Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, friends, the sermon will be interactive, and will require your full participation. Just follow me and you will catch on rather nicely.
Knock, knock. (Who’s there?) Duane. (Duane who?) Dwain the bathtub, I’m dwouning!? And as in all interactive sermons, you are free to groan, roll your eyes, laugh; whatever response that seems appropriate to you.
Knock, knock. (Who’s there?) Doris. (Doris who?) The door is locked, that’s why I’m knocking.
And my personal favorite. Knock, knock. (Who’s there?) Keith. (Keith who?) Kith me, thweethearth!
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “I really appreciate your services. Your exegesis is very thorough and academic. It is a wonderful resource for me as I put together a weekly scripture study class…from scratch each week. I find many “gems” in the various commentaries that you pull together. Thank you so much for the service!”
A thousand sparks to inspire you — and your congregation!
An American poet once remarked that, of all the sounds on earth, none is as intriguing as a knock at the door. Who’s there? You never know until you answer. It might be a neighbor bringing over a pie, or a Boy Scout selling popcorn. The knock might be a date, if you are a single man or woman. It might be the papergirl, or an old friend, or a co-worker who has come to apologize, or the pastor from your new church. But unless we open the door, we never know who’s knocking. A knock at the door demands a response from us. And today, I want to tell you a parable that ends with a rather substantial knock at the door. Here goes….
There was once a man who went on a journey, but before he left, he called his servants in and entrusted to them his property. To one, he gave five talents, to another, he gave two talents, and to another he gave one. And then the master went away.
Immediately, the five-talent servant began trading with his talents, and turned five into ten. And the two-talent servant did the same, earning two more. But the one-talent servant was afraid; afraid that he would fail his master, afraid that he might lose the whole thing. So the one-talent servant dug a hole in the backyard and buried his talent there.
And then one day, there was a knock at the door. Knock, knock. (Who’s there?) The master. (The master who?) The master who left you in charge of my talents; I’ve come to find out how you did with them.
Well, the five-talent servant did very well, and the master was quite pleased. And the two-talent servant did equally pleased, and he also pleased the master. But the one-talent servant was ashamed because he had not risked that which had been given to him, and when he heard it, the master was very, very disappointed.
To understand this parable, you need to know what first century people knew. The first thing they knew was the meaning of the word “talent.” It did not mean what it means for us today. In Jesus’ day, a talent was a weight of measure, like an ounce, or a kilo, or a ton. A talent was thought to be the amount of weight that a full grown man could comfortably carry on his back.
But the word “talent” also came to be known as a certain sum of money, like dollars, or pesos, or dinari. Two thousand years ago, a talent was the equivalent of what a person could earn in 15-20 years. A talent was a lot of money, and five talents was a ton of money. Perhaps literally, a ton of money.
Finally, the word “talent” in our language has come to mean a skill, or an ability. In fact, our definition of this word has been derived from this very parable. If someone has a gift, or an ability that has worldly value – like the ability to create art, or the ability to make music, or the ability to sell vacuum cleaners – we call that ability a “talent.” Talents in the first century – and talents today – are intended to be used, not buried.
In Jesus’ day, however, burying things of value was an accepted way of safeguarding them. According to Jewish law, if you buried your treasure, you were no longer responsible for it. It was certainly safe. It was certainly secure. But it was not smart.
And this is the meaning of the parable that Jesus tells. That to simply bury the gifts that the master has entrusted to you, is inappropriate. In Jesus’ mind, burying a talent is like building a ship and never sailing it out of port: it’s safe, but it is useless.
But to risk your gifts, on the other hand; to apply them in the business, and the busy-ness of this world, is to make productive use of your talents. And in the parable that Jesus told, the master comes back one day and he knocked on the door of those servants and he demanded an accounting of how they used their given talents.
So what does this parable hold for us, some 2000 years later? How are we to interpret its meaning in light of a complex world, where things are not as simple as a master going on a journey and leaving us briefly in charge with his things?
For example, if we assume that talent means “skill” or “ability” or “interest” does it mean that God has gifted everyone? Yes, though perhaps not equally! Some people have many talents, others have a few, and some of us only have one. But everybody has been gifted by God with some ability, or skill, or talent, and so what does this parable say to us? It says that, one day, God is going to ask for an accounting of how we used our talent in this world. “I gave you the gift of music; did you ever develop it and use it?” I gave you the valuable gift of caring for children; did you care for any? I gave you the uncanny ability of leading people. Did you lead any?” That is what the Master is going to ask us.
Or let’s assume that, by “talent” Jesus is speaking of a sum of money. Might be dollars, might be pesos, might be dinari; depends on where you live, but every person has been gifted with some degree of wealth. And one day, the Master is coming back to ask what we did with the portion that was entrusted to us. “Did you bury your money in the backyard, or in a bank account or in an investment portfolio? Did you play it safe, keeping it all hidden in the event of a rainy day? Or did you take a risk? Did you use it to touch peoples’ lives – including your own – with comfort and joy?” This is what the Master is going to ask.
Or let’s just assume that what the master really meant by the word “talent” was faith in the gospel. “I gifted you with a spiritual curiosity” the Master says. “I surrounded you with evidence of a God, and people who told you my story, and all sorts of faith opportunities. But did you ever exercise your faith, or did you always bet on the sure thing? Did you ever live out on the edge, risking your reputation and your security on the fact that what I have said is true? Or did you play it safe, only trusting in those things that can be touched, and proven, and socially correct in this careful culture in which we live?” That’s what the Master wants to know. One of the most graphic verses in all of scripture is found in the Book of Revelation, when Jesus says “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking. If anyone hears my voice and invites me in, I will dine with them, and they with me.” Knock, knock. Who’s there? The Master. The Master who? The Master who loves you and wants to give you life.
I close with this; The telephone rings and a small boy answers it, but he answers it in a whisper. “Hello.”
“Hello” the voice on the other end says, “Is your mommy there?”
“Can I speak with her?”
“Nope, she’s busy.”
“Okay, is your daddy there?”
“Okay, can I speak with him?”
“Nope, he’s busy too.”
“Okay, is there anybody else in the house?”
“There’s a fireman.”
“A fireman! Can I speak to the fireman?”
“”Nope, he’s busy too.”
“Well what are all these people busy doing?”
“They’re looking for me.”
One day the Master will come looking for you. You cannot hide from Him. You cannot avoid Him. And when He finds you, He will ask you what you did with all the gifts He entrusted to you, and what will you say?”
“I buried them?” “I kept them hidden?” Or “I used them to change my world?” The answer is up to you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2002, Steven Molin. Used by permission.