The Parable of the Talents – Matthew 25 14-30
Jesus said,”For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 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.’
Last Sunday was (as you know) “Remembrance” Sunday: and I duly watched the (rather reduced) ceremony from the Centotaph, and saw the Queen, now a very old lady, watching (like me!) from a distance, with some things being done on her behalf, just as one of our priests does for us, week by week, in service broadcasts. Personally, I found the peace and quiet, this year, rather moving: we were genuinely, and immediately, missing old soldiers who might have been there but weren’t: as it must have been when the event was still fresh and true, and not (as it may now have become) a memory of a memory, no longer quite the real thing.
So I was pleased to see that today’s psalm, number 90, is the one always sung as a hymn on Remembrance Sunday, that starts “All people that on earth do dwell”: and there (lo and behold!) was Her Majesty, up on a balcony, singing it. It tells us life last us three-score-years- and-ten (=70) or if we have strength, four score (=80): and there she was, at 94, reminding us that it isn’t up to us how long or short our life is (as she famously said years ago in a radio broadcast) but what we do with it: making right use of our God-given lives to freely and truly serve Him, as our duty. Her Majesty dedicated herself to public service, in a way uniquely available to her, at a time when the world was riven by war, and the accession of her father, King George VI, suddenly put her line for the throne, which her uncle, Edward VIII, had renounced, and all things in life seemed chaotic. What was the world coming to?
Our reading from Zephaniah paints a terrible picture of judgment: the sort of thing that puts people right off the OT. St Paul, a Jewish Rabbi, must have known it, and repeats the warning to his (Greek) Thessalonians, in case they were thinking everything, now Christ had died for them, was hunky-dory, and everything would be ALL RIGHT (honest) however badly they behaved. It makes me think of Private Fraser in “Dad’s Army” – an undertaker – forever crying out “Doomed! Doomed! we’re all doomed!” while the other Home Guards go about their rather shambolic duties, despite everything, in a spirit of hope and goodwill under orders – with which he co-operates. None of them is fit for active service: yet all do the best they can, however they can, with whatever means God has given them.
So what, if you are getting on a bit (like Pte. Godfrey)? You still have something to offer, if observed and accepted by those in charge. So what, if you say one thing, and do another (like Corporal Jones) who cries “Don’t panic!” as he does so. His fellows are there to support and enable his intended service by knowing he is who he is, allowing his use, but containing his going too far. So the whole becomes far greater than the sum of its parts through that love which casts out all fear.
This is, I believe, the model of the church Christ illustrates in yet another of the “Parables of the Kingdom”, today, that of “the Talents”. Everyone, he says, is entrusted by God with something valuable, and expected to use it in his service: being you. But just as the platoon in “Dad’s Army” share a duty of care not only for each other but for the town, this is a responsibility way beyond a single individual. Your gifts may not be what you think, and require discernment by others. To grow we must look after each other as if always both parents AND children: for these (as Jesus says elsewhere) are those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.