Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
How many people here were audited by the CRA recently? Were you excited? Did you pop open a bottle of champagne and celebrate with your spouse? “Dear! We’re being audited! Come celebrate!!” No, far from it, we usually approach such an event with annoyance, and perhaps a bit of dread. It’s one thing to submit your tax information to the Government. It’s quite another to get the notice that the Government didn’t quite believe you and is now going to go over everything you submitted with a fine-tooth comb. Perhaps they’ll even ask you to submit receipts, proof of this or that, and most certainly, more wonderful forms to fill out. The amount of fear and dread that might come upon you is related to how accurate you were with your information. If you lied, or tried to hide something, it’ll be discovered. If you kept bad records and threw away those receipts, you won’t be able to claim it. And so on. It’s a real hassle isn’t it? So, we really don’t like being audited. In our Gospel lesson Christ our Lord tells a story about three slaves being audited.
The Key to the Parable
There was a nobleman who went on a journey. Back in those days travel was a long affair: camels and horses, wagon and boats. Because he’ll be gone such a long time, this nobleman got his three slaves together. He gave them each an enormous sum of money. To one slave he gave five talents. To another two. To the third: one talent. What’s a talent? It’s not an ability. I may say, “My wife is a talented singer.” Not that kind of talent. A talent is a weight of money. A talent was 6000 days wages, and that’s well over 1 million dollars. These are no small sums of money.
Now in the parable, the slave with two talents and the slave with five talents put their money to work. They appreciate their master’s generosity, and so they don’t want to waste it. They invested it. They traded with it. They went off and did business with it. But the slave who received one talent went off and buried the talent in the ground. The nobleman, who gave his slaves the talents, comes back from his long journey. He comes back, and then it’s time to audit his accounts. The slave with two talents and the slave with five talents report that they’ve both doubled the money. The nobleman is very pleased. They both get the same thing: they enter into his joy, and he gives them both even more! He just keeps giving.
The third slave thinks his master is a greedy tyrant. He hates him. He fears him. And he is unwilling to even risk losing the nobleman’s talent, so he has just hidden it. When the time comes to give an accounting to his master, he just gives him back the talent. And that’s what he tells him. “You’re a greedy tyrant and you scare me, so I was not even willing to risk it. Here, take it back. I didn’t really want it anyway.” The nobleman turns the statement on its head. “Well, if you really thought I was a greedy tyrant, why would you think I’d be happy with just getting back what I gave you? If I am a greedy tyrant, would I not want more? If you really thought I was a greedy tyrant, you could have put the money in the bank and given me a good return.” The slave’s talent is taken away, and he is bound up and thrown into outer darkness.
The key to this parable is that it’s not really about what they did with the talents. That’s not the point here. The point is how they viewed their Master. The first two knew that the nobleman was a kind and generous man and they acted accordingly. Because their master was so generous, they responded by putting that money to good use. The third slave thought his master was a greedy tyrant, and he acted accordingly. He despised and rejected his master’s gifts. What they did with the talents reflected what they thought of the Master. If you gave a gift to a friend and they treasured it and highly prized it, how would that make you feel? What would that say about how they viewed your relationship? What if you gave them a gift and they just threw it out or destroyed it? How would that make you feel? They wouldn’t value your relationship much would they? It’s not about what they did with the talents, it’s about their relationship to the Master. Was the nobleman a greedy tyrant? NO! He gave away nearly nine million dollars to these slaves! And when the first two showed that they put their money to good use, HE GAVE THEM MORE! He’s a kind and generous man.
Entrusted with God’s Gift
God has been kind and generous to us. Our Lord has given us all something: a treasure which is vast and a sum which is uncountable. We all have an account with God. We’re all over our heads in debt to Him. We’d never be able to pay him back, we owe him so much! The Lesson from Zephaniah tells us that a day of accounting will come; a day of judgment. “The tax man cometh” and “he cometh quickly.” Christ will come to collect His due. On that day, we’ll all have to stand before Him and settle all our accounts. Every detail examined. Every penny we owe God accounted for.
Isn’t it remarkable then, Christ has already settled our account with God. When the books are opened, and our accounts are examined God will notice that His very own Son has paid our debt. He’s covered the fee. He paid the principle. He paid the interest. All of it. Paid in full. He has purchased and won you “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” He incurred your debt. He’s paid your debt with his blood. Jesus Christ is the nobleman who has given to his church all his wealth and riches. You see, God is a giver of good things. What are we given? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23). God has given us the ultimate gift, he sent his Son to die for us. He has given you forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Through his Holy Word, the Bible, we read and learn about this salvation which was won and purchased for us. Through preaching and bible studies we have that Word explained and applied to us. Through Baptism we are claimed by God as his very own, and are born again. If that were not enough, in the Lord’s Supper Christ himself is really and truly present among us, and gives us his body and blood with the bread and the wine, all for the forgiveness of our sins. God gives us all these wonderful gifts, these “talents”, so that our faith and trust in him might be built up, strengthened and grown. He gives because He loves those to whom He gives. He’s kind and generous. You are object of God’s love. You are the recipient of His gifts.
Our Use of God’s Gifts
How we treat God’s gifts shows what we think about him. He has given us so many opportunities to receive this gift! The warning of the Third Commandment here is clear. Do not despise preaching and God’s Word; do not despise the gifts of God. God has given us so much. There are numerous opportunities to hear the Word of God. There is a mid-week Bible study. We will have midweek advent services. Do you view these as a precious treasure? Do you view these as a gift of God? If you viewed these as precious, priceless gifts of God, would you not be there? What about communion? Do you view weekly communion as a precious Gift of God? God himself, coming among us to feed us? Or is it a burden? Is it too much? Do you bury God’s gift? Or do you rejoice at the chance to receive good things from God?
What you do with God’s gifts reflects what you think of God. “No thanks Lord. I don’t need your body and blood. It’s too much to do it every week. Here! Take your talent back.” “No thanks Lord. I can’t go to any bible studies. It’s too much work. Here! Take your talent back.” Is that the response you want to have? Why does our sinful nature want to push his gifts away? The third commandment says, “Do not despise the gifts of God.” “Either use them, or lose them”, as the saying goes.
Many people think that God is unjust, unfair, unkind, a greedy tyrant. They are afraid of him. “I can’t please a greedy tyrant!” Then, they despise and reject the Word and Sacraments. But know this: God has your best interest at heart. God is pleased when you trust him. God wants you to view his kingdom gifts as sacred. God wants you to gladly hear and learn his Word. God wants you to receive his Supper joyfully. Think again of that description of the Day of the Lord from Zephaniah. The Day of the Lord is coming, and for those who hate God, who refuse to trust in his promises and receive his good gifts, it’s a day of Wrath and crying, a day of darkness and doom. They won’t like the results of this audit. Yet, Jesus teaches us in the parable that every good and perfect comes down to us from our Father above. The day of accounting is nothing to fear because Jesus himself came down and died for you. Jesus is the gift, the talent, that God has given you. In him, forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours, given to you, so that God might strengthen you. Then, when that day arrives, upon the Master’s return, the One justifies sinners like us, will say, “well done my good and faithful servant.”
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.