Parable of the Talents
The parable of the talents in our gospel reading today is one of the most used and abused parables by the false prophets by those who preach the gospel of prosperity. I call them false prophets because they fall in line with the false prophets found throughout the Old Testament; such as, the prophets who contested Jeremiah’s proclamations, which led to him being mocked, tortured, and humiliated. These false prophets did so because Jeremiah challenged their self-serving methods of religious leadership. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s time had a lot to lose if Jeremiah’s words were both true and from God and instead of listening to him they destroyed the messenger. The false prophets used scripture, religion, position and power to advance their own agendas at the expense of both God’s word and God’s people. The pastors who preach a gospel of prosperity of today are not new, and they are not unique, and they are the beneficiaries of a long and sordid lineage. The good news is that throughout history false prophets always have their comeuppance. If you remember the 80s and the Jim and Tammi Faye Baker scandals not to mention Jerry Falwell. The sin of greed seems to always be their undoing.
Now, I am going to give a little taste test of what a gospel of prosperity sermon concerning the parable of the talents would look like. Just to be clear this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ and it is not biblical in any shape or form. Quite honestly it is a self-serving and deceitful approach to theology and scripture. That being said I want you to listen carefully because there is a reason the gospel of prosperity speaks to so many people and that’s because it resonates as truth to a lot of people. However, be careful because what sounds as truth, and affirms our biases and prejudices is not gospel truth. Now, hold on to your seat because I am going to take you for a ride.
Jesus understood human nature. Jesus understood that at heart people have an entrepreneurial spirit. God gave people the gift of desire to earn money from their ingenuity, labor, and gifts. From the beginning of time there has been trading, bargaining, and bartering. Archaeologists through their digs in ancient cities almost always dig up markets, and can prove the centers of ancient cities always housed a huge market where people bought, sold and traded their goods. It’s obvious that the desire to trade and compete for goods is a gift from God because these markets are found all over the world. Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, had a market that rivaled the great markets of the known world. I can guarantee that from the new world to the old world there have been people that accumulated mass wealth while others have been incapable of making ends meet. That’s just how a free market works. Now does God desire that one have more than the other? Well, yes and no. Yes, God wants all people to be successful and self -sufficient, but the truth is that free will and sin prevent this from happening. It’s not God’s fault that some people are better at utilizing the gifts God has given them while others either bury it in a hole. Why should the one who utilizes their God given gift be penalized because others can’t seem to get it together? It’s obvious that God knows our human nature and God knows which of us to take a bigger risk on who not to. I mean why else would God give 5 talents to one guy, 2 to another, and only 1 to the last one. Why? Because God knew that the last one wouldn’t utilize his talent so God only risked one talent. This is obvious in how God punishes the one who didn’t invest his talent and gave it to the one who had ten talents. God rewards the one who utilizes his gift of free enterprise the most. Now, I could go into a huge rant about the evils of socialism, but that is not why we are here today. We are here to talk about how you too can utilize the blessings you have been given by God so that your talents can triple in value and worth.
First, know that we all have been given talents. Granted, talents are not handed out evenly and some are given more than others, however, that doesn’t minimize the fact that we are all given talents. The big question is how can we utilize those talents to the glory of God; which leads to the betterment of our lives. How do we do this? How do we begin to embrace the blessings God desires to endow upon us? Well, you should all be grateful because you have taken the first step in a truly glorified and blessing rich lives. Each one of you believes in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Belief in Jesus is the first and most important step. The next is dedicating your lives to living both faithful and obedient lives, but how do we achieve this goal? You are in luck because our ministry here at Good Shepherd is ready to show you step by step how to achieve the fullness of God’s blessing, which the men with ten and four talents achieved. We are not even going to discuss the one who buried his talent because we just aren’t going to go there. The only reason to bury something is because it’s dead and we are not dead we are living and not only living, but striving to live to the ultimate potential through God’s blessing.
If you will notice in the parable each man gave all of their talents back to God, the one who had five talents, the one who had two talents, and even the one who only had one talent. Notice also that they didn’t only give back to God what they had first been given, but also everything they had received upon their investments. The one with five gave to God all ten and the one with two gave back four and so on. No one kept anything back for themselves; rather, all handed back to God all that they had. Therefore, you too should give to God all that you have and then trust that God will bless you with wealth beyond your imagination. (As an aside just note that in the parable of the talents no one is given back their talents they are just given more responsibility the landowner keeps all the talents except the one at the end.)
I think you are all getting the gist of where this sermon is going. The goal of pastors who preach a gospel of prosperity are excellent at fleecing their congregations. They convince people that their ministry is the instrument through which God brings about their followers’ blessings and they need funds to keep the ministry going. It also finances jet airplanes, vacation homes, high end automobiles and other high end lifestyle needs. And they do all of this by taking parables like the one we have today and manipulating it to say what it doesn’t say at all.
With that being said what is the parable of the talents all about if it isn’t about wealth? It is about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how we use our spiritual gifts for the kingdom of God. How do I know this? I know this because I know the gospels and I know what Jesus preaches, teaches, and does in the gospels. Jesus is all about the kingdom of God and what the kingdom of God looks like. Furthermore, Jesus is a prophet in line with prophets like Jeremiah and Zephaniah, and Amos and Hosea and others. All the prophets proclaim that God’s wrath, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth isn’t because people aren’t being greedy enough, or because they aren’t amassing enough wealth at the expense of others, but because they are too greedy and are amassing wealth at the expense of others.
The parable of the talents is a wake-up call to all of us Christians to use the gifts we have been given and risk those gifts. For example, look at our church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, we have been given so many talents. We are a loving, welcoming, giving congregation. All of these attributes are not of our own doing they are gifts from God. We open our doors, serve people food, help them get sober, teach and care for children, the list goes on and on. We have been given so much and we are great at sharing our gifts. We have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to inviting people to worship, but we are working on it. However, I think in that area we have to look at our individual gifts that we have been given and we need to personally invite people to church. We love our community of faith so much, but we don’t know how to share it with others and are a bit afraid to do so. In some ways were like the slave given one talent, who buries it in a hole because they are afraid of risking God’s wrath. I think we are afraid of inviting people because we are afraid of rejection and the comfortableness of evangelism. I get it I really do because I am right there with you. However, we are called to take that risk and share not only the good news of Jesus, but the good news of Jesus experienced in our congregation. We have so many talents and so much to offer, but if we bury it in a hole what use is it to anyone?
The only way we can challenge the false teachings of false prophets is by sharing the truth. We have been given a wonderful talent. I don’t know if we have been given five, two or one, but what I do know is that what we have is priceless. Think about how your faith has sustained, uplifted, and provided for you in ways that material wealth never could. Now think about where you would be if your faith was not shared with others, but buried six feet under. You are investing your talents every day that you live faithful lives, and every day you are benefiting from God’s rewards. How? Because Jesus took the biggest risk of all and invested all that he had on the cross and we are the beneficiaries of his talents and blessings.
Think about Jesus’ live, ministry, death, and resurrection in light of this parable and it puts the false prophets’ message to shame. Once again Jesus risked it all, put it all on the cross for us and he lost it all just so we could be the recipients of his grace. I don’t think Jesus’ focus was on bank accounts and who was worthy of his love when he did this. I think Jesus was more focused on the bigger picture and that was God’s love for the whole world so that no one would be cast out into outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus went into the darkness so that the whole world would be flooded in light. That is the gospel, that is the good news, and if anyone tells you different they are full of bull.