By Howard Gregory
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. At once 16 the one who had received the five talents went off and traded with them and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then 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.’ 21 His 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.’ 22 And 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.’ 23 His 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.’ 24 Then 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, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But 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? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
One feature of life in Jesus’ day was the long time it took to move from place to place. The businessman of Jesus’ day, headed on a long journey, would often need to make arrangements for the protection of his interests while he was away. It is in this context that the man in the parable called three of his workers and entrusted to them the responsibility of taking care of his wealth until he returned.
At the moment of accountability he finds that two of his workers can give positive accounts of their stewardship, while the third not only launches an attack on his master but offers self-incriminating excuses and no positive return on the entrusted capital.
The parable in the original context was a challenge to the religious authorities of the day regarding their rigid and narrow definition of stewardship as the God-appointed leaders within the community of faith, whom Jesus describes as hard of heart when faced with human need against the perceived requirements of the law.
I just wonder to what extent our commitment to “preserving the faith” at times becomes an excuse for becoming blind to the work which God may be seeking to effect in our lives and in the Church. To what extent are we as disciples of Jesus Christ prepared to take risks in order to accomplish new things for God?
Perhaps we may want to consider the possibility that the judgment pronounced on the worker, and perhaps on us, is not for risking and not being successful but for the failure to venture forth and try. The third servant has condemned himself to a place — a life — that knows not joy and freedom, but darkness, wailing, and grinding of teeth.
As the Church in its collective expression is endowed with grace to be a sacrament to the world, so the individual Christian is entrusted by God with gifts which must be stewarded in a way that engages the world and is not just self-contained.
The Most Rev. Howard K. Gregory is Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Archbishop of the West Indies.
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The Diocese of Maralal – The Anglican Church of Kenya
St. Martin’s by the Lake Episcopal Church, Minnetonka Beach, Minn.