Good Servant, Bad Servant

“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

— Matthew 24:24-30 NRSV

We have all heard the parable: A man goes off for a long journey after giving three servants five talents, two talents and one talent. The servants with five and two each doubled their talents, and having been faithful in a few things, they were entrusted with many things. The servant with one talent protected the talent, but didn’t invest it. The punishment seems harsh – casting into outer darkness – but remember, it’s a parable, and Jesus was big on hyperbole.

I grew up thinking the talents in the story were actual talents, like singing, dancing, public speaking and the like. We may differ in gifts of talent, but our job is to multiply those talents. Now, I know that in the parable, talents are money – but the story works either way!

We are all gifted with something – talents, prowess, location, nationality, family, race and the like. Regardless of what we were given at birth, or by good fortune, the point is not to hoard and protect it, but to invest it and multiply it. As Jesus says in the book of Luke, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

The master in this story is presumably God, entrusting us with God’s treasure, and expecting a return on investment when God comes back. The parable could represent anything – talents, money, merchandise, souls – but for my purposes, I’ll modernize it like this:

The bishop entrusted three pastors with three churches. One church was plenty big, with lots of people. The second church was a modest church, with more than a few empty pews. The third church was nearly empty, and the aging members were thinking it might be time to throw in the towel.

The bishop flew to Europe for a while, then returned unexpectedly to see how the three churches were doing. He visited the pastor of the big church. “Look what we’ve done!” the pastor said. “We have the church you assigned me to, and we’ve grown to fill two more auditoriums! We’ve raised up an army of pastors, and we’re stuffed to the brim every Sunday. They come for the music, but a lot of people have come to Christ through this church!”

“Well done,” the bishop said. “You’ve been faithful with a big church, and now you’re in charge of an even bigger church! I’ve got my eye on you.” Then, the bishop moved on to the second church

“God has been good,” said the second pastor. “Our membership has grown a little, but our missions have grown a lot! Since you assigned me to this church, we’ve started a food bank, do homeless outreach, and conduct after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. Our Vacation Bible School this year was bigger than the church! I want to thank you for assigning me to such a great bunch of people. They really love the Lord; all I had to do was to give them encouragement and support.”

“Well done,” the bishop said. “You’ve been faithful with a sleepy church, and now it’s a church doing great things for the community. What a testimony! I might have other churches that could use encouragement like that. I’ve got my eye on you.”

Lastly, the bishop went to see the third pastor. “They wanted to close,” the pastor said, “and I almost let them do it. But I kept putting it off and telling people if they just hang in there, we’ll grow a little bit.” Well, we didn’t grow, but we did take care of the building, and we managed to hold on to most of the members. I’m glad you’re back; here’s your church, just like you left it. Do you maybe have another assignment for me?”

The bishop was furious. “What, you think this is your retirement home? What did you do to shake things up? Did you even hang a sign outside? Add a service? Beef up the refreshments? Did you learn to make a decent cup of coffee? You’re a pastor! You know what it takes to grow a church, and you didn’t even try! Another assignment? Hah! I wouldn’t trust you with a dog wash! You’re out of here, you bum! Go sell shoes or something!”

Two whom much is given, much is required, but that’s okay, because it’s a lot to work with. The first two servants doubled their master’s money. The first two pastors put forth some effort, and it paid off. The last servant just buried the money. The last pastor kept things from falling in, but that’s all.

The question is, where are we in these parables? What is our own parable? What talents or gifts did you win or inherit? What gifts were you born with? If it’s one talent, invest it; you might end up with two! If it’s one testimony, talk about it; you might see another miracle before it’s over. If it’s one assignment, do it with all your might, then offer take on more assignments, as well. But if you have one gift – good looks, math skills, a good eye for deals, whatever – then you don’t need to rest on your laurels. Invest whatever the Master gave you, because the Master’s coming back, and we will be held accountable for what we did with those gifts.


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