Last week, our pastor’s sermon addressed Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the wealthy landowner who took a trip, and in his absence entrusted his wealth to his servants. The title of our pastor’s sermon, oddly enough, was “Where’s the piccolo?”
The parable is as follows:
For it [the Kingdom of Heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'
And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'
But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
This parable in Matthew has always rather bugged me because I never quite understood it. Why would the wealthy landowner pick on the poor servant who didn’t invest his money but instead merely buried it? Hey, I understand financial restraint. Frankly that would be my first inclination (bury, not invest). At least the servant didn’t steal the money. He didn’t go drinking or carousing with it. All he did was bury it, keeping it safe and sound for when the master would return. So why was the landowner so ticked off?
Our pastor’s analysis of this parable was so enlightening that I’m copying over portions of his sermon (which I put in italics).
It’s helpful to know that a “talent” was the largest monetary unit of its time. A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer; and a talent was worth 6000 denarii, or about 16 years’ worth of labor. That was a LOT of money.
Clearly the landowner trusted these servants. He obviously trusted them all to be honest, but he didn’t trust each one to the same degree. Instead, he trusted each one “according to his ability.” The servants had different skills. At the risk of reading too much into the Greek translation of monetary units, the servants each had different talents.
“Let’s face it,” our pastor said. “There are some people who can handle five talents, others only one. There are some people who have great intellectual capabilities and some who do not. There are some who have the ability to articulate their thoughts, some cannot. There are some who have physical prowess and attractive looks, others have neither. The important thing to remember is that each servant was given something. No one was left without. Each had abilities. You may not be a five-talent person, but you have something to offer. We all do.
“And you know something: I believe there are a whole lot more one and two-talent people in this world than there are five-talent people. Oh, there are some people who seem to have it all. I won’t deny that. But most of us are just one or two talent servants.”
Now, understand the servants didn’t know when the landowner would be returning. It’s not like he could keep them abreast of his travels via Twitter. So the servants knew they had to be constantly on their watch for when their boss would get back.
The “good and faithful” servants doubled their master’s money. But the one-talent guy was called “slothful” and “wicked.” Ouch.
As our pastor put it, “Our Lord may be delayed in his return, but, in the meantime, what are you doing with the talent that has been entrusted to you? Let us be clear on one issue: God expects a return. We better not simply bury that which has been given us and return it when he comes. If we don’t sow anything, how can we expect to reap anything?”
In other words, we can’t just let our talents lie fallow. We can’t bury them. We have to DO something with them. Our talents are God- given, and He doesn’t like us to waste His gifts. The faithless – those who refuse to use their gifts – will lose even the gifts they were given because they’re too scared, or weak, or lazy, or other unflattering descriptions to cultivate and use those gifts.
Sounds harsh, but I guess God doesn’t like sloth.
So why didn’t the servant invest his talent? He was scared. He played it safe. “I was afraid,” he said. But that’s not a good enough excuse. As our pastor put it, “If Jesus had played it safe, we would not be sitting here [in church] this morning. God loves you as you are, warts and all. Be yourself, be genuine, be authentic.”
Our pastor related the story of an unattractive housewife who forever sighed over the beauty and singing talent of Hollywood actresses. She fell into a depression because she didn’t have similar gifts of beauty and ability. But then she recalled how she used to be able to make people laugh when she was in high school. At the top of her career in the 1960s, Phyllis Diller made over a million dollars a year. She wasn’t pretty, she couldn’t sing, but she was funny. She had found her gift.
“Well, maybe God is saying something like that to us,” said our pastor. “Maybe when we complain that we wish we had more, if only we were like someone other than ourselves, IF ONLY…He says to us: ‘Use the gifts I have given you. Stop crying about what you don’t have and start concentrating on what you do have.’ For me, however, neither of these reasons gets to the heart of the issue. I think the one-talent man did nothing with his talent because he thought to himself: “Well, my one talent won’t make any difference anyway.”
Then our pastor finished his sermon with these words: “The celebrated 19th century conductor, Sir Michael Costa, was holding a rehearsal. Scores of instruments were playing and a mighty chorus was wailing away. But one of the musicians, thinking his contribution wouldn’t be missed amid all the commotion, stopped playing. Suddenly the great conductor stopped and yelled: “Where’s the piccolo?”
“You see, the sound of that one small instrument was necessary for the proper harmony, and the Master Conductor noticed it immediately. The point: To the Conductor there are no insignificant instruments in an orchestra. Sometimes the smallest and seemingly least important one can make the greatest contribution and, even if it doesn’t seem to make that big a difference to the audience, the conductor knows it right away.
“In the Church, the players and the instruments that make up a congregation are as diverse as the membership – different sizes, shapes, notes, roles to play, talents and willingness to risk oneself. But, like the piccolo player, we often, in our own sovereignty decide that: Our contribution is not significant. I couldn’t possibly make a difference. And so we quit playing. We stop doing that which we have been given to do. We drop out. But what we fail to realize is the Conductor immediately notices. From our perspective, our contribution may be small, but from God’s perspective, it is crucial.”
The other day I was feeling inferior and down-in-the-dumps over my shallow interest in keeping up with NaNoWriMo while others were being saints (and thank you all for your kind words in that regard). But I guess I’m playing my own little tiny piccolo in my own little tiny way. I’m not the celebrated soloist of the performance; but then, that’s not my talent either.
This doesn’t excuse me from helping others with their physical needs, as this saintly woman did.
But it does make me feel better about being a one-talent kind of gal.