Last night at Men's Group I shared a little about Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25. I find in that popular passage some fresh encouragement, and a warning. I don't want to repeat the whole parable here, but I'll give a quick summary:
It comes after a passage about being watchful and prepared for the return of Jesus (the parable of the virgins) and before a parable about the future judgment (separation of the sheep and goats). Sandwiched between these two parables about watching for the end, and what will then happen in the end, comes the parable of the talents about how to live in the days while we are waiting and watching—how to live in the present aspect of the Kingdom of God.
In a nutshell a master leaves and entrusts HIS resources to his servants. He gives a number of talents (a talent was about 20 years wages for a laborer) to each, proportional to their individual ability. He then returns at some time later and settled accounts with them. To the ones who invested HIS resources wisely they were rewarded with praise and more to invest, and invited into the joy of the master. To the one who hid the talent and did nothing with it, he was rebuked, his talent given to one who had more, and he was cast out. I find in this parable tremendous encouragement, and warning. The warning first.
I believe that in America most Christians are probably the ones given the most talents. We are wealthy beyond measure by the standards of most of the world (even most "poor" among us). We have freedom to share the Gospel openly, and we have unlimited access to Bibles, teaching, resources, fellowship, etc. He has given us His name, His authority, His presence. God has trusted us with HIS resources—all we have is His and from Him—and He has made it clear His heart is for the lost, hurting, defenseless, etc. He has made it clear His heart is fixed on things eternal and not temporal. I wonder, what will Jesus say when He returns and evaluates what I have done with the "talents" He trusted to me? Am I numbering my days, using my time wisely, using the opportunities given, being His body, expanding His kingdom? As a whole, is the church in America wisely using her "talents"? Does she invest in eternity, model non-worldly priorities, contend for the abolition of abortion, reach out to the poor and needy and rejected?
On the other hand, this parable is, to me, tremendously encouraging. The master never expected more from his servants then their ability. He didn't point to the one who got and invested and made five more talents and said to the others, "How come you didn't make as much as him?" Rather, he judged and held accountable for each one only what he'd seen in them regarding their ability, and what he'd given them. He equally praised the one he gave two talents to who made two more. And in both cases, seeing them faithful with what he'd given them, he gave them more. What might we do if God saw us faithful and gave us more? If He poured out His Holy Spirit in greater measure? If He performed more miracles? If He brought us more lost into our sphere of influence? If He trusted us with more of His money?
It is easy to think the master was harsh in the way he treated the one who he only gave one talent to who did nothing with it. It is easy to say, "But he knew he didn't have ability." But that isn't true. Even one talent is worth (if a laborer today makes, say, $30,000–$40,000 per year) somewhere around $600,000 to $800,000 in today's terms! I doubt we'd be happy if we entrusted that amount to someone to who worked for us to invest and they produced nothing with it! All the master asked was that the man was faithful with the talent he had.
The widow who only gave a couple pennies, but whom Jesus praised above those who gave much more, is another example of God's heart in this. In a worldly sense (and we tend to look at those to our left and right a lot to compare ourselves) she gave less then the others, but Jesus only looked at what she had to work with and seeing that, He said she gave more. God knows our ability, He knows our situation, He knows our resources. He isn't asking us to do more than we are able to do. He is asking us to trust Him, to have His heart and mind, to invest eternally, and to be faithful in what we do have. And that, I believe, is really encouraging.
To close with a story I love, and that I think you will too, and that will make you smile. A dear friend of mine is a pastor and he had to go to one of those denominational meetings he hates. He was at a table, fed up with some megachurch pastor who was boasting in his numbers (I think it was 4,000 but I'm not sure). At the table was a pastor from Alaska who only had 40 and who was feeling bad. My friend finally had enough and turned to the Alaska pastor and asked how many people there were in his village. The answer was 100. He then turned to the megachurch guy and I think he had something like 400,000 in his town. My friend basically said, "So, this guy has 40% of his town going to his church that he has reached and is teaching. And you only have 1% of your town. What's your problem?" I am paraphrasing, and the numbers probably aren't quite right, but the point is sound and I believe is true. God doesn't ask the pastor of a village of 100 to do what a pastor in a town of 400,000 does. He just asks him, and us, to be faithful with what he has.