Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Year A ▪ November 15, 2020
God’s Divine Return on Investment
As we enter the text today, Jesus is still sitting on the Mount of Olives teaching his disciples about the signs of the end of the age. Today’s teaching was about a man who was going on a journey, and he had delegated responsibility for his property to his slaves in his absence. The man staggered the distribution of his enormous currency, “the talent,” across three slaves. One received five talents (about 100 years’ worth of a day laborer’s wages); another received two talents (about 40 years’ worth of a day laborer’s wages) and the third received one talent (about 20 years’ worth of a day laborer’s wages). One might assume, although not explicitly noted in the text, that the selected three were expected to represent the man and function like their master while he was away. We are told neither where the man was going nor how long he would be gone—complete unknowns to the slaves and scripture readers.
Why did the master stagger the amounts? Did the slaves, who received massive amounts of property to steward, have seniority and an established track record with the master? Did the slave, who received the one talent, still a huge sum of money, have less experience with the master and therefore needed an opportunity to prove his ability and his trustworthiness? We just don’t know. The text says that each slave was given stewardship over the man’s property “…Each according to his abilities” (25:15). Again, we don’t know what those abilities were, and we don’t know if the slaves knew what their abilities were, but we know that the Master knew. Whatever those abilities were, the master was pleased with the two slaves who produced a return on his investment—each had doubled what he gave them.
Consider that the master’s return on investment, or lack thereof, as was the case with the one-talent slave, reflected not only their abilities, but also their trustworthiness. “Well done good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things,” said the man to the two resourceful slaves (v. 21). Then, he invited them into his joy. We know, also, that the master was angered by the inability of the one slave who got busy hoarding the one talent that he was given.
Driven by his own fear (v. 25), his negative perception of the master, and perhaps his unwillingness to be complicit in the man’s crooked business dealings, the one-talent slave had neither represented the man nor functioned like him while he was away. And, when the master returned at an unexpected time, though he returned his property whole, the one-talent slave still came up short. In an effort to presumably safeguard, not only the property, but also his vulnerable position of trust with the master, the slave cheated himself of the possibility to discover existing and untapped abilities within.
Earlier I said that the master knew his slaves’ abilities. Is it possible that he gave the slave the least amount of the huge sum of money to awaken and extract abilities from the slave that the master had observed, but the slave had not noticed within himself. I wonder what skills that slave would have had to learn or to sharpen in order to risk doubling that one talent? We simply don’t know.
I am reminded of the 2006 movie, Akeelah and the Bee, in which an 11-year-old, against all odds, is nurtured in her ability for spelling and is affirmed by her teacher and supported by her community to take on the National Spelling Bee. In the movie, young Akeelah recites the following words of Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In the midst of so many unknowns, in this passage, there is no doubt that the property belonged to the master when he was present and while he was away—it never belonged to the temporary stewards. We do well to keep this “known truth” top of mind in everything we do in the name of Jesus—representing him and functioning like him while he is physically away. We own nothing; we are stewards. And, we have been entrusted with the most precious gift of the life-saving gospel message, and it is not meant to be hoarded. Disciples of Christ are expected to represent Jesus and to function like Jesus in this world, resulting in more and more souls that know Christ and make him known in this world—an expected return on God’s investment of God’s divine love for his children.
As I reflect upon the early beginnings of what has now manifested as this mission church, St. Paul’s, this parable is so relevant for our shared work in the vineyard. When God entrusted our diocese with a vision for an Episcopal presence in Wesley Chapel, we got busy walking into the unknown. Walking in faith, we were joined by missioners who shared that vision. When God entrusted us with a stable place to worship, and we used it to grow a faith community, he entrusted us with many things. And when God saw us nurture the precious “talent” of the congregation—and double it—he entrusted us with yet many more things. As servants in this kingdom-building work, we are still discovering untapped abilities within this body of Christ which gathers for worship today.
Like the property owner, Jesus will return unexpectedly, like a thief in the night, to claim what is his own. And on that day of the Lord, that is surely coming, we would hope that Jesus tells us that we have done well and that we have been trustworthy in all things that he has entrusted to us. And, we would hope that he would invite us to join him in God’s heavenly kingdom.
You may not know all of the unique abilities that God has embedded within you, but God knows. Through the body of Christ—the church—God will give you opportunities to awaken and extract those untapped abilities in order to glorify him. So, do not be afraid to walk into the many unknown, dark places of life, for we are all, as St. Paul said, “…Children of light and children of the day (1Thess 5:5). Don’t dig mental or spiritual holes to hoard the treasure of the good news of God in Christ. Don’t play small; risk rejection, and acceptance, for the sake of love because God first did it for you. And, know that God has equipped you with abilities, beyond measure, that will enable you to multiply the diverse riches of his love. Amen.