So one day a rich man goes off on a journey. Before he does, however, he asks three of his servants to invest his money. Two of them go away, use their entrepreneurship to double their investment and return their boss’s cash with more besides. He’s overjoyed, of course, because this is a substantial sum of money. Everyone ends up celebrating.
Everyone, that is, except the third servant, who, for reasons of his own, disobeys his master and buries the money in a hole. His employer is, not surprisingly, unimpressed.
That’s how the Parable of the Talents goes, and the interpretation is evident – God entrusts us with resources, talents and relationships and we’re supposed to use them to further his Kingdom. There’s a responsibility here, and that’s a lesson the third servant learned to his cost.
Hmm. The third servant. Traditionally the third servant is the point of the story; he disobeys his master and pays the price – he was given a talent, worth twenty years’ wages, so we’re not talking peanuts here. This makes the parable a warning, and it partly is, but there’s a danger in taking that too much to heart – after all, should serving God become a duty we reluctantly carry out simply because we’re afraid of the consequences? Or does that just make the attitude displayed by the third servant a self-fulfilling prophecy? The third servant sees his master as harsh, judgmental and unfair, and he acts appropriately – or does he? If the master is really that bad, why didn’t the servant at least make an effort?
See, his boss points out that he could have just put the money on deposit and earned some interest. Instead, the servant went to the trouble of physically digging a hole and dumping the money in there. It almost sounds like it was harder work to not make a profit.
So what if the servant’s assault on his boss’s character is really just a cover for his own apathy? Is there any objective evidence that the master is the unreasonable badass he’s made out to be? Or is the description provided in verse 24 just an extension of the servants own heart, much like the elder son’s attitude towards his father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (more on that here)?
Let’s try looking at things from the perspective of the first two servants, because there are actually two gifts on display here: not just the money itself but also the opportunity to use it to build a Kingdom. It’s this second gift that reveals the hearts of the servants and their attitudes towards God. The third servant couldn’t be bothered and the Kingdom is smaller as a result. The other two servants, however…
We’re entrusted with so much and most of it can be used for the benefit of others and as an extension of our relationship with God. After all, he invites us to work with him to build a Kingdom that isn’t just in the future, isn’t just up on a cloud somewhere but here and now. That’s a huge privilege – the sums entrusted to the servants are insanely extravagant and so are the profits. That money in your account, that thing you can do better than anyone else, the circumstances you find yourself in? Their value can be incalculable when approached from the perspective of God’s Kingdom.
So let’s not just read this parable as a warning. Let’s see it as an invite. God gives us a talent or five and asks us to build his Kingdom. That might be sharing his story, it might be digging a well or running a soup kitchen or becoming a voice for the oppressed. It could be a thousand and one things but a single fact underlies them all – God gives us the chance to build a Kingdom. That’s an incredible honour.
Let’s not get apathetic and start throwing the things we’re given into a hole somewhere. Let’s use that with which we’ve been blessed to achieve something that will echo into eternity.