Risk and Trust–November 15, 2020
By Susan Oxley
Matthew 25: 14-30 – The Parable of the Talents: 14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
Jesus, in Jerusalem, being discredited, facing death. Against all odds, he had faith and trust in the future of the kingdom.
- The third of four stories about the kingdom.
- Spoiler alert: this story is about trust and risking everything.
- Risk and trust. Jesus was risking everything—even life itself—for the sake of the Kingdom. He had to trust that it was worth it.
“A wealthy landowner goes into a far country…” Familiar formula, known to the hearers. This is a story about a test, while he is gone.
- Nature of the test: use of money
- 1 talent = 15 years of wages
- Vast trust placed in slaves, vast responsibility,
- The landowner is taking a huge risk: what if it’s lost? The TEST!
Expectations of the hearers were completely overturned:
- First two invested – doubled it – okay – accepted almost casually.
- They risked losing everything. And the return on investment was amazing!
- rewarded. But understated. Deserve much more praise! Why didn’t they get it?
- Third was the most prudent
- hid the gold in the ground: the safest place—no risk
- rabbis agreed that burying was the best protection against thieves
- Expectation: praised above the others, rewarded richly for protecting the investment
- Totally shocked when the landowner condemned him! What? No way!
The parable isn’t about money:
- Note: the landowner refused to take back the buried talent. Gave it away. So greed for monetary gain was not the point of the exercise. If it was all about greed, he would have snatched it back!
- It isn’t investment advice: “invest in a high-risk market, come what may”
- Go ahead and risk covid parties, throw off your mask, forget caution… NO!
- The money is beside the point. Foolish bravado and risk is not the answer.
The point of the parable has to do with trust – TRUST AND THE KINGDOM!
- The landowner trusted ALL of his slaves. Given according to their ability, but still trusted each one to do his best.
- But trust goes both ways. How much trust did the slaves show in the landowner?
- First two trusted that whatever they did with the money entrusted to them would be accepted.
- Willing to risk because they believed in a benevolent, understanding landowner.
- Third slave lived in fear. Landowner was harsh, judgmental, exacting, unforgiving – can’t risk errors. No belief in grace and mercy. THAT’s THE POINT!
- 2 Timothy 1:7
- Fear deprived the slave of a future. If I blow this, I will lose everything. But by not risking, he lost the talent, the goodwill of the landowner, and the chance to try again.
- How do you secure the future? By preserving the past? Or by boldly acting, where nothing is predictable, and the rules have changed?
- The parable points to the slaves who risked and acted boldly.
Two questions: Who do you say that I am? Jesus asks. In this parable, God is asking. Grace-filled and forgiving? Or harsh and judgmental?
- Which servant will you believe?
- Still 2 images of God are presented today – a God of grace and a God of judgment
- I proclaim a God of grace and mercy – Regardless of my errors and faults! I proclaim a God who trusts us with talents and trusts us to use them for the sake of the kingdom.
- What does God expect from us as we work for the coming kingdom? Are we willing to risk it all and trust God to understand and accept our effort?
I risked everything when I accepted the call to become an apostle. For ten years, I lived on the edge, publicly investing my talents in shaky enterprises that I hoped were contributing to God’s Kingdom. But there were no guarantees.
- Sometimes those missions succeeded, sometimes they didn’t.
- Along the way, my skills slowly expanded, my understanding grew, and the inner peace in Christ gradually deepened within me.
- And I found joy in the work.
- Along the way, I lost John, died with him, and had to learn to live again.
- And when I met Ron I risked it all once again, only this time in a more private way, to invest in love and marriage for the second time. There was tremendous joy in loving and sharing again, even in the face of cancer and an untimely death.
I wasn’t comfortable moving back into ministry again after Ron died. But I took the risk.
- I got involved with my congregation, in worship, in preaching, in evangelist blessings.
- I got involved with more writing for the World Church and editing Daily Bread.
- I accepted a role with the Mission Center as a Leader Support Minister.
- The call was there, the invitation was clear, the guidance was sure.
Today, I struggle like everyone else between fear and trust. Life changes, and new challenges loom on the personal, national, and global front.
- I invest my skills in small, invisible acts of ministry and support behind the scenes,
- I invest in tireless work with the North American Climate Justice Team as we create and host webinars and conversations about climate crisis.
- I’m not always comfortable or sure about what I’m doing.
- But even when death, disease, or changing circumstances whisper, “You’ve done enough. Just bury yourself, and let it slide,” I choose to invest in life, love and the kingdom.
- It’s the only goal that makes sense. It’s the only reason to keep living. No matter what. God, where will your Spirit lead today?
Faith or Fear? Which will rule? Ultimately, what is it we are afraid of? Death? The lack of a future? In every age there have been catastrophes, wars, injustices, pandemics, and senseless death. In every age, there have been good, decent, compassion innocent people who have died.
- Some died for a cause, and we know their name,
- Some are among the mass of nameless heroes.
- Some simply died, never engaging in a cause, but victims of the times and circumstances.
- Some felt assured there would be a future for their children and grandchildren.
- Most died wondering.
But whether they lived quietly or died spectacularly, all those people belonged to God. And God was with them in life and in death, with divine compassion and tears for their suffering.
You have heard of many of the heroes who made a difference in situations of injustice, oppression, and catastrophe. Here are some ordinary people who chose faith over fear during times of pandemic:
- In 1630, when the black plague hit the town of Prato in Italy, Cristofano Cessini became the health official, because no one else wanted it. He tirelessly provided food for the quarantined, established convalescent centers, hired staff and gravediggers, and arranged for bedding to be burned. When funding ran out, he used his own salary and resources to provide food and care as 1 in 4 townspeople died. He never gave up hope.
- During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, thousands of Australian women, who had little or no experience in nursing, volunteered to go into private homes to care for the thousands of sick and dying people. The majority of them died as a result, but they died believing “it was the right thing to do.”
- Hibakuchi, survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima, experienced radiation sickness and lifelong pain, ostracism from other Japanese, and discrimination in jobs and relationships. Not victims of a pandemic, but victims of radiation, still suffering pain, they now travel the world sharing not only their experiences but also a message of forgiveness and global peace. Because they have faith in a better world.
- Maurice Hilleman, a microbiologist, discovered that viruses mutate and shift over time. In 1957, his research enabled him to recognize the danger of the Asian (or bird) flu, and begin working on a vaccine that saved thousands of lives during the pandemic. But his contribution would never have happened if it weren’t for his older brother, who sacrificed selflessly to provide Maurice’s tuition to college when the family was too poor to afford it.
- In this strange, unexpectedly challenging world of chaos, pandemic, racial conflict, national and international struggles, and looming climate crises, we cannot be ruled by fear and bury ourselves in a past that will never come again. The past will not save us.
- We choose faith and trust in God.
- We choose radical hope, that looks squarely at unpleasant realities, even death, and looks to the long term vision of a new creation.
- We choose to do the right thing, the hopeful thing, the kingdom thing, even if never know if there will be a future. And we trust that God is with us in the choosing.
Faith or Fear? Which will rule? Who do you say that God is?