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Does Jesus Expect a Return on Investment?

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Sounds Like Sound Financial Advice

The text this week is Matthew 25:14-30.  This is the famous tale of the man entrusting his property to his servants while out on a trip.  When he returns, he wants an accounting.  He had given 5 talents (one talent equals approximately 20 years of work), another received 2 talents and the third, one talent.  Upon returning the man was informed that the first two had doubled their talents and the third one had hidden his talent in the ground and therefore did not multiply his talents at all.

The man reacts quite favorably to the two who doubled their talents and very harshly to the one who did nothing with his talent.  This servant was afraid of the harshness of the master, and therefore, he claimed, that is why he hid the talent and did nothing with it.  The third man’s talent is taken from him and given to the one with ten talents, and he was cast out into the outer darkness.

It certainly seems like the story is encouraging us to be good financial managers and get out there in the marketplace.  More than that it seems as if doubling our initial grubstake is the minimally acceptable return on investment.  On the surface this seems like sound financial advice.  Upon further reflection, though, it seems like an ad teaser-promising good returns but never quite showing you how it is done.  This is not much help to the risk averse among us.

It’s Not Really About Finances

It should surprise no one that this passage is not really about finances.  Yes, the imagery of money and banking is used, but this is just to give us a convenient reference point.  It is an analogy, not a specific business plan.  The point, I think is to first, indicate that we have all been given differing talents, and differing amounts of talents.  What we start out with is not really the point and it should not overly concern us, because it does not concern God (the master in this analogy).  Second, we should not fear God the way the third servant did.  We should not consider God a harsh master, looking for an excuse to punish us.  Rather, we should look upon God as a beneficent master who has given us talents to work with and opportunities to serve Him and to prosper on earth.  While God does not give any guarantee of such success (the example of His Son shows this), he does promise us an eternal home when we are all done here.  So, we should be grateful for all that God has given us by way of “talents”, first among these is the faith He places within us.  Ok, so it’s about something more eternal than earthly finances, what is the bigger point?

Nothing is Unforgivable, Nothing is Unforgivable

This was a formulation used by my former pastor.  The first meaning is that nothing we do is unforgivable.  God will always accept penitent hearts and offers us restoration from all that we may have done wrong.  The second meaning is that doing nothing is unforgivable.  That is, given all that God has done for us, we are called to do something, anything.  The important thing is that we are to respond to God’s gifts the best way we know how.  It is not about “doubling” our grubstake, the numbers aren’t important.  What is crucial is that we witness to God’s love and graciousness by doing the best we can.

Now we should be careful in taking this formulation too far.  If no external work can earn us our salvation, then no external work (or nonwork), can lose it for us.  Only a lack of belief can break us off from a God who loves us.  We may perceive that those who seemingly do nothing are not really believers, but we will never know, as that can only be known to God.  In any event, going too far with the second meaning will negate the first, which is most certainly true (sorry, not sorry Martin Luther!).  Suffice it to say that this text reminds us that we are to take what God has given us and go out and use it the best way we know how.  Don’t worry that it will be wasted, or that you will lose your “talents”.  You can lose money, but you cannot lose the essence of what God has given you as a human being.  So, boldly go forth with what the Lord gave you to work with.  Do so with full belief, followed by your best obedience.

Praise Be to God

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