Well, not so fast, friends. There are two sides to this story, and today’s gospel lesson helps us to see what we are up against.
In the parable, the master has entrusted some of his slaves with his money, hoping that when he returns, he will have been made richer by his wise actions of his slaves. The one who received the one talent, hid it in the ground and returned it to the master just as he had received it. The master becomes angry, takes the money away from him and gives it to another, and as is common in Matthew’s gospel, the offending slave is thrown into the outer darkness. Yikes.
It’s not a comfortable parable, and of course any time we speak about the end times, we probably all should squirm a little. I think part of the problem that the last slave had, was fear. He was afraid of the master, and may have even misunderstood the master and his intentions. The slave allowed fear to overcome him so that he did nothing with what he was given, and not only that, but one could say that he hoarded the wealth he was given. What do we hear in the gospels, time and time again? Do not be afraid… Angels and Jesus bring that message over and over again, Do not be afraid… and what I think is being said there is not to let fear dictate our actions; discipleship, the life of following Jesus is one that has risks attached to it. It is not smooth sailing all the time, and I would challenge all of us by saying if it IS smooth sailing much of the time, perhaps we aren’t doing it right. So I guess my point here is, do not be afraid. Even though you and I are given the gift of Jesus and the gift of relationship with God forever, we still have responsibilities as a result of the gift of such grace. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his famous book, “Cost of Discipleship”, Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
We cannot have relationship with God in Jesus without cost; it’s not that we must earn our way into favor with Jesus; he has earned that for us on the cross, the gift is free; but the gift cost God everything; it cost God’s very life on the cross, and so it should cost us something as well. Knowing that we are infinitely loved by a God who gave us everything should compel us to give everything in return. It’s not just about money; it’s about loving and giving to our neighbor, whoever that might be at any given moment; but even more importantly than that, it’s about giving everything that we are to God with great love and great joy. When we say yes to God, when we put aside our fears and let ourselves be open to the direction of God’s Holy Spirit, things happen; relationships change, resources appear, difficulties are managed… beloved, miracles happen. As the hands of Jesus in the world we must give all of who we are over to God in our worship, in our prayers, in our daily lives. Our only response to grace, our only response to being saved from our sin, is to say, “Yes Lord, I will follow where you lead”.
I don’t believe Jesus told this parable in order to make people afraid; he was very good at driving his point home with sometimes over the top images. I think he wants us, his disciples who live in the world now, to understand that everything that we are, everything that we have, is to be used in preparation for his kingdom here on earth. So beloved, do not be afraid; we have been given a gift we can never earn or repay; and that is why we must give everything to God; not because God needs it to balance the books, but because it is how God desires that we show our love to him; it is how we prepare for Jesus to come again; it is how we help to bring about his kingdom here on earth. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end… your kingdom come oh Lord, on earth, as it is in heaven.