Psalm 90: 1-12, Zephaniah 1: 7,12-18, 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11, Matthew 25: 14-30
The story of the ten talents – money, its investment and its wise use – is a perplexing tale to have at this moment in time when the Chancellor is borrowing billions of pounds to shore up an economy with a very unpredictable outcome. We have been told ‘to eat out to help out’ and to support small businesses by shopping locally but now that shops and eateries are closed, those of us who still have incomes have fewer outlets for spending and those with no income are looking to Food Banks to keep them going.
I am no economist so it is not for me to pass an opinion save to say that we seem to be living in extraordinary topsy turvy times where ‘normality’ is so different it feels difficult to work out what is best to do.
And maybe this is the point – life can throw such googlies at us that normal conventions of behaviour are seriously challenged. Last week five bridesmaids were found ‘unprepared’ and for those of us who have been living comfortable lives in a well-ordered society it would seem easy to wag the finger. The reading from Zephaniah describes such a people who have a materially comfortable life. Being well housed, well fed and with money to ease their discomforts they don’t feel they really need to trouble God or God them. So they are completely flummoxed when their world gets turned upside down, which Zephaniah describes as a punishment for their ‘complacency’.
And today the story of the talents is, in its own way, another confusing story. At first glance it can look like those who have enough funds can afford to invest them, while those with very little cannot – which doesn’t seem very fair.
What are we to make of a master who suddenly decides to go away without saying when he will be back? And who gives his three slaves money but with no instructions about what to do with it. Two of the slaves seem to realise that this is some sort of a test and they appear to trust their master. He has trusted them with large quantities of money, they understand it is not theirs to spend as they like so they make the most of it by investing it so that the master will have even more money to do with as he wants when he eventually returns. And it turns out this is the right response and they are rewarded with even more responsibilities. Responsibilities which are considered less of a duty and more of a privilege.
But the third slave has a different relationship with his master. This slave feels his master trusts him less than the other two. He already has a difficult relationship with the master and being only given one talent feels like confirmation of this and he is both afraid and resentful. So he buries the talent – in an act of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But of course the wretched talent isn’t ‘out of mind’ because when the master returns this slave knows he is going to get into trouble which makes him determined to have his say first. His response is one of attack, attack on the character of his master. The third slave cannot see beyond himself. If the foolish bridesmaids were only intent on enjoying themselves the third slave is just as self-obsessed - in this case with his own failure and resentment. He cannot see that the other two slaves are rewarded for their efforts irrespective of how much profit they make. The slave with only one talent can only see what he doesn’t have and how deprived he feels compared with the other two. But also – and perhaps most importantly – he doesn’t want to change. Burying his talent is shutting away the possibility of opening up to something different.
So, what might we take from this in our present COVID 19 world? Like the master suddenly leaving the household, we too have experienced an unexpected, huge change in circumstances. This may have given rise to the discovery of new riches, new responsibilities in each one of us. What are we doing with them? Are we trying out new ways of growing by learning different skills or dusting down old ones? Are we now more aware of the greatness and mystery of God?
But it does not all have to be about doing and taking on more. If circumstances in this pandemic have left you feeling totally drained and broken then, as the psalm says, ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Because then your one talent may simply be to be open, not buried like the third slave did with his one talent, and by being open, open to being filled with the love of God – and that is a talent invested well.
Rev Elisabeth Morse