“Faithful Stewards of Our Master’s Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30)
Our text is the Holy Gospel for today, from Matthew 25. It’s the story known as the Parable of the Talents. A master gives his servants talents, varying amounts of money, to manage on his behalf. When he comes back, we see what they have done with those talents and what the master says to them about their stewardship.
This parable has real application to us, for you and I have been gifted by God with varying talents and abilities, as well as money, to be used faithfully for God’s purposes. You and I are stewards, entrusted with what our master has given us. Talents on loan from God, we might say. So how are we using what we’ve been given? Faithfully, or not so much? And so our theme this morning: “Faithful Stewards of Our Master’s Talents.”
The point in the Parable of the Talents is that, while we are waiting for Christ’s return, there are things for us to do. It is not just an idle waiting. No, our master gives each of us talents to use for his purposes. And we are to make the most of them, while we are waiting. You and I have talents on loan from God. Therefore, let us use them as faithful stewards.
The Parable of the Talents depicts what the kingdom of heaven will be like as we wait for Christ’s return: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” This is a picture of the church in the time between Christ’s ascension and his second coming. In other words, it is a picture of now. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ has entrusted us with his property, his goods, his possessions. Right away this sets the story in the realm of stewardship. What Christ has entrusted us with are his belongings, not ours. They are on loan to us, his servants, to be used according to our master’s wishes. The idea of stewardship is that all this stuff we have is not our own. It belongs to our master. We are his stewards, managing the resources he entrusts to us. And what is required of a steward is that he be faithful.
“To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” Notice that in this parable the amounts entrusted to the servants vary. Some have been given more than others. This tells us that here we are not talking about the basic and fundamental gift of salvation, since that is the same for each and every one of us alike. Rather, we are talking about the various gifts and abilities and opportunities that God gives us, since those do indeed vary. They are not the same for every Christian. For every St. Paul or Martin Luther, men of enormous talent, undaunted courage, intellectual brilliance, and historic opportunity–for every once-in-a-millennium saint like that, there are thousands of unsung ordinary saints. We may not have the same “gift set” as those “superheroes of the faith,” but nonetheless we are called to faithfulness in our use of the gifts that God has given us.
Here we want to avoid two extremes. On the one hand, we shouldn’t overestimate the gifts God has given us, as though I am some indispensable pillar of the church that the church just cannot survive without. That’s pride. On the other hand, don’t underestimate the gifts and abilities God has given you, either. That’s a false and excessive humility. Listen, you do have things you can contribute to the life of the church, according to your calling. You may not think it’s much, but God has gifted you the way he has so that you can use your gifts in the service of his kingdom. He has. Even little things can mean a lot. What matters is not how much you have in comparison to others, but rather that you are faithful with whatever you have been given, no matter how much or how little.
How has God gifted you? God has things for you to do with those gifts. Are you a child? God wants you to develop your talents in an all-around way–your mind, your body, your knowledge of the Bible and the Christian faith–so you can live out a life of service to your fullest potential. Even now, you can help out in home and church and school, showing the love of Jesus in how you live toward others. Are you a father or a mother? You have been given the gift of children, entrusted to your care. What higher stewardship can there be? You have the calling and the duty to teach your children the Word of God, to raise up your children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. That’s your #1 job. My calling as pastor is to help you do that. You older saints, those of you with a little more free time on your hands: God is not finished with you yet. You have years of wisdom and experience to draw on.
We all have talents and skills that can be used in God’s service, in the many tasks to be done in the church. Do you want to know how you can help? Just ask. There are lots of ways for you to help. All of us, together, make up the body of Christ. And just as in the human body, where we need all parts doing their job–the toenail and the armpit, as well as the eyes and ears and mouth–so also in the church we need all hands on deck, each doing his part, large or small, for the body to function to its fullest.
