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It's What You Give

Matthew 25:14-30

The Rev. Jon Roberts

19 November


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

It's What You Give

The Parable of the Talents, Willem de Poorter, 1634, National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic

If you are the one who lives to work
or works to live,
just remember, it’s not what you get,
it’s what you give.[1]

We all know them. Some people pour their lives into their work and some people pour their work into their lives. But like two people with equal talents, sometimes they are both necessary for the Master’s plan.
Often, we find examples of how God uses one or the other to accomplish what is necessary in the world. When God wants to see kingdoms rebuilt, he raises up builders. When God wants to restore broken relationships, he raises up counselors. One is more interested in the dividends that come from the details of what is seen, and the other by the investment in what lies within. There is always a motivational force behind each one and ultimately it is revealed by how they invest their time. C.S. Lewis wrote in his sermon, The Weight of Glory, “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given but are the activity itself in consummation."[2] The question is one about what describes our existence and how do we balance our life and our work? How do we balance our faith and our practice?

If the world were only made of those who lived to work and those who worked to live, the return on investment for God’s purpose for all people, would be simple. But there are people who do neither. They take their talent, their God-given gifts and let them waste away. There is a person, very talented and not close to being an example of Christian virtue by any means. After an extensive search, Noel Gallagher is given credit for saying, “I don’t live to work. I work to live.”[3] He is currently 56 years old, living in England. He was born in Manchester to Irish Catholic parents but never became religious. He is considered one of the most influential songwriters and guitarist in British Music history, specifically Rock music. He has an extensive list of accomplishments, obviously a result of hard work, but nearly all his relationships (family, friends, co-workers) have gone down the tube. He and his brother were beaten routinely by their father when growing up and he knew him to be a harsh man. Later, he married and divorced, but had three children with his wife. His political views and criticism of other artists (ex. Phil Collins) have distanced him from the possibility of closer collegial relationships. He has no philanthropic pursuits, no real hobbies, other than to play the guitar. One of his sons, Liam, plays with him on concert tours and together they have a combined income of 50 million dollars, double what he was worth ten years ago. By this amount, we may think he is like one of the slaves we hear about in today’s readings, but if one would suspect that the saying, “works to live” includes sharing your life with others, namely your family, but that is not always the case. Why would someone like Noel say that about himself when his life seemingly is about him, about his work, his worth? With the outcome of doubling his worth, we may think he is a success but sometimes a person who works to live, only works for self and the reality is, that becomes their existence. It is the selfish person, the person afraid to love closely with others, to care for others, to give of themselves, who we see as the one talent individual in the Gospel today.

Jesus gives another parable, directly after the one last week about ten bridesmaids. It is called the parable of the talents.[4] The Master has three slaves. He is going on a long journey but leaves one with five talents, one with two and one, with one. The expectation is that they will follow his example in the sowing and reaping, to double the value of what one started with. A talent was specifically understood for its monetary value, unlike what we consider today. Today, we may think of someone who is really good at playing a guitar, the piano, an artist, or perhaps someone really good in business or athleticism. Jesus intended for his parable to reach the attention of his audience. A talent, from the Grecian Peloponnesian Wars, paid a talent to 170 oarsmen of a battleship, for the month. That translates to a payroll of about 1.5 million dollars today. Let’s calculate. Five talents were equivalent to 7.5 million dollars today; Two talents would have been about 3 million and one talent, a million and a half. What an opportunity for someone to lend you that amount of money with, of course, the expectation you could invest it and grow it.

In the case of someone who lived to work, they may have spent every moment figuring out how to invest and get a good return. It would be their business. In the case of someone who worked to live, they may have friends, co-workers, family who would share in the opportunity, maybe open a small business, putting it in good stock. But who in their right mind would take the one talent, go dig a hole and bury it? Who would put that money in their checking account, not drawing interest and never touch it? This person almost sounds made up. They cannot possibly exist, or do they?

It is the one talent man who misreads who the master is. He gives a weak excuse, saying, “I was afraid since you are a harsh man.” He says this to appeal to his mercy. “I knew you were a man who reaped where he did not sow.” “You think you know me, do you?”, says the master. Is it possible that out of our fear to not work or to not live, we hide behind the disguise? Is it possible we have misunderstood who the father is? Is it possible we have misunderstood his son? “I knew you to be a harsh man,” is what we hear from a battered soul, one who is jaded by abuse and plays the victim. They shrug their shoulders when asked to work or even to live, saying, “What’s the use?” Do not let that posture of selfishness corrupt nor condemn you to the outer darkness. Where light cannot enter is of self-design. Only the person who invests in their self, concerned only by what they can get out of life, that they miss joining the master who wants them to grow by giving. Giving, sacrificing is part of life and it is a part of work. We learn through this, how to be compassionate, patient, merciful, forgiving and loving. The virtues in which Jesus himself showed by example, not a harsh master, but a loving and kind investor in human souls, are those to which we need to abide.

Who will you be? The five-talent person, the two talent person or the one talent person, for God gives according to your abilities. For if you are a person who lives to work or one who works to live, remember that Jesus showed us that it is never about what you can get. It is always about what you can give.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
[4] Matthew 25:14-30

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