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Reflections on the Parable of the Talents

Jesus came to earth as the long-awaited Messiah to die on the cross for our salvation and for the redemption of humanity. He also came to establish the kingdom of God on the earth, which he saw as beginning small and somewhat unimpressive, like a mustard seed, but eventually blossoming to cover the entire earth. When teaching, Jesus often used indirect forms of communication that appealed to the imagination of people and provoked further thought. As a result, he often left his hearers puzzling and pondering over the implications of his message.

After entering Jerusalem the final time (Mt.21:1-11) and weeping over the city of Jerusalem for their refusal to accept him and his kingdom message (Mt.23:37-39), Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples for the days ahead of them (24:1–25:46). Through a series of parables, Jesus warned them to be watchful, prepared, faithful and productive during this time. One of these parables was The Parable of the Talents or The Parable of the Three Servants.

The Parable of the Three Servants (Matthew 25:14-30)

This story moves along with a rhythm that creates a sense of expectation. But there is a twist at the end. The decreasing quantities of talents given (a ‘talent’ was a large amount of money) simple serve to build the story to a climax. Surely the one given the least would have the easiest time of all making good use of it. But, no! This third servant is not only severely reprimanded by the master; what he has is taken away and given to another. In many ways this story is a tragedy.

The parable raises many questions. Who is this ‘wicked and lazy servant?’ It is a disciple or not? [1] What is Jesus trying to say to his disciples … and to us? Is the end of life like a big final exam? Aren’t we saved by grace not by works? We know that God is loving and kind, but is he also hard and stern at times too? What does the parable tell us about God?

No doubt, the master is this story represents God and the servants represent various types of people and their response and relationship to God. In most parables, Jesus is endeavouring to teach his listeners a number of lessons. Let’s look at a few of them together.


Reflection #1: God entrusts each one of us with resources according to our ability

Like the master, God entrusts all people with a portion of his resources, expecting them to act as good managers. Notice that when the master left, he divided his assets and gave each of the three servants a different amount (5, 2, 1) and he did so in “proportion to their abilities (vs.15).”

Our resources include more than just our money, as in this parable. It includes all that we are and all that we have at our disposal (our time, talents, opportunities and our finances). God is a creative God. He doesn’t make clones. He makes unique individuals. Understand and accept how God has made you – your SHAPE. Don’t compare yourself with others. Take a stock-take of what you have been given by God. What’s in your hand? Your very life is a gift and an investment from God. Like the master in this parable, God believes in you and has confidence that you will manage his resources wisely and with an entrepreneurial spirit. [Helen Keller is an inspirational example of someone who rose above her limitations to do what she could do with what God gave her]

Reflection #2: God is pleased when we use and invest our resources

When the Master eventually returned there was a time of accountability for how each of the servants had used the money entrusted to them (vs.19). The first two servants immediately got to work, investing their money and over a period of time they earned 100% more (vs.16-17). They obviously felt good about their own efforts and the master responded with praise, commendation, celebration and reward (vs.21). Note that the servants were not treated in regards to the amount they had been given but for their faithfulness with what they had individually received (vs.21-23). They both received the identical statement of praise and joy from the master. What matters most is not what we have been given but what we do with it.

I believe that Jesus teaches that anything we do for the benefit of God and others is pleasing to God. That includes our work (whether paid or not), our love (acts of kindness towards all people), and our service (voluntarily helping others – anywhere). We can’t even give a cup of water to someone without God noticing it and rewarding it (Mk 9:41). That’s encouraging!

Reflection #3: God is displeased when we play it safe and refuse to risk

The third servant dug a hole in the ground and hid his money, doing nothing with it (vs.18, 25).  The main problem was his attitude toward his master. His inaccurate perception became an excuse for his personal irresponsibility. In the same way, our view of God strongly influences our behaviour. The master was angry with this servant, calling him “wicked and lazy,” taking away what he had, and punishing him severely (vs.26-30).

What is God like? From this parable, we could say that God is a risk-taker! He gives us resources and he wants us to make them grow. That requires overcoming the fear of failure. Think of the risks that Jesus took - challenging religious leaders, overthrowing deep-seated racial and gender prejudice, and entrusting his kingdom work to his often fickle followers. He also called others to take risks too – including leaving all and following him.

God wants us to confront our fears and insecurities. He calls us to step out of our comfort zone. This does not mean that we should be reckless with our lives but following Jesus requires faith and faith often means risk. Life is meant to be an adventure. That involves risk and sometime even failure (click here to view an inspirational video clip about people who overcame failure). God has given each one of us such amazing potential waiting to be unpacked. He calls step out of the boat. 

