(Jesus said), “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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!’ 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.’ 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!’ 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. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 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? 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. So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 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. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Some of the parables of Jesus are difficult to understand, but not this one. The first two servants put their master’s money to work, got double on their investments, and were praised for their faithful service. The third servant did not even put the money in the bank where he could have at least received interest, but he buried it in the ground where it did not do anyone any good. He was not praised, but was cast out into the outer darkness. The lesson is clear. The master wants his servants to use what he has given them to do his business. And Jesus said this is what Gods’ kingdom is like (Matthew 25:1, 14).
Therefore, as citizens of God’s Kingdom here on earth, we are to use what we have been given– our time, our talents, and our treasure– to do God’s business in His world. The whole world and all that is in it belongs to the Lord. He lets you use a little bit of it for a little while, and he wants you to use it well, doing his work with the blessings he has given you. Of course, a part of God’s work for you is to sustain the life he has given you, to take care of those people in your family that he has given you to care for, and to support the communities in which you live. But once that has been done in a reasonable and modest way, God wants you to use your time, abilities, and money to serve your church, and, to serve others who are in need. God does not want you to bury the gifts he has given you. The story that follows has to do with making good use of one’s talents and abilities.
Melvin was the most ornery, contrary, and difficult man I have ever worked with on a church council, and I told him that one day. Every conversation for Melvin was an argument, and so no matter what we had to talk about at council, Melvin found a way of turning it into a fight. Worse yet, we were in the middle of a building project and there were a lot of things to talk about and decide, and therefore, many fights. One morning, after a particularly unpleasant council meeting the night before, I went out to visit Melvin at his farm. I found him out in the machine shed, and I could tell he was not happy to see me. He was never happy to see anyone. So after the usual “Hi, how are you,” I told Melvin the first part of what I came to tell him. I said, “Melvin, you are the most ornery, contrary, and difficult person I have ever worked with on a church council.” It didn’t surprise me that he got mad, because he got mad about everything. I could just see the old schoolyard bully come out in him, as he tensed up and leaned forward, almost ready to pounce on this little preacher. So I quickly added, “But you know what else, Melvin?” And he said slowly and menacingly, “No… What else?” Then I told him the second part of what I had come out to say. I said, “You are a grouch, Melvin, but as far as getting things done between meetings, you are the best council person I have ever worked with. When there is something that needs to be done, everyone else starts hemming and hawing and going on and on about how busy they all are; but not you. You always say you will do it, and you always get it done, and it is done right. And I want to thank you for that.” Melvin wasn’t expecting that. I caught him off guard, so he loosened up, first looked a little puzzled, and then he grinned a little— kind of like he was proud of himself. “So,” I said, “I just came out here because there are a few things I need to have someone do on this building project, and I knew you would be the best person for the job. Can you help me out?” He said he would, and we talked some more, including a little bit on how he would be listened to more if would express his opinions more calmly and respectfully. From that day on, Melvin was a different guy on the church council. I’m not used to seeing people change that quickly, but it was a night and day difference with Melvin, and it was a pleasure to see.
To use the imagery of the parable, Melvin was a one talent guy. The Lord didn’t give him a lot of natural talent. He probably didn’t do real well in school, his communication skills were poor, he had a bad attitude, and he had a complete lack of any compassion or tact. But he knew his way around a construction site, he was a hard worker, and in spite of all his faults, he did make the best use of the one talent he did have. He didn’t bury it like the servant in the parable, but made good use of it for the Lord’s work. And then, along the way, he even learned a little bit about getting along with people. Being a part of the church helped him with that, and he helped the church by making good use of that one talent God did give him.
Almighty God, you have blessed each of us with a unique set of gifts, and you have called us to specific occupations, relationships, and activities in which to use those gifts. Enable us to use our talents to serve you and to witness to our faith in you. Keep us steadfast in our commitment to serve in your name. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship: Occasional Services, (#504) (adapted)