Well, here we are again at the parable of the talents so conveniently located in the customary fundraising season for both churches and non profits. It’s hard to know how to let these words speak with a fresh meaning. I wonder if it would help to begin the passage with the closing lines of the previous parable of the ten bridesmaids: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Or maybe it would be better to begin with Pay Attention!
What have we been talking about since Pentecost if not what it means to be disciples of Christ? Has that made any difference in your life, or did it just pass through leaving almost no wake? This parable and the one preceding it are not about lamps and talents; they are about paying attention to what Jesus had been teaching all this time. And like any good teacher, he’s going to give a final exam. How have you loved God? How have you loved your neighbor? How have you loved each other as he loved you? The how of how we have done these things is not so much about what we believe, but what we have done with our lives in relationship with all the lives around us, and I often think that we make that both too hard and too easy because we are not paying attention.
I have a friend, an ernest Christian honestly anxious about what it is that God might be calling him to do. He is among those who make it too hard. While spending time in enquiring prayer, and hoping for a flash of insight into something special that is out there for him, he is reluctant to look around and see that where he is, and what he does day in and day out, is the mission field begging attention. It makes sense. I think we’ve been misled in too many ways about what it means to be called by God. We expect it to be special in a way that ordinary daily life is not special. My friend knows he has been given his talent, but what is it and what should he do with it? That’s the question, and the answer must, according to what we have all been taught, be something extraordinarily different than the contents of our ordinary daily lives.
Why? Why would our talents not be what we already have, and know that we have? Why would we not be called to employ them in the ordinary affairs of life? I think we look too far afield and thus miss the obvious. My friend is honestly seeking what he might be called to do, but in the meantime he might be said to be hiding his talent until the right thing comes along. How many of us do the same thing?
What about those who are self satisfied, and don’t give this parable another thought after they’ve left the building? They are among those who make it too easy. They don’t let what Jesus taught interfere with their political beliefs, economic behavior, or social life. If they bother at all, they have comfortably harmonized whatever the preacher says, and what they are sure the bible teaches, with the way they live their lives. If judgment is in the offing, it is others who are likely to be damned, not them.
These parables are, at least in part, about the seriousness of following Jesus as a disciple, and the accounting we must one day give. My guess is that those who will fare the worst are those who just didn’t care much one way or the other, yet claimed the name of Christ. Indifference has got to be the worst accounting one could give. Right behind them are likely to be those who confidently gave themselves passing marks. That could be my group. I think my friend who is cautious about investing his talent will fare much better.