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November 16, 2008

Buried Treasure

This is one of those parables- the parable of the talents- that we have heard so many times, certainly we must understand it by now.
What more could we learn by hearing it yet again?

The Master- who of course always represents God- goes on a journey.  Before he goes he gives a bunch of money (not a pittance- but a huge bunch - a talent would be about 20 years of income, so we are talking immense gifts here) to three of his slaves.  He gives one slave five talents.  Another he gives two talents.  The third he gives one.

The master has determined ahead of time how much each slave is capable of handling.  So he gives to each of them according to their ability.

Then he goes away and we know the rest.  Five talent Fred invests and makes 10 talents.  Two talent Tricia earns two more.  One talent Oli buries his and keeps it safe.

In the end, the two who invested and multiplied their money get praise from the master. The one who took the safe route gets thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The moral of the story- use what God gives you.  Don't bury your talents.

But this is November of 2008.  Investments we made over the years with great hope and confidence have crashed.  The risky investment -attempting to double our cash -  no longer looks to be good and faithful.
Burying our money in the ground actually sounds prudent and wise right now and even if it is overly cautious, it is certainly no reason for punishment.  Suddenly, the way we have always heard this parable doesn't sound right any longer.  The notion that we should risk our money doesn't really sit well in the current economic climate.

Which makes me wonder did it sit well then?  How was it heard when Jesus said it?

In Jesus day the general understanding was that the economic pie was "limited" and already distributed. Any increase in the share of one person automatically meant a loss for someone else. Honorable people, therefore, did not try to get more, and those who did were automatically considered thieves. If you really wanted to get rich and not be thought a jerk, you let the slaves handle your affairs.
Since slaves were without honor anyway, it didn't matter if they were thought to be thieves or jerks.  So what the Master did, in giving the money to his slaves, was not entirely unheard of.

The third slave buried his master's money to ensure that it remained intact. In Jesus' day, it wasn't considered foolish to bury one's wealth. Rabbinic law provided that since burying a deposit
was the safest way to care for someone else's money, if a loss did occur, the one burying money had no responsibility.

So he didn't actually do anything wrong, economically. The listeners in Jesus' day, and many of us, can relate to the slave's decision to play it safe.  We can certainly understand his fear.

But as much as we may sympathize with and encourage those who are fearful, this way of living will simply not do when one's faith is in Christ.

This parable of the talents reveals that faithfulness cannot be identified with preservation of the status quo.

Standing still is not faithful.  Taking the safe way to avoid all risk is not faithful.  A nice safe CD or Money Markey account may be a very prudent financial investment but it is not what God calls us to do with the gifts we've received in faith.

The third slave has a view of God that is distorted.  He sees God as harsh and demanding and expecting too much. That fear causes him to bury the one talent he was given.  He was overly cautious because he was afraid of the master.  He was afraid because he misunderstood the master.

The slave says to him- I know you are harsh and demanding.  Yet in the parable the master is nothing but generous.  He gives them money at the start.  He gives them only what they can deal with,
each according to his abilities.  When he returns he is lavish with his praise for the first two servants.  He rewards them for what they have done and gives them even more.  There is no mention of him taking back the money or even the profit.  He is nothing but generous.

For the one who feared, for the one who buried his talent, there is judgment.

Those who act in faith receive more faith.  Those who act in fear are punished.  The slave is wicked for not having faith and he is lazy for not even trying.

What have you buried because of fear?  What are you leaving unattended because you don't know what to do?

We bury relationships and hope they at least won't get any worse.
We bury abilities and gifts from fear of failure.
We bury joy and adventure and settle for safety and status quo.

What is it in your life that you have been given
and all you are doing is sitting on it
waiting for a better time
waiting for clearer direction
waiting for the Master to return and collect it from you.

The choice about such things is left up to us.  We can live like God is critically important, so  harsh we don't dare risk making a mistake- like our lives are fine china on loan from Grandma,
and her rage over a broken plate would destroy us. So we pack it up carefully and put it away for some other time.

Or we can live like what we have-existence, talent, gifts of wit or welding-came from Someone, somewhere, and every new day is a chance to see what it can do and how it can grow. If a few plates get broken, who needs fine china anyway?

We can have faith and trust or we can not have faith and trust.
To those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.  But from those who have none, even what they have will be taken away.

I am not sure I like that.
But I am pretty sure that is what it says.