A sermon preached by the Reverend John Towler  at St. Giles Church, Godshill and St. Mary’s Church, Breamore on Sunday 19th November 2017, the second Sunday before Advent.

The X Factor TV show I have to confess is not one I watch! I’m a Strictly Come Dancing’ man! However, the times when I have seen snippets of the X Factor programme and watching the contestants on Strictly have reminded me of how important it is to not hide one’s light under a bushel especially if you have a gift for doing something well and one which enhances our common life together. Basically the programme as many of you will know is a mammoth talent competition with lots of glitter and razzmatazz. I have my doubts sometimes at the public’s ability to spot talent but that’s another story!

And I am not sure this is what Jesus had in mind in the parable of the talents. In fact I am not sure given what we know of the rest of the gospel message, that the last verses were part of his original saying. ‘Being cast into outer darkness with gnashing of teeth’ does not square up with the revelation of God who is loving, just, and compassionate.

So, is this a parable about investing money? Is it a parable about how to use the talents we have been given? Is it a parable about what happens if you bury your head in the sand like an ostrich? Maybe it is about all three. Let’s give each of them a whorl.

Clearly the master of the house was wealthy. Someone has worked out that a talent might be worth ¾ million pounds in today’s sterling; and was worth 15 years’ wages as a labourer in first century Palestine. He had money to invest. He was known to be a tough cookie. He delegates the management of his wealth to his servants, much as investors in today’s markets do. He gives five talents (a large amount of money) to the first servant, two talents to the second, and one talent to the third. Two servants earn 100 per cent returns by trading with the funds, but the third hides the money in the ground (under the mattress) and earns nothing. The rich man returns and rewards the two who made the money and the third he punishes. If we approach the parable as allegory we must do so carefully, for the Master is identified with the risen Christ.

For those in the workplace the parable commends putting capital at risk in pursuit of earning a return. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the trading is ethical and people are not being exploited. Hence many of the high street banks and merchant banks might be found wanting in this respect and subsequently are fine billions of pounds for what is corrupt practice.

The meaning of the parable extends far beyond financial investment. We all have gifts some of personality, some of practicality, some of financial acumen, some of compassion-the list is endless (see St Paul) because God endows humanity with everything that can reflect his love and glory. It is as if we are to be stewards of his gifts as a way of revealing God to the world and in pursuit of the ‘golden rule’-do unto other as you have done unto you-love God, love your neighbour as yourself.

These riches are humanity’s potential for creating a just, loving, forgiving and peaceful world. It is in the life of the divine man Jesus that we see how fruitful these riches of personality  can be, how they can bring healing and compassion to all humanity especially those who are suffering and feeling they do not belong.

The parable teaches us that the starting blocks are staggered for each one of us. We do not all have the same wealth, the same start in life, the same opportunities. To a large extent we are governed by geographical location (what might our lives be like if we had been born in Bangladesh?); by parentage, by the context (I am a war baby); by the degree of nurture we did or did not receive. Our gifts are not then equal and there is no demand that they should. “Well done” is the result of using the gifts we do have in the service of God and God in humanity. We do not expect to be remunerated the same. However, I do believe women should be paid for the same work on a par with men! What we can and should expect is that we will be remunerated according to our gifts, not be exploited or exploiting of others for unfair gain. Much is being debated about the minimum wage and zero hour contracts. I find both notions which verge on exploitation of businesses to make profit by not paying the worker a reasonable wage for his gifts of labour. The consequence of this is that ordinary tax payers pick up the bill. I am sure Philip Hammond would argue differently! The rich man says, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. As well as being ‘well done’ for the outcome, the method of achieving the outcome must be ‘good’’.

What of the poor guy who hid his talent out of fear in case his investment didn’t work out? ‘Love casts out fear’. How much of our personal and corporate life in the church is hampered by fear, fear of getting it wrong, fear of being unpopular, fear of change, fear of people being different from ourselves, fear of taking risks. Christianity is a risky business. At the heart of our faith we are called upon to be sacrificial in our service of others. We know unless we have been hurt ourselves we shall not really know how to be compassionate about the hurt of others. Dietrich Bonheoffer put it very powerfully, “To be a Christian is to be human. To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some form of asceticism, but to be human. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.”

Hiding, discounting or denying the exercise of the stewardship of the gifts God has given us is tantamount to spiritual blindness. We are called to be ‘trustworthy’ servants-those who trust that the mystery of God beckons us daily to join in the healing and salvation (wholeness) of the world, and by world I mean all peoples and in whatever endeavour we become involved. The salvation of the world does not depend on humanity’s efforts. The deal has already been struck-love has won hands down.

Whatever else the parable teaches us we must see it in its context of the thoughts of the time when Matthew expected Jesus to immanently return (the second coming). Now we know that Christ meets us in our neighbour and the world’s neighbours on a daily basis. It is a parable about faith in God, about making the most of the opportunities of meeting this mystery in the heart of daily living. That daily living is a life of risk. Jesus is telling us in essence that to turn religion into another kind of safety and security, into something that makes life easier and more comfortable is to lack faith. Christianity, Jesus is saying, is about living outside of security and safety. As the metaphor of Sydney Carter’s hymn puts it, we are called to The Dance of faith wherever it takes us.




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