I have always struggled with the parable of the talents. That word ‘talents’ puts me off right away. I realise that a talent in this situation represents a measure of weight, but since I have personally never used the word to mean that outside of the context of this parable, I have a hard time keeping that in mind when I read this passage. Actually my NIV Bible refers to this story as “The Parable of the Bags of Gold”, and my Passion Bible calls it “A Parable about Financial Stewardship.” Unfortunately it is ingrained in my mind as “The Parable of the Talents.”
Recently I reread this parable in Matthew chapter 25. A wealthy man is going on a journey, and before he goes he assigns his financial management over to his servants. To one servant he gave five bags of money, to another two bags, and to another just one. The amounts were not without pre thought, but rather the master gave according to each servants’ ability to manage. Two of the servants invested their money, and managed to double it, but the servant with the least simply buried what he had, and then returned the same amount to his master when he returned.
The first thing of interest here is that the master’s response to the servants who had doubled their investments seems to be the same. To both of them the master said “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.” (Mt.25:21,23). I like this. Clearly it is not the amount of money made that was important, but rather that the servant used all that he had to produce more.
Then there is the servant who simply buried what he had been given, and brought no profit whatsoever. This is met with a very negative response from the master, who passes the one bag over to the servant who currently had ten!
I have to admit that I find it easy to identify with the last servant. This is actually foolish on my part though, because clearly this parable is not about how much each was given in the beginning, but whether what the servant had was put to use or not. For me to pause and consider that I do not have much to invest is a diversion from what Jesus was trying to teach at this point.
This leads me to ask the question about what I have to invest. The parable is about money, so probably that is a good place to start. I am not a business woman, and know very little about investing in companies in order to make money, but I do know about investing in peoples lives. There are many charities like World Vision, where families in affluent western homes can support a child in a country where it is difficult to get enough to eat, get adequate medical help, and even get an education. Giving to these situations is a great way to see a return for my investment – a healthy, educated child, able to give back into her community. There are so many opportunities to support ministries in other countries, caring for children in orphanages, helping women to get away from the sex industry, helping poor farmers have enough to feed themselves and bring some food to the markets. There are many Christians with a heart to help the lost and the hurting, and for those of us called to stay in our own countries right now, we have tremendous opportunities to support these missionaries.
Another extremely important way for me to invest in these ministries is through prayer. I will not receive a thank you letter if I spend half an hour praying for an orphanage in Uganda, but the Lord will hear my prayers and respond to them. I will be investing into this ministry. The same is true as I pray for my leaders, both inside the Church and in the community. I am declaring that I want the Lord to have his way, and I am helping that to be the case by praying. As we pray for a person we are investing in them. As we pray for a country, we are investing into that country.
Recently I spent a week with my grandchildren. The triplets are five now, and they are all so good at saying positive things to people. When anyone speaks something encouraging to me it makes me want to keep on doing whatever it is that I am doing right. If someone says something nice about what I am wearing, I blossom, and I want to pass on that blessing I have just received. Words of encouragement, words of affirmation, are investments into a person, and help that person to feel good about themselves. The same is true about being kind to a person, smiling at them as you pass them by, picking up what they dropped and handing it back to them. Sending a note of encouragement to a friend, calling someone who is having a difficult time, ordering in a meal for a friend who has been unwell – there are so many simple ways that we can invest in one another’s lives.
It does not matter how much or how little we have to invest in others, as long as we give what we can. And as we do we will find that we will be sharing in our Master’s happiness!