On a Sunday I’m not preaching, I’ll dust the cobwebs off this unused ‘gem.’ Get it? Oh, ok. You will…
Shaun White, famed Winter Olympics and X-Games snowboarder, failed by his own standards at the 2014 Olympics. In fact, he failed to medal at all. But somewhere along the way, this guy who won so many awards (two gold medals at the last two Olympics) realized that it wasn’t all about the prizes, the money, and the admiration.
“I remember thinking that I’d rather give my parents my money, and not have them go to work anymore. I’d rather spend more time with them.”
Eric Heiden, who won five gold Olympic medals in 1980 in Lake Placid, said that the medals themselves weren’t very useful, that he’d rather get a warmup suit. “That’s something I can use,” he said. “Gold medals just sit there. When I get old, maybe I could sell them if I need the money.”
To us, that can seem pretty shocking. Money? Gold medals? Adoring fans? That all sounds pretty good. And many people chase after those things, figuring that the fulfillment of those material and economic goals will end with happiness. We get so caught up in “worth,” putting value on things, and jobs, and people, that we fail to see the relationships underneath, the frailty of money’s value.
Jesus understood that. Jesus, the son of a carpenter, and the son of God. Jesus who could turn water into wine (why not rocks into gold?), who chose to live the life of a homeless, traveling prophet.
Jesus who told how the kingdom of God worked through this parable of the talents.
We’re set up from the very beginning by the man of noble birth. It’s someone with money! And he’s sharing it! But this man goes away, to have himself appointed a king. We assume he could buy the crown between his money and his status, but he leaves ten of his servants some of his riches and told them to make even more money.
Something misses in translation several times in the context of the story: the man is rejected by his would be kingdom and becomes an unloved king; he returns home and finds that not everyone has put his talents to use the way he encouraged them to. He gives the one who spent the talents wisely more and takes away from the one who failed to be invested in the use of the talents.
No doubt, this was a strange parable to Jesus’ audience. It strikes us a bit odd, doesn’t it? But it’s not the strangest one!
Jesus tells his disciples, note, not a giant crowd of anonymous souls, but those who have already chosen to follow, a rather strange tale of a shrewd manager. The manager is caught dead to rights, we assume by his peers, and he’s reported to his boss.
But this manager thinks fast on his feet. He asks what he should say, because he knows he’s about to lose his job. He recognizes that he isn’t strong enough to do manual labor, and his pride won’t let him beg, but he figure that the people who owe his boss money will operate out of the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ and let him stay at their houses.
The manager called in the first debtor, and asked how much he owed. “Nine hundred gallons of olive oil.” The manager told him to sit down and slash the debt in half, to four hundred and fifty.
The manager called in the second and asked how much he owed. “A thousand bushels of wheat.” So the manager said to sit down and slash off two hundred bushels, to eight hundred.
The shrewd manager’s boss commended him “because he had acted shrewdly.” Seriously? The kingdom of God is like that? Rewarding a dishonest middle management type? What in the world could Jesus possibly be getting at here?
I have to admit: I’m not sure.
Jesus concludes his parable with this piece of advice for his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The truth is that anyone trying to serve two opposing things can’t accomplish that. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to choose.
You have to choose blame or forgiveness. You have to choose to focus on the life without God or the life with God. You have to choose to embrace your own God-filled life or examine the lives of others you see. You have to choose law or grace.
There are certainly many verses in the Bible about God’s judgment, about parables where those who don’t get it, or better yet, claim to get it and absolutely miss out on it. But there are also many more verses about the ways that God’s grace supersedes everything, even the law of judgment.
And yet, too often, we ‘church folk’ seem to be hung up on all the wrong things. We seem to be focused on telling people how they’re not getting into heaven, how they have problems that they have to get fixed before they can be made right. We seem more concerned with asking people “are you going to heaven or hell?” than “have you loved your neighbor this week?” We seem to more caught up in the small stuff, like theology (yes, I just said how we articulate what God looks like is relatively ‘small’), and who does what, and what choices a person makes that we don’t particularly care for… than we are with the big stuff, which I’d sum up like this.
God is love, and if we are like God, then we are love.
If we are like God, love ourselves, then we need to be using our gifts and talents to share God’s love with others. We can’t hide it for ourselves, and think that God is somehow pleased. We can’t only put in a “little” of ourselves in church and doing the kingdom of God work we’re called to and think that we’ve somehow done ‘enough.’
We are immensely valuable to God because we are his and because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, NOT because of what others think of us or even what we think of ourselves. If we are going to grow in faith, to be more like Jesus, to understand repentance and forgiveness, then we need to learn to invest ourselves in the kingdom of God.
We need to embrace God’s vision for us, and be freed from what holds us back. Our fears, insecurities, our doubts, our addictions. We need to recognize that God alone gives us value, and our appropriate response is to love and serve him in the way that we treat other people.
Friends, you are worth the death of Jesus on the cross. That’s a wonderful and terrible revelation all at once, that I pray sticks with us well past the end of Lent. For the next few weeks, we’re locked in on the cross: it’s Lent! And the terrifying nature of how Jesus died and why he died can seem overwhelming, if actually think about it.
But the value isn’t just in the death- it’s in the being made right in the here and now. It’s in the eternal relationship. Too often, we miss it because we’re geared to “save souls” or “get into heaven.” It’s like the man who buries the talents in the ground because he thinks the value is just in the talent itself.
There’s so much more here. There’s real life here. God wants more for you than just getting by. God wants you to thrive in his love. Sure, God sacrificed his son to make that happen but it doesn’t end there. It’s merely the beginning of the journey, but it’s a good place to start.
You are worth it to God. And that is enough.