up my fear and risked failure and put myself out there. Stop a minute and think of the treasured you have buried. We all have done it. While we cannot reclaim those lost years, we can work to triumph now over our fear. That is what our parable asks us to do. To become the giving, sharing, upbuilding disciples Jesus has called us to me.
We can take Deborah the prophet, as an example. Deborah was the only female judge in Israel. She was a counselor, judge and prophet, and led the people to victory over the king of Canaan, who was oppressing the people ruthlessly for twenty years. Deborah could have played it safe. She could have remained a mother and wife as her culture dictated. She could have buried her prophetic gifts, her judging abilities in the ground. She risked and stepped outside traditional boundaries to become a civil and spiritual leader in order to free her people from foreign control. There is even a passage called the “Song of Deborah” considered one of the oldest in the bible, which states: “… when the people offer themselves willingly— bless the Lord! “We are called to be unique like Deborah, and to use our talents, to help the people.
Last week we began to reflect on the importance of giving as a spiritual discipline. Our stewardship drive is underway. There are opportunities for us to support our Church and the ministries connected to it. All these opportunities to give are for our own personal benefit as it is to benefit the church and others. It is clear that the church – meaning the people, the missions, down to our physical plant – cannot flourish without each of our gifts. God has called us here, and so we are called to invest our talents here – to get involved in volunteer opportunities, to pledge financially – and invite others to be a part of our growing community. If we won’t do it, who will? God has given us the talents. Multiply them here.
Please do not bury your talents. I can tell you from my experience what a mistake it is to hold back when you can give; to stay silent when you have something valuable to contribute; to ignore the need when it is in front of your face. We not meant for sadness and regret that withholding results in; we were created for joy; a joy that stems from generous self-emptying.
At the end, Jesus says a curious thing. To those who have more will be given, and they will have an abundance. The more we share, the more we help, the more we get involved, the fuller our lives will be. We truly get more when we give. More will be given if only we keep the giving flowing.
Unearth those talents. Use them or lose them. You are a part of God’s world and you are needed. There are people only you can reach. There are words only you can say. There are ways only you can bless. So, get involved. Pledge. Everyone’s pledge is needed – whatever the amount. Make a personal investment of your time and talent – this is your community; God has led you here for a purpose. So use those talents and hear Jesus as he says, Come, enter the joy of the Lord. Amen