TALENTS FROM THE MASTER
November 20, 2013
Today’s gospel: Luke 19:11-28
Luke’s parable of the ten gold coins differ from Matthew’s parable of the talents but has the same message for servant leaders. In Luke, the master gives ten servants one gold coin each, and the first servant earned ten, the second earned five, while the third just stored the gold coin. In Matthew, the master gives one servant five talents, a second two, and a third one, and the first made another five, the second another two, while the third just buried the money.
In Luke the master gives his servants equal talents. In Matthew the master gives different amounts according to the servant’s ability. There is no contradiction. Per Luke, we as servants are all gifted by God, Who does not discriminate. His grace and gifts are bountiful, available to all who desire to make use of them. Per Matthew, the actual gifts given by God depend on our openness, our desire to serve Him, our becoming fitting instruments, and His particular purposes for particular services.
Anyway, there are particular principles of servant leadership we can learn from today’s gospel.
First, Jesus our Master has gone on to heaven but will return as King. “A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.” (v.12). Jesus already won for us our salvation on the cross. Now he has returned to heaven, but will come again in glory. Our task now is to prepare for his second coming.
Second, Jesus our Master entrusts his work, the work of the Kingdom, to us. “He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’” ((v.13). Jesus already did everything necessary to win for us our salvation. There is nothing we can add to his salvific work. On the other hand, this salvation has to be proclaimed, so that people will hear, believe, call upon Jesus’ name, and thus be saved. In a real sense, the work goes on. If we proclaim Christ there will be a rich harvest. If we do not, those intended by God to be saved, through our work, might be lost.
Third, when Jesus returns in glory as King, we as his servants entrusted with his work will be called to account. “But when he returned after obtaining the kingship, he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money, to learn what they had gained by trading.” (v.15). But of course! Jesus entrusts this most important work to us. He has made himself dependent on his servants to proclaim his salvation. Will we bring in the harvest already prepared, or waste it? We will be judged based on what we have done.
Fourth, Jesus will extol and reward those who have faithfully made use of the talents given. “The first came forward and said, ‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’ He replied, ‘Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.’” (v.16-17). Jesus rejoices when a servant does what he is supposed to do, what Jesus would himself had done had he not just entrusted the work to us. Jesus will reward those who serve him faithfully. Now notice that we do not have to do spectacular work, such as preach to thousands in one rally and bring them to Christ. We do what we can, even in very small matters (like being the one cleaning up the place after that large evangelistic rally). What matters is faithfulness. It is up to God to produce the fruit.
Fifth, the reward is proportionate to how we have helped build up the Kingdom. The first servant was rewarded with ten cities, while the second servant, who earned five more, was rewarded with five cities (v.18-19). As it is God who produces the fruit of our efforts, what determines our reward is not what we actually accomplish (some are called to greatness while others to humble service), but the extent of our faithfulness.
Sixth, Jesus will condemn and punish those who do not use or waste the talents given them. “Then the other servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief …. He said to him, ‘With your own words I shall condemn you, you wicked servant.” (v.20,22a). In the gospel of Matthew this third servant was thrown into the darkness outside where there would be wailing and grinding of teeth. Why such condemnation and harsh punishment? Because the servant was wicked, evil. Why was he evil? He knew the demands of the Kingdom, how the master had entrusted his very important work to him, but he did not do anything and he wasted the talent given to him. “You knew I was a demanding person, taking up what I did not lay down and harvesting what I did not plant” (v.22b). Because of his non-performance, a soul could have been lost.
Seventh, those servants already blessed with the work of the Kingdom and the rewards attendant to that, will be given even more, while those who do not use their talents will lose the little they already have. “And to those standing by he said, ‘Take the gold coin from him and give it to the servant who has ten.’ But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’ ‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’” (v.24-26). The more you serve God with the talents given you, the more He will multiply those talents, and use you for even greater work. The one who does not use his talents will eventually lose it all. Have you not seen how those servant leaders who do not serve faithfully eventually lose not just their service but even their life in Christ?
Now in this gospel there are actually two seemingly unrelated stories. Aside from the parable of the gold coins, there is the parable about the rejected king interwoven into the narrative. This latter parable is not in the counterpart parable in Matthew. However, the two parables are actually related.
The parable of the gold coins is about the use of talents given to us to build the Kingdom due to the urgency of the times. Though Jesus might not yet return for centuries or even another millennium, we are already in the end times, judging by the signs of the times as told by Jesus himself. So Jesus teaches in this context. “While they were listening to him speak, he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (v. 11). The work is indeed urgent and critical.
However, though Jesus is King, Lord and Savior, the world has rejected him. “His fellow citizens, however, despised him and sent a delegation after him to announce, ‘We do not want this man to be our king.’” (v.14). The Christian nations of the world, especially in the western world, have not only discarded their Judeo-Christian values but have been rabidly antagonistic to the Church. The majority of Catholics are lapsed and lost, and have even become the enemy within.
There will be dire consequences to such rejection and rebellion, when the Lord returns once again. To those who oppose Jesus, they face death and not life. “Now as for those enemies of mind who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.” (v.27). They will go off, not to heaven as Jesus intended, but to eternal fire.
So, dear servant leaders, our God is an awesome God, and we are called to do awesome and demanding work, but be not afraid. Be not like the third servant, who said, “for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding person; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant.” (v.21). Precisely, Jesus gives us the privilege of planting so that he can later harvest. We are made God’s co-workers. We participate in God’s work of salvation. Indeed, given the importance of the work given to his servants, should not Jesus demand our corresponding effort?
But you see, even if we do not, perhaps because we are somehow unable to, respond to the utmost, we could still escape dire punishment. Jesus could have accepted a minimum effort: “why did you not put my money in a bank? Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.” (v.23). Many servants are called, and their collective production is what is important, some with high returns and others with less.
Of course, if we really understood the work of the Kingdom and our part in it as servant leaders, then we would give our all. Jesus gave us his all. We are called to do nothing less.
“After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.” (v.28). Jesus went on to the cross, won for us our salvation, and before going up to heaven, instructed his disciples (us) to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. This is our all-important work.
So let us go, in the power of the Spirit, to be witnesses to Jesus in Jerusalem …. as well as to the ends of the earth.
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God bless you all.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)