When our life is over, our eternal destiny will be based on our faith in Jesus. Salvation is by grace, not through our good works (Eph.2:8-10). However, we will be held accountable for what we do with what we have been given by God. He has made an investment in our lives and he expects a return on it. This is not a heaven or hell issue. It is a matter of rewards (1Cor.3:10-15. 2 Cor. 5:10). This truth should provide good motivation to ensure that we make every effort to make our life count for the short time we are here on earth.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. What does this parable teach us about God and his character?
  2. What do you think are some of your own God-given talents and abilities?
  3. When you have done something useful for God or others, how does it feel?
  4. Why is it important to honor and commend one another, as we do our church volunteers?
  5. If you had unlimited resources, what would you do? What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail?
  6. Reflect on one of the biggest risks you have ever taken in life. How did it turn out.
  7. Many older people, when reflecting back on their life, wish they had risked more. Will you?
  8. What step is God calling you to make right now? What are you afraid of?

[1] Some interpreters suggest that Jesus speaking directly about the immanent judgment on the nation of Israel, and the religious leaders he had just denounced (Mt.23), who had failed to take what they had been given and share it with the world.  


An Inspirational Life: Helen Keller

220px-Helen_KellerAIn life, it is so easy to focus on what we don't have rather than what we do, on our limitations rather than our opportunities. Helen Keller is one of the most inspiring example of someone who rose above her challenges to do something commendable with her life. 

Helen was born in 1880 in Alabama. She was born blind. I don't know about you, but I was afraid of the dark as a child and was really happy to be able to leave a light on in the hallway. I can't imagine living your entire life ... in the dark. Not only that, she was born deaf. If anyone had a reason to curl up in a corner and give life a miss, Helen did.

But she didn't. Through the inspiration of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, she started to make a life for herself. In fact, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree at the age of 24 and she was top of her class! Not only that, she went on to be an author, a lecturer and an activist, establishing a foundation to help blind and deaf people all around the world. No wonder she ended up on Time magazine's list of the 100 most important people of century. She died in 1968 at age 87.

Here are some of her inspirational quotes:

I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a man-made world.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched ... but are felt in the heart.

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

I seldom think of my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers.

It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. 

We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough.

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in to be content.

Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all!


Teen Speak

LolAre you still using words like "cool," "man" and "dude?" If so, you are so last century. Social researcher Mark McCrindle has written a new book to help us keep in touch with the language of a new generation, which is full of new ways of communicating, including via text messaging. Ever seen LOL? The book is called Word Up - A Lexicon and Guide to Communication in the 21st Century. The book's purpose is to help older generations keep up with all the changes in communication.

For more, check out the recent news article Dude, Hold the LOL.

If you're looking to learn some of the common text messaging abbreviations - read more here.

YW


Paul's Prayers

This morning, I was reading Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In chapter one we read of his prayers for these faithful followers fo Christ.

"Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom* and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called — his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms (Eph.1:15-20. NLT)." 

Paul had three prayers for them and I pray this for you today:

1. For spiritual wisdom and revelation (Greek apokalupsis) so that you can grow in your knowledge of God (1:17). God is hard to understand at times and we need HIM to show us himself and what he is up to. Unless He does, we remain confused.

2. For your heart to be flooded with light so you may understand the confident hope God has given to those He has called (1:18). So often life can seem dark and confusing and we need HIS light to open our eyes and fill us with HOPE that there is a better future. 

3. That you would understand the incredibly great power (resurrection power) given to us who believe in Christ (1:19-20). I love the resurrection. Of course, Jesus went through pain, death and the tomb in the process. Sometimes we do too, yet his power is at work and promises to bring us through … not leave us in the grave.

I hope this is an encouragement to you.


Love

Jesus told us that the two greatest commandments are to (1) love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and (2) to love our neighbor as ourself. Life truly is all about loving God and loving people.

Of course, our love is simply a response of God’s love for us. We love Him, and others, because He first loved us. As we receive God’s love, we can begin to accept ourselves, even in our imperfect and frail state. This then enables us to love others … as ourselves. 

Unfortunately, many people struggle to love others because in reality they hate themselves and have no love inside to give out freely to others. Unless we know that WE are loved, we will find it difficult to truly love others. 

2,000 years of religious tradition have imbedded in us the mistaken belief that God’s love is something we earn. Giving that up isn’t easy.

Religion is all about what we have to DO to earn our way to God. Christianity is totally different. It’s all about what Jesus Christ has already DONE for us.

Now, that’s good news! … think about it.


A Voice

The Gospel writers tell us that after Jesus was baptized in water the Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus knew that his Father loved him.

As you go through your day, what voices do you hear? What are they saying to you? Many people hear voices that tell them they aren’t good enough, that they are a problem, a burden or even a failure.

What would it look like for you to start to hear a different voice … a voice that says, “You are my son … or my daughter … whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” A voice that says, “I created you in your mother’s womb. I love you with an everlasting love. I have a purpose and plan for your life. I want to give you a future and a hope.”

Sometimes the negative voices are so loud and persistent that they can drown out the soft, gentle whisper of God’s voice.

What voice are you listening to today? … think about it.