14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.’ 21His 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.’ 22And 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.’ 23His 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.’ 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
A parable that doesn’t make sense for a time that doesn’t make sense. This is one of the more challenging stories Jesus throws at his disciples. A master goes on a trip and leaves his slaves with talents—an astronomical amount of money. Two of the slaves grow the treasure. Another one buries it. While the first two slaves receive praise at the master’s return, the last slave receives the master’s anger, and loses the one talent that he has. On first reading this seems unfair. Isn’t the world’s trouble just this: that the rich receive more and the poor receive less? This story seems to upend the basic moral teaching the gospel having to do with shared resources. But the challenge of the parable isn’t that the master is harsh, as if God’s accounting of what we do with what we’ve been given will be exacting. On the contrary, the master is extravagant. What we miss in the parable is the extraordinary gift at the beginning. The accounting is done in talents. And, if we do the math, what we find is that the parable begins with the master handing over payment for roughly 150 years of continuous work among his three slaves. With all this generosity, why shouldn’t the master expect something more than a buried gift? The parable is meant to spur us. In the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
God, even in the stillness and smallness of these days, let your gift of grace grow within us, offering something of your extravagant generosity to the world you died to love, in Jesus Christ. Amen.