In 27 BC, Augustus Caesar became the ruler of the Roman Empire. The kings from the small kingdoms in the empire came from near and far to plead for reappointment to their kingdoms. Among them was Herod, king of the Jews. He had to leave his kingdom temporarily in the hands of others while he sought continuance of his rule. Those to whom he entrusted the kingdom were responsible to Herod for how they administered the kingdom in his absence. If they did poorly and he was returned to power, they stood to suffer. If they served him well but Herod was not reinstated, they stood to suffer from Herod’s enemies. The best solution was to be absolutely loyal to the side to which they were committed, and at least they would be able to do whatever they did in good conscience.
The parable we heard today was probably based on just such an event. A man had to go away for a while and he entrusted his goods to his servants by giving each one or more talents. Nowadays we think of talent as ability or skill that one may have but in the first century a “talent” was actually a measure of weight like pound or kilo and it was used in particular for gold, silver and copper. It was recognized as the largest weight in normal everyday use. It was something people could physically carry like 50 or 75 pounds. As a monetary term its value would vary depending upon the metal, but for example, a talent of silver would be worth around 6,000 silver denarii. At the time of Christ a day laborer would have to more than 19 years to earn one silver talent. In today’s gospel these talents the master gives one slave 5 talents, the next 2, and to the third one. This master obviously “invested” in each of these three slaves according to his perception of each of their individual abilities. In fact it is because of this parable that the original meaning of the word a monetary weight has been forgotten and it is now a term used to describe the natural ability of someone. The obvious message and indeed strong warning of this parable is to use whatever talent God has given us. There the incredible reward if we do so and the very dreadful punishment if we do not. So what does this mean to us? How do we to know the talents we have? How do we know what exactly God is holding us responsible to use?
There are at least three areas at which we can look to see the talents God has given us and that we are responsible to use. The first area to look is our natural abilities. What can you do that you do well and even enjoy doing? In the movie Chariots of Fire, my favorite scene is when Eric Little who later goes on to win an Olympic gold medal in the 440, says to his sister, “Yes, I know God has called me to the mission field and I will go. But God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” There are abilities God has given us and when we use them not only do we enjoy it but God himself loves to see us in action. So whatever your natural gift is, enjoy it, put it to use. I believe God loves to watch singers sing and musicians play. I believe God loves to watch athletes perform and artists as they create. God loves it when we use those natural abilities he has given us. He gave them to us after all for us to use and use for his glory.
The next type of talent that we are responsible to God for is not necessarily a natural gift although it can be an outgrowth of a natural gift. What I am referring to is a Spiritual Gift that God gives each Christian. The purpose of this gift is to serve other members of the Body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are discussed in Paul’s letters to the Romans, 1 Corinthians, and in Ephesians. In the letter to the Romans Paul exhorts the believers to use those gifts God gave them. He says the one who does acts of mercy let him do it with cheerfulness. The one who leads, let him do it with zeal. The one who contributes, let him do it with generosity. The one who has the gift of service, let him serve well and skillfully and to the one who teaches let him give himself to teaching. There are many, many different spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are ones that when we use them we notice that they are effective and that people are helped. Whatever spiritual gift then that we have, we are use them with our whole heart and with enthusiasm.
And then there is a third type of talent God gives us and that God holds us responsible to use. All of us have this gift also; it is the gift of life experience. There is the story about a little girl named Annie who in 1876 was ten years old. At the age of 10 she was put into the Tewkesbury Alms House, a poor house/orphanage for abandoned or orphaned children in Massachusetts. Her mother died and her father did not want her. She went briefly to live with her aunt and uncle but they found her too difficult to handle and from them she was deposited into the poor house. She had a bad disposition, a violent temper. The temper was no doubt stemming in part from being afflicted with painful eye disease. She had been put in the poorhouse because no one wanted her. And she turned wild so wild that at times she had to be tied down. But there was another girl in that poorhouse named Maggie who cared for Annie. Maggie talked to her, fed her; she did this even though Annie would throw her food on the floor, and curse and rebel with every ounce of her being. Maggie was a Christian and out of her Christian convictions she was determined to love this dirty, unkempt, spiteful, unloving, unthankful little girl. It wasn’t easy, but slowly it got through to Annie that she was not the only who had suffered and was suffering. Maggie also had been abandoned. And gradually Annie began to respond.
Maggie told her about a school for the blind and Annie begged to be sent there, and finally, consent was given and she went to the Perkins Institute. After a series of operations her sight was partially restored. She was able to finish her schooling and graduate at age twenty. Having been blind so long she told the director of Perkins that she wanted to work with blind and difficult children. They found a little girl seven years old in Alabama who was blind and deaf from the age of two. So, Annie Sullivan went to Tuscumbia, Alabama to unlock the door of Helen Keller’s dark prison and to set her free.
You see there are things God brings us through so that we can help others. Scripture teaches us that we are to comfort others with the comfort God has given us. So if you have made it through a dark, hard, painful, and difficult time, it may be that God has invested in you and wants you just like Annie Sullivan to help someone help else.
In parable we read today, all 3 were servants of the master; in other words, all three would call themselves Christians. But only two of the three actually served their Lord. Only two of the three actually made into heaven!
So what are your talents? What natural abilities, what spiritual gifts, and what life experiences has God given you to use for his kingdom? Are you using your gifts to serve God and others? Are you making time to serve? The Thrift Shop always needs people who can serve 2 or 4 hours a week. The Altar Guild needs people who can help who can serve on a team once or twice a month. Our ushers and greeters always need another friendly face to greet. The Lay Eucharist Ministers and computer operators always need more people who will volunteer to serve. The point is that there are plenty of places to serve and plenty of needs.
What talents did God give you? It is not an idle question. You see, as Christians we need to serve. From this parable we learn that serving Christ is not an option; it is not something that fine if we do and fine if we choose not to but instead serving is an integral part of our Christianity; it is an integral part of getting into heaven. May God help us not to bury our talents but indeed to use them as his faithful servants! Amen