LSTC

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Jesus Invests in Us

The following sermon was preached by Tyler Rasmussen, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, November 17, 2011.


Matthew 25:14-30

[Jesus said:] For a man, going on a journey, called his slaves and handed over to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to their ability. Then he went away.

Immediately, the one who received the five talents went and worked with them, and he gained another five. In the same way, the one with two gained another two. But the one who received one went and dug a hole in the ground and hid the master's silver.

Now, after a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who received five talents came forward, bringing another five talents, saying, "Master, you handed over five talents to me. Look! I gained another five talents."

His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful with little; I will put you in charge of much. Enter into the joy of your master!"

Then the one who received two talents came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over two talents to me. Look! I gained another two talents."

His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful with little; I will put you in charge of much. Enter into the joy of your master!"

Then the one who received one talent came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed. Afraid, I went and hid your talent in the ground. Look! You have what is yours."

But his master answered, saying to him, "Evil and lazy slave! You knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter seed? Then you should have thrown my silver to the bankers, and on my return, I would have received my own with interest! Therefore, take his talent and give it to the one who has ten talents! For to all who have, more will be given, and they will be abundantly rich. But from those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away from them. And throw this worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Sermon

After reading a parable like this, our responses always seem to have question marks on them. This is the word of the Lord? Thanks be to God? Did Jesus really just say that? I thought Jesus was about love, right? What is this?!? Luther says you’re not supposed to try to look into the face of God and try to perceive God’s hidden will, which includes judgment and casting people out. Jesus, have you stopped being a theologian of the cross?

Traditionally, people have identified God as the master in this parable. The master entrusts his slaves with large sums of money, and then goes away for a very long time. But this isn’t what God is like at all! Matthew’s Gospel closes with these words: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." So let’s take this off the table right now: God is not the master in this parable.

As Dr. Thomas pointed out in worship yesterday, this parable is about real people. The master represents real people in Jesus time, wealthy landowners. And no one is surprised by his actions. This isn’t the counter-intuitive shepherd who leaves ninety-nine to go after one. This isn’t the awesome master who forgives the slave an astronomical debt. This very real person does exactly what society expects. He puts slaves in charge of his property while he’s gone on an important business trip or vacation, each according to what he has determined to be their ability, and when he returns he promotes those who do well and severely punishes those who don’t perform as he expected. No surprise there. The people that are shocking in this parable are the slaves!

The first slave is given five talents. In modern standards, this is roughly five bars of gold – you know, those bars you’d find in vaults owned by the U.S. Treasury? The slave is given five bars of gold, and immediately goes out and makes five more bars of gold! In the same way, the second slave is given two bars of gold, and immediately goes out and makes two more bars of gold! How did they do this? Please! Tell me your trade secrets, O profitable slaves, and I won’t have to worry about running out of money ever again.

But the third slave – this one is different. This one knows the master and what he’s like, a harsh thief with no respect for the law. So he goes and buries the gold, a legally recognized way of protecting money from harm. He knows that this money cannot be lost, he’s not willing to break the law and steal it himself, and he knows that the law forbids investing money in banks for interest. So he buries it, where it will be well kept and safe. Moreover, he buried it because he was not willing to participate in the systems of exploitation the master expected it to be used in. But he risks everything in doing this; there is no doubt as to how the master will respond to this act of inaction. Why risk your livelihood, foolish slave?

Now, if the slaves are the ones who act in surprising ways, then this is probably exactly where we will find Jesus. After all, if you know anything about Jesus, it’s that he’s always doing

something different than we’d expect. And in slaves is exactly where we should expect to find Jesus, for he came not to be served, but to serve.

Maybe Jesus is the first two slaves, taking the master’s talents and investing them – in us. Can you imagine what that looks like? Jesus invests his talents in us, investing us with the power to forgive, to bind and loose sins, to love enemies! Jesus invests his talents in us, an investment that results in faith that can move mountains! Jesus invests his entire being in us on the cross, multiplying life beyond the span of a century by giving us salvation – life everlasting! Jesus takes the master’s talents and, with the investments he makes, suddenly not only the Jews but now all nations are included in God’s promise of life.

On the other hand, maybe Jesus is like the third slave, and, risking everything for our sake, he takes the sin we carry and buries it in the ground behind a stone. However, when what was buried is unearthed, we find something different than the master found. Though Jesus buried our sin, what he dug up was our salvation.

Or maybe Jesus takes the bread and wine we give him, burying them in the ground under the cross with his own hands, and where we still only see bread and wine, out comes the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

Or maybe we are the talents, and Jesus buries us in the waters of baptism, bringing forth someone who looks no different to human eyes, but when God looks, now on our foreheads is the sign of life, mark of Christ forever.

As we approach finals week, my experience is that everyone is exhausted. We have worked hard, but now it’s time to go away on a holiday. The end is near, and I just can’t handle it. Here, Jesus, take all this stuff I have to do; be in charge of my talents, Christ. Can you imagine the treasures that will appear when Jesus takes us and invests everything he has in our lives?

On the other hand, maybe you’re in a place like me. For me, the end is truly near. But whatever I put in Jesus hands at the beginning of my call, I just cannot see anything valuable in what he’s brought back to me. Decades of communal discernment, a vote in 2009, and what’s in your hands now looks no different than it did when I gave it to you all those years ago. In fact, with the realities of inflation, this talent looks less valuable than it did when I gave it to you. Yet, as I look at this talent, God keeps calling to my mind all the times I’ve felt buried in my life only to have Jesus bring me out of the ground into a life I never imagined. What will Jesus bring out of the ground this time?

Because that’s what Jesus does. Whether he’s the slaves who invests everything in us or he’s the slave who buries our talents in the ground, the Christ we encounter is one who takes all that he has and gives to us more than we ever imagined.

Amen.

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Page last modified Nov 22, 2011