So Christ gives us gifts that vary–“talents,” to return to the language of the story. You know, we use the word “talents” to mean the gifts and abilities and skills that people have, things they can do. But in this parable, the term “talents” refers to money. A “talent” was a unit of money. So let’s not forget that the “talents” we can and should use for the work of the kingdom include, yes, our money. That stuff in your bank account and pocketbook, those financial resources–those too are gifts from God. He gives us the ability to earn our money, after all. And our money can be put to good use for God’s kingdom through the work of the church. Your money doesn’t really belong to you anyway. It belongs to God–all of it, 100%. Now some of it, of course, you need for food and shelter and clothing, for you and your family. Beyond that, though, some of the money God entrusts to you can be put to use for the church’s ministry. To support the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments here in this congregation. To spread the gospel far and wide through various mission and ministry efforts of the church at large. To help the poor and needy, through works of mercy. Yes, your talents include your dollars, which are not really yours but God’s. Those dollars have been entrusted to you to use wisely and faithfully, to extend God’s kingdom.
Back to the parable. A couple of the servants put their talents to work, earning more in the process. They don’t end up with the same amount, but then they didn’t have an equal amount to start with. But they were equally faithful, equally faithful with whatever amount they had been given. However, there was this one guy who spoils the story. He doesn’t do anything with the talent he was given. Instead, he hides his master’s money, digs a hole and buries it. Now the master returns. The faithful servants, the faithful stewards, report in, telling the master how they had put his money to work. The master’s response, in each case? “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Here we see a most gracious and generous master. It was his grace and generosity in the first place that gave them anything to work with. It was his money they were managing, not their own. So it is for us. The talents and abilities we have, and the money we have–we realize that they come from God’s gracious hand. “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.”
And on top of that, our gracious God has redeemed us in Christ to “live under him in his kingdom and serve him.” More grace! Christ’s holy precious blood has purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. The cleansing water of baptism has brought us into Christ’s church and given us the Spirit to live and work for his kingdom. Grace upon grace!
And when Christ returns on the Last Day, the fact that he will actually commend us, saying, “Well done,” and calling us “good and faithful”? Wow, that can only be God’s grace! For I know that my stewardship hasn’t always been that great. My stewardship of time and talents and treasures–I haven’t always “done well.” I have been wasteful and selfish, not always so “good and faithful.” So these are rewards of grace, pure grace, that Christ will award us when he welcomes us into his eternal joy. You and I would have no reward at all, were it not for the unfathomable forgiveness God graciously bestows upon us for Christ’s sake. And he does! That is what is so wonderful, isn’t it? The grace of God in Christ, to entrust us with any kind of a stewardship in the first place, and then, amazingly, to reward us by his grace, in spite of our many failures. What a gracious Lord we have!
Back to the story. The one guy who buries his talent and doesn’t do anything with it–it is his unbelief that damns him. There was no living faith there, for faith always produces its fruits. The wicked and slothful servant had the wrong belief about his master. He insulted and assailed the very character of God, revealing his unbelief. And so he is cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But thank God, you and I will be received into heavenly joy! “Enter into the joy of your master,” that is what we will hear. Dear friends, we know our Lord to be a good and gracious master, a most generous Lord. He has gifted us with talents in abundance, each of us with the right amount for who he wants us to be and what he wants us to do. Whatever your talents–your natural gifts and abilities, your acquired skills, the opportunities God sets before you for love and service, and yes, your money–these are the talents you can put to use in God’s kingdom. We do this individually in our daily lives, and we do it collectively in our life together as church.
It is required of a steward that he be faithful. Through Word and Sacrament, your faith is being strengthened, and that in turn will strengthen your faithfulness. To be a faithful steward, you need the ongoing forgiveness of God to pick you up when you fall. You need the continued strengthening that only comes through the ministry of the gospel in the church. These means of grace are God’s gifts to you to help you to be the faithful steward God wants you to be.
Grace upon grace upon grace! Until our Lord returns, he will strengthen you for his service and stewardship, so that you will faithfully use your talents, talents on loan from God. And when our Lord returns, he will commend you and welcome you with these most gracious words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”