Sunday, November 19, 2023
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Using the talents God gave us
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy Tx 77450
Click here to watch video
Both the Epistle and Gospel are about waiting. I find this very interesting because we are fast approaching the season of Advent, which is just two weeks away. This is a season where the focus is on waiting. But there is more to waiting than just standing around and well, waiting!
Waiting and what we do while we wait is the focus especially of the Parable of the Talents. Like last week’s parable of the foolish virgins this is another judgment parable, and the focus is on the harsh judgment of the master on the slave who buried his talent.
The Parable of the Talents is the third of three judgment parables in this section of Matthew. It comes directly after the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids with five being wise and having oil for their lamps as they wait for the bridegroom and five being foolish who were not prepared. That parable is about being prepared and watchful. The Parable of the Talents however focuses how we act while we are waiting.
We need to look at the symbols since with any parable we need to examine the symbols in order unlock the meaning. Of importance is discovering what a talent is. In our world we look at the word talent as God given gifts. This is not at all what Jesus had intended. I think however that Jesus selected a talent in the sense that his audience would understand. A talent in Jesus’ time was a lot of money. A talent equaled 6,000 denarii. A denarius is a day’s wages. So one talent equals 6,000 days salary or almost 20 years salary. So the 5 talents would be equivalent to 100 years of wages. While the amount in current dollars is hard to ascertain the point is that this is a large amount of money. In fact at a wage of $200 a day the total would be 1.2 million dollars for one talent. Another person calculated that a talent was worth 1.7 million dollars based on the price of gold and that a talent would have been about 90 lbs of gold. No matter how you calculate it, all three have been entrusted not with a small amount, but with a large sum.
Now we must remember slaves were different in the time of Jesus compared to what we think of in the colonial period and the pre-civil war period. There are many ways one could end up a slave and many slaves were educated and had great responsibility in the duties that they perform. Obviously all three slaves were entrusted with a lot of money. Think of them more in terms of managers that were expected to produce for the master. The master would have expected them to earn him a return on the money he had given them. The difference is two of them go out and take a risk and do in fact get a great return. The third does not take a risk but only keeps the master’s money safe. Burying money to keep it safe was not unusual in that time and banks weren’t nearly as common as they are today. Archeologists find hoards of coins all the time in the yards of houses.
Now the Greek word for talents has morphed in today’s language into a far broader meaning. We think in terms of gifts, skills, abilities that we have. I have a gift for music but if I hadn’t done something with that gift I would never have majored in music or been a band director for 24 years. I found I had other gifts and have put them to work now in the church, but again I have had to work on a develop those gifts. My biblical storytelling is a good example. I have spent years developing that gift so I can share it with you.
No matter how many or how few talents we have, we are expected to do something with them.
I don’t like the prosperity gospel, but it isn’t completely wrong. Growing what God has given you is about more than money. The more we do with what we have the more that we grow and as a result can do more.
However sometimes we need to step out of a comfort zone and take a risk to use our talents. This is really what the master expected of his slaves.
Wendy was looking for some material to use with a confirmation class at her parish and I suggested a series by Rachel Held Evans. One of the videos is about not being afraid. It is entitled Risking it on Jesus. She says that faith isn’t really worth much if there is no risk. Jesus is not about being safe and secure, but about being faithful to God. We are called to be willing to risk using, investing, growing those talents that we have all been given by God and turning them into work that will bring the kingdom closer. That is what this parable tells us we need to do as we await the return of the master whenever and however that may happen. The return is not what is important. What is important is what we do in the time we have.
Remember the old saying God does not call the equipped. God equips the called and he is calling on us, every one of us. Now the challenge is to discern what those talents are for each of us. The beauty of a congregation like ours is that we all have different gifts and talents.
I have been talking over the past several months about how we use our gifts especially in outreach and I do want to take a moment to talk about gifts that are often overlooked. Sunday morning would not happen without a huge number of you sharing your gifts. Most everything that happens in our worship services and Sunday school, are you sharing your gifts. Hospitality for those who greet people as they walk in the door. The altar guild who sets up and cleans up. St. Lydia’s who fold the bulletins and stuffs envelops for mailings. Lectors, chalice ministers, choir members, healing ministry and of course our acolytes. Let’s not forget our video ministry. Our Sunday services have well over 1500 views so far this year. And that’s not to mention the visitors who check us out on line before they even set foot in the door. Then there is Children’s Chapel and Sunday school which is all volunteer led at this time. Even when we hire a new formation person, most of the actual work is done by you, sharing your gifts. This too is stewardship, caring for our parish, growing our parish, carefully using the talents, the gifts that God has given to all of us. That is the very definition of Stewardship.
Now I have been laying the groundwork for our Celebration of Stewardship and you all have the first stewardship letter waiting for you in the narthex so please pick it up so we don’t have to mail them. After all stewardship means making good use of the gifts that you have given us. That however does mean that we need your talents as in money for all of this to happen. You see Stewardship is a complete picture. Just as the Trinity has three essential parts, so does stewardship, time, talent and treasure.
A healthy parish is both vital, alive and energetic and also viable, financially stable. We are making great strides in both of these areas in this post pandemic world. As we look to our Celebration of Stewardship over the season of Advent and Christmas I hope you will join your vestry and me in celebrating what we have accomplished and being willing to risk using all of our talents to make us even stronger. This is a risk we are all called to make, I hope you accept the challenge to continue our growth.