The Gospel Reading today brings back a vivid memory from the mid-90’s when the ecumenical lectionary called for this same scripture reading we had today. At that time I had heard a story about a minister in Chilliwack who had come up with a neat fund-raising project based on Jesus’ parable of the talents. We needed to raise extra funds for our local church so two of us drove out to Chilliwack to have a visit with this minister. (Today we would have just used Zoom and saved all that gas!)
The idea was to give out money to people in the congregation, and over a 2-3 month period have them use that money to finance a small project that would then raise funds. So we recruited as many people in our church as we could, gave $20.00 to each adult and $10.00 to people under 16. Some people raised funds by making jam or marmalade and selling it to friends or setting up a stall at church. Some, who had access to used umbrellas left on the bus, bought umbrellas for $1.00 and sold them for $2:00 or $3:00. One person, a retired accountant, knowing that his minister wanted a new kitchen table, designed and built a beautiful table which we bought and used for the next 20 years.
In total, we raised over $11,000 after repaying the $1500 loan that got us started.
Jesus told a story of a wealthy landowner who was preparing for a long journey. He called three of his servants and divided his money between them. To one he gave five talents, meaning a sum of money, to a second two, and to a third servant he gave one talent. We assume that the landowner knew the abilities of his staff and gave them his money accordingly.
When the landowner returned from his journey he called together the three servants and asked for an accounting of how they had done. Both the five and two talent recipients invested well and doubled their money, receiving kind words from their master. But the one talent servant had been afraid to take any risks and buried his money, returning it to the master and being scolded soundly.
Most of our learning from this parable of Jesus comes from an examination of the one talent servant. Why did he choose to do nothing?
1. First, he did nothing with his one talent because he feared failure. Fearful of doing the wrong thing, he chose to do nothing at all. But before we are too hard on this servant, we must realize that the traditional way of saving money in that time was to hide it, and keep it safe. So he took the conservative approach and played it safe.
2. Perhaps a second reason why this one talent man did nothing with his talent is that he played the game of “if only”. If only he had the talent of the other two servants then he could have accomplished something. Sometimes we are like that, thinking or saying “ I would love to sing in the choir if I had a better voice” or “I would love to be more generous in supporting the church if only I had a bit more money”.
A true story – a 38-year-old scrubwoman would go to movies and sigh “If only I had her looks”. She would listen to a singer and moan, “If only I had her voice”. Then one day someone gave her a copy of the book “The Magic of Believing”. She stopped crying about what she didn’t have and started concentrating on what she did have. She remembered that in high school her friends thought she was the funniest girl in the class. She began to turn her liabilities into assets. When she was on the top of her career, Phyllis Diller made over $1 million a year, which in the 1960’s was like $10 million today. She wasn’t a beauty and she had a scratchy voice, but she could make people laugh.
Perhaps God is saying to us, “use the gifts and talents you have”, don’t bury them in the ground.
3. Most important of all, the one talent man did nothing with his talent because he didn’t think his one little talent would make a difference.
Sir Michael Costa, famous music conductor in the 19th century, was holding a rehearsal with a large choir and orchestra. The piccolo player, a little pint-sized flute, thinking his contribution would not be missed amid the loud music, stopped playing. Suddenly the great conductor stopped and cried out “where’s the piccolo?” The sound of that one small instrument was necessary for the harmony. And our small contributions to a project in the church or community are also necessary.
We have to use our talents and gifts rather than setting them aside because we don’t think we are important enough to really contribute.
If a teacher makes an effort to reach out to a troubled student, the teacher may not know whether or not it will be successful, but it is better to try than not to try.
We are so used to looking at huge world issues such as racism and poverty and world hunger, war and violence and anti-semitism, and we say: “what’s the use? Anything I could do is so small it wouldn’t really matter. Therefore since I cannot resolve the whole issue, I will do nothing at all.”
It is important that each one of us does what we can to make a better world and a safer community. Each person does matter, and we are all called and challenged to use our talents, our gifts, to the best of our ability.
And we are reminded that in another of Jesus’ parables, when the Good Samaritan stopped to help a beaten victim on the Jericho Road that day, he did not resolve all the social, political, and economic ills of first century Israel. But he did what he could. And that is the issue for us. Are you doing what you can, where you are, with what you have?