“Live Leaving Your Amazing Footprints”

Matthew 25:14-30

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

November 16, 2014

 

I bet, from past experience, that when you figured out that today’s gospel lesson is the Parable of the Talents, you thought “Here goes another stewardship sermon” or simply about using the gifts that God gives each one of us.  But, maybe there is another way of looking at this parable.

 

How many characters are in this parable?  It is a parable about a wealthy landholder and three of his servants.  So, it is obvious isn’t it that there are four characters in the story!  Yet, literarily, there are three.  Servants one and two are really, for all intents and purposes, one.  Each one is given a large sum of money – one gets five talents and the other gets two talents.  Admittedly, this is a difference but essentially the same.  During the time the landholder is gone, they double the amount they were given.  Five became ten and two became four.  These two servants give an accounting to the landholder that is identical.  The master’s response is the same too.  Master, you handed over … talents; see I made … more talents.  The master’s response to each of them is identical.  “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  So, in essence there is one servant instead of two.  The parables’ characters are three: two servants as one, a Third servant, and the wealthy landholder.

 

To help steer us away from the idea of this parable being about money and stewardship, let’s look more closely at the wealthy landholder and the money given to the servants.

 

It is not unusual for a landholder to entrust his property in the hands of servants and expect them to act on his behalf and with this authority.

 

The landholder is incredibly wealthy.  He gives talents to the servants, and I’ve read that one talent is equivalent to between 15 and 20 years wages.  So in modern terms, at talent may be worth a million dollars.  So, he gives one servant $5 million, the other, $2 million, and the third $1 million.  Added up we are talking about $8 million!  But, this isn’t anything to the landholder; for if we move ahead to the accounting, he tells servants one and two that they were trustworthy in “a few things.”  $8 million is a “few things!”  So, this is our first clue that this parable is not about money!  Money is not the focus of the parable.  So, it is not a stewardship sermon—at least not today.

 

Another thing we learn about the landholder is that he considers there ability before passing out the responsibilities.  He knows one of the servants can shoulder a good deal of responsibility, and he give him $5 million.  The second servant is responsible too but a little less so, and he given him $2 million.  The third servant is believed to be responsible but at a lesser level than the other two, and he give him $1 million.  The landholder takes into account each servant’s capabilities so as to not place an unreasonable burden on them.

 

The next thing we learn about the landholder is that he is comfortable giving the servant’s space.  He doesn’t give the servants specific directions but allows them the freedom to take initiative.  The landholder goes away for a long time.  Each servant is given the space so they can live and be creative.  They have a hand in shaping their investments, their lives, their communities, futures, and fortunes.  He lets the servants learn.

 

The landholder comes back, and let’s look at what happens.  The first two servants report doubling what they were given.  One returns $10 million and the other $4 million!  But, look at what they are commended for, and it is not their commercial success.  Their commercial success is brushed aside as though it was not even there – they were trustworthy in “a few things.”  They are commended for their trustworthiness!  The praise wasn’t for their quantitative accomplishments but for their wholehearted sense of fidelity to their commitment to the landholder.  They had gone forth in loyalty and commitment to the landholder!

 

Then the third servant comes and returns the $1 million he’d been given.  I wonder if he had a guilty conscience.  He’d buried the money.  Perhaps he didn’t expect the landholder to return; after all it is dangerous out there.  If the landholder didn’t return, then he could dig the money up and keep it for himself!

 

Whatever he thought or didn’t think, he starts our insulting the landholder.  He misjudged his character.  You are a harsh man!  You live off the backs of others!  You are a person to be feared!  Does that really look like the picture that has been painted for us?  A wealthy landholder that trusts his servants.  A landholder that understands the capabilities of the servants and doesn’t burden them unreasonably.  A wealthy landholder that entrusts the servants with a great deal of money; even though it is a drop in the bucket to him!  Where is the harshness and self-centeredness the servant talks about!

 

There are two ways one gained the wealth of this landholder in the time of Jesus.  The person is indeed wealthy because of his business skill and is respected in the community.  The other way is that the person is a Bedouin chieftain and got his wealth from pillage.  The third servant starts comparing the landholder to a Bedouin Chieftain!  What was he thinking?  And, we are not surprised by the landholder’s reaction.

 

God knows our capabilities and doesn’t put unreasonable responsibilities on us.  God is incredibly wealthy (created the universe and all that is in it) and generous.  And, the parable is about how we are to be living while we wait for the return of the Son of Man.

 

We are to invest and take risks.  Out of loyalty and respect for God we are to take what he gives us and invest and take risks.  We are to share the good news of God’s love and grace with all who will listen.  Jesus said to go into all the world and teach what he’s commanded.  The gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives, and it is priceless.  This priceless treasure isn’t to be buried; it is to be shared.  Jesus invites us to live our lives as fully as possible by investing them, risking them, and by expanding the horizons of our responsibilities.

 

The greatest risk according to the parable is not to risk anything, not to care deeply or profoundly about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and, in the process, risk everything.  The greatest risk is to play it safe.  Playing it safe is to live a dead life and ends tragically through acting timidly in the face of God’s generosity.

 

Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly!  Not a life that barely gets by but an abundant life!  Not a life that is good but an abundant life!

 

A lady in her late 50s (I'll call her Emma) talked about how one simple question changed her life.  She felt bored, unproductive and purposeless after 16 years in the same job.  One day, feeling depressed, she shared her story with a friend, who asked her this brilliant question: “If you were to live for one more year, would you rather live leaving your amazing footprints behind or be invisible to the world?”

 

The God who loves us so perfectly in Jesus Christ calls us to the adventure of faith.  It is a high-risk venture of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  It is an invitation to leave your amazing footprints behind.  And, you are amazing!  God says so!  He loves the world so much that he sent his son into the world that no one might die but have eternal life!  God’s invitation to you is to open yourself to the Holy Spirit and live a risk taking life being God’s person in the world leaving footprints in his name.  Go from here and get walking.