Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
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Until the Master Returns

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30

 At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has already told his disciples about his death, resurrection, and eventual return.  In chapter 25, there are three parables that all deal with what his followers should be doing while he is gone.  

 The story begins with a rich man going on a long trip.  Now remember that Jesus is speaking to a Hebrew audience, and so I think the implication is that this is a religious pilgrimage.  All Hebrew people were required in the first century, no matter where they lived, to make at least one pilgrimage during their lifetime to Jerusalem for at least one of the three major festivals:  Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles.  And often, those who made a long trip would simply stay in Jerusalem for all three of them, which would be about six months.

 Transportation was unpredictable.  Depending on the season, you might not be able to sail one direction or another.  If the prevailing winds were against you, you might have to wait months before they changed.  

 The point of all this is that a long trip was an unknown.  This man had no way of knowing exactly when he would return.  Even we don’t always know what unpredictable things can happen when we travel.  We didn’t expect to drive back and forth to Orlando last fall.  We expected to take the train.  But the weather had other plans.

 Meanwhile, he is wealthy.  And he doesn’t want his wealth, his “kingdom,” to be idle while he is gone.  So he entrusts it to three servants.  Now these guys are slaves, not free men.  But some slaves were educated and skilled.  It was not usual for a household manager or business manager to be a slave in the first century world.

 He gives them eight talents of gold.  A talent was a unit of weight, equal to about 75 pounds.  A talent of gold would equal 10,000 denarii.  The denarius was the minimum daily wage for unskilled labor, so this is a lot of money.  But he gives it in proportion to their abilities.  The most skilled servant gets the most money.  This way none of them will be overwhelmed with the responsibility.

 By the way, in case you didn’t know, the English word talent, meaning a God-given gift or ability, comes from this story.  

 The first servant doubles the five talents, and the second servant doubles the two talents he was given.  Each receives the same reward:  A share in the master’s joy and

greater responsibilities.  “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful in a small matter, now you will have greater responsibilities.”

 But then there is the third servant.  He just takes the talent and buries it in the ground.  Now that’s not irresponsible.  They didn’t really have banks, as we would know them.  There were no safes or vaults for keeping things secure.  People often buried wealth in times of war or invasion, in the hopes that they could recover it later.  

 The problem is that it wasn’t given to him for safety.  It was given to him to be used, invested, and grown.  When the master returns, he just gives it back to him with the words “You have what is yours.”  That was basically a way of saying, “I’m wiping my hands of this.  This is not my problem.”  

 The master is not happy.  “You could have at least loaned it out at interest.”  Interest rates in the first century were pretty high.  Fifty percent was not unheard of.  The reason is there weren’t many places you could go to get a loan.  So you were going to pay if you did find one.  

 Now technically, loaning at interest, usury, was forbidden by the Old Testament Law.  But, that only applied to loans made to other Hebrews.  No such thing when you were loaning to Gentiles!  Also, some Jews had reinterpreted the Law to say that usury was charging excessive interest.  So sometimes even fellow Hebrews were charged some interest on loans, just not too much.  

 Why didn’t he obey?  Why didn’t he do his job?  

 By his own admission, he says there was nothing in it for him.  “You are a harsh man, harvesting what you do not plant.”  In other words, “I do the work, and you get the profit.  What’s in it for me?”  And he also says that he was “afraid he would lose it.”  

 Perhaps he was just lazy.  The master is going to be gone for a long time.  Why bother working?  Just bury the money, take it easy, and give it back to him later.

 Perhaps he really was afraid.  What if he were to lose the master’s money?  You know, I have to think that the master would have been less upset in that case.  Better to show some effort, to try, than just do nothing.  

 Perhaps he had no love for the master.  If he had loved his master, he would have obeyed his word and served him joyfully, even if there was “nothing in it for him.”  And of course, he was wrong about there being “nothing in it for him.”  

 Regardless, the master is not happy.  He judges the third servant by his own words.  “If you think I’m harsh, then I will be harsh to you.  Toss him out.”  

 What are the takeaways?  

 First, it’s not what talent you have or how much you have; it’s how you use it.  The third servant was only given one talent.  The master did not see much skill or ability in him.  But that’s not why he was punished.  He was punished because he didn’t use what he was given.  

 Some servants do little with what they have.  Perhaps it’s because they feel their gifts are insignificant.  Remember 1 Corinthians 12:  “If the foot says, ‘I’m not a part of the body because I’m not a hand’… and if the ear says, ‘I’m not a part of the body because I’m not eye.’”  

 We might be tempted to think that “Because I can’t do much, I may as well do nothing.  What can I do for God?  I’m not a great preacher.  I’m not a teacher.  I’m not a gifted evangelist.  I don’t have a lot of money.  I don’t have any great influence in my community or my church.  So I may as well just do nothing.”  

 The problem with that way of thinking is that it violates a principle of the Kingdom.  Jesus teaches that faithfulness in small things leads to trust in greater things.  If you do God’s will in your life, where you are now, then you will be trusted with greater responsibilities.  If you do the little things you can now, if you use the gifts God has already given you for his glory, then you will be trusted with more.  

 Deep down, I think all of us want our lives to have significance.  We want our lives to mean something.  We want to change the world around us for the better.  But we probably also think, “There’s nothing I can do.”  And that’s not true.  If you do the little things you can now, if you are faithful in them, then greater things will follow.  Jesus says so!

 This parable is about what we, the servants of the Master, should be doing while the Master is away.  Earlier we heard from 1 Thessalonians 5 about the return of Christ. 

And when we talk about the return of Christ, I think we focus far too much attention on when it will happen.

 Paul says to the Thessalonians:  “You know the day will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night…  But you won’t be surprised.”  Now some people say that the second part of that, “You won’t be surprised,” is because we can know when Jesus is coming back.  Certainly, more than a few people have made claims to know when.  Just recently, some have claimed that the solar eclipse back in August was a sign of the end.  As far as I’m concerned, the minute someone says, “I know when Christ will return,” we should immediately question everything they have to say.  Jesus said, “No one knows, except the Father.”  So stop trying to guess.  Seriously!

 The reason we won’t be surprised is because we will be alert, sober, clearheaded, and watchful.  Or at least we should be.  And a lot of what it means to be alert and watchful is to be busy doing his work.  That way we won’t be surprised or ashamed when he returns.  

 When it comes to the return of Christ, we focus too much attention on when it will happen, and not enough on “What do we do until then?”  The Master will return.  Use your talents to grow his Kingdom until he does.  That much we know for sure.

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