Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

by Bear Wade

Talented Authority
Matthew 25:14-30
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 28)
analysis by Robin Morgan

14[Jesus said] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

DIAGNOSIS: Hidden Talents

Step 1 – Initial Diagnosis: Yes and No
We see each slave accept the responsibility for his master’s property, but the slave given one talent to care for accepts the responsibility in name only. He doesn’t discharge his duty by investing what he’s been given. Rather he hides his master’s talent in the ground and waits for his return. Many of us have had bad experiences with authority where our trust has been betrayed or our individuality ignored. As a result, our first instinctive reaction in a situation like this is to protect ourselves. What is it going to take to keep this one off my back? How can I seem to fulfill what’s asked of me without incurring any risk? From misguided parents and teachers to profit-driven corporate leadership, we may have learned long ago to smile with our mouths and say yes while our hearts say no.

Step 2 – Advanced Diagnosis: Our No Revealed
When the master returns, he is given his talent back with dirt still clinging to it, and he is understandably angry. The slave in turn is very clear about his reason for inaction – fear. “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid and hid your talent in the ground.” The mistrust of his master paralyzes him and the slave buries the talent. Though the master is willing to trust the slave with his property, the slave is unable to trust his master. We see their relationship foundering on the rocks of fear and unfaith. What is at stake here is only peripherally the talent, even though it is a large sum of money. What is at stake is the connection between the master and the slave. How can we work together, how can we do what we need to do with the barrier of fear choking off the relationship? If worldly authority has proven fickle and untrustworthy, we may be unwilling to trust God’s divine authority in Jesus as well.

Step 3 – Final Diagnosis: God’s No
As the slave refuses to do what is asked of him, the master rejects the slave’s insubordination and hence, the slave. It is the master’s first desire to work with this slave, as he worked with the others to the mutual benefit of them all. But after reaching out with the initial gesture of trust by giving his property into the slave’s hand, the master now consigns the slave to outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. God’s no is not God’s first desire for our lives, but God will say no when we impose our skewed authority template over God’s true will and reject God’s way to life.

PROGNOSIS: Talent Scout

Step 4 – Initial Prognosis: The Yes of Mercy
However, Jesus’ stories to his disciples and to us are not, ultimately about weeping and gnashing of teeth. Throughout Matthew, Jesus has presented himself as the God-ordained authority that supersedes even God’s own Torah. Jesus, the merciful master, offers his own life on the cross for just such sinners as this fearful, faithless slave. The master who ought to be able to expect obedience from his slaves is obedient himself to the Father’s will and brings terrified sinners into God’s domain even though they are not able to keep the law. Jesus laid down his life and God raised him up to new life – his and ours.

Step 5 – Advanced Prognosis: Turning our No to Yes
The relationship rupture brought about by the slave’s unfaith can be overcome as he accepts the master’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus the Christ. Fear can be turned to faith as the slave lets go of his presuppositions about the master and trusts the supreme goodness of Christ’s authority through his sacrifice. When our relationship is founded on trust in this One, the other struggles about authority and working together can be dealt with as they arise. Maybe this particular slave isