In the story, the slaves are given talents. The amount of money tied up in a talent was extraordinary. One of the commentators that I read this past week claimed that a talent of gold was worth more than 650,000 bushels of grain in the Ancient Near East. That is an example which might fall on deaf ears in the big cities back East or on the West Coast, but we in the Midwest know what a bushel is. Imagine, you have been placed in charge of a sum of money equal to 650,000 bushels! And in Matthew's story, one slave received 5 talents, one slave received 2 talents, and the other slave received "just" 1 talent. Jesus' parable contained an unimaginable sum. Few in His audience would ever earn a single talent over the course of their life's labors, and the master was giving the one with the least ability a talent. What an amazing fairy tale!
The master returns and asks for an accounting. The first slave made 5 talents with the 5 he had been entrusted, and the second slave made 2 with the 2 he had been entrusted. Both are praised by the master. "You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." One has made the master the equivalent of 3,250,000 bushels of grain worth of wealth; the other has made the master merely 1,300,000 bushels worth of wealth. Yet the master's praise of both is equal. Where we might expect the master to be more pleased with the first slave, the master praises them both equally. Better still, the master considers this unimaginable wealth to be "a few things." Jesus' audience hears about unimaginable amounts of wealth, and the master promises now to place his trustworthy slaves in charge of "many things." How much wealth does this master have?
Unfortunately, not everyone earns the praise of the master. The one slave, who likely represents the priests and Pharisees, takes the one talent and buries it. He does absolutely nothing with it. In fact, in hiding it rather than simply investing it in the bank, he does not even earn normal interest on the money. The Pharisees and priests have been placed in charge of God's flock, and how have they behaved? They have chosen, in most instances, to be unfaithful stewards. They have not called the people back into right relationship with God. They have not behaved as they have been instructed. Rather than serving the people as God calls His leaders to do, they have acted as if they are the ones entitled to the service of others. In this parable, Jesus once again reminds them that there will be an accounting at the end. The faithful servants will enter into the joy of the master; the unfaithful servants are considered worthless and thrown into the outer darkness. The future for the unfaithful is certainly bleak.
Naturally, God's mercy is ever evident. Jesus speaks in parables to that those who can hear, hear, and so that those who refuse to hear, do not. If we judge ourselves counted among the unfaithful, there is still time to repent. All we need to do is ask for His forgiveness and the His grace to become faithful stewards of all that He gives us. But what of our initial question? Is it possible to be ordinary in God's economy? Is it possible that we cannot accomplish amazing things in service to the true Master?
I was reminded this week by an observer of our parish how we seemingly live this parable constantly. Last week's Community Meal was only the most recent example. Some of our members have been gifted with some financial resources but not a lot of time or ability. They chose to give money to purchase some of the food. Others among us were more than willing to cook, but they lacked the resources to purchase a quantity of food sufficient to feed so many people. So, we were able to buy the food using the money from the first group so that the second group would be able to cook. Naturally, we needed people to serve the food. Some may not have had the money nor the time to cook the food, but they had the time to serve the homeless, the hobos, and the other "forgottens" in our society a wonderful meal. So they showed up to serve. Who was more faithful? Which group was more important in God's economy? Each, even those who had a hand in funding, cooking, and serving, was faithful to their Master's call. Those with resources gave of their money, those with ability cooked, and those with time served. Each was faithful in a little thing, yet look at the result. As many of the servers remarked during and after the services yesterday, the recipients were thrilled with our feast. Many have had their fill of soup and bread for sustenance. Yet, through the faithfulness of Christ's servants here at St. Alban's, a feast of ham, beans, potatoes, pies, and other "essentials" was provided. For thirty minutes on a Wednesday evening in Davenport, Iowa of all places, abundance showed forth in poverty, light broke the darkness! Such is the work and offering of Christ's body to which you and I are called.
Better still, it is not only confined to our church or to our country. Much was made last week of our May bike ride entitled "Waters of Hope." Parishes from all over the diocese gave as they were able. Some parishes were able only to provide prayers to keep the riders safe and alive, other parishes were able only to give financially, still other parishes were able to offer only their hospitality, and other parishes were able to do a bit or all of these. Yet, without the faithful ministries of each of these parishes in our diocese, the ride would have failed. Had Grace Albia, St. Paul's Creston, St. Thomas Sioux City, St. Paul's Indian Mission, St. John's Mason City, or St. John's Dubuque not agreed to host and feed us, where would we have ever been as nourished and welcomed as we were? Had not Trinity Cathedral offered its van for our use, how would we have ever been able to transport people and supplies around this diocese? Had countless individuals not offered their financial gifts, medical gifts, or their local knowledge of "biker-friendly" roads, how would this effort have ever been accomplished, and accomplished in safe conditions? Had not a dozen or so individuals not have been willing to travel to Swaziland, how would the villagers where the purificators have been placed ever learn how to operate them? Without the ongoing work of the leadership of the Diocese of Swaziland, would we ever have known where to place those purificators? And because of all that faithful effort, 60 water purificators and 40 solar panels were placed in villages around Swaziland. Not a single one was broken by the airlines or custom agents during transport! Now, as many as 60 towns the size of Durant have clean water! If that does not preach, encourage and exhort, what will?
Simply put, God has no ordinary servants! God has no ordinary sons and no ordinary daughters. He has equipped each of us for the ministries to which He has called us. They might seem insignificant to us, but to God they are priceless. Better still, as we live as faithful stewards of those gifts He has given us, He promises to place us in charge of "many things." Of what has He given to you that He now asks you to use in His name? To whom has He called you to demonstrate His boundless love, His eternal bounty, and His awesome power? Pray for the grace to accomplish His will in all our lives. Pray that we each hear Him say to each one of us "well done, good and trustworthy slave . . . I will place you in charge of many things. . . Enter into the joy of your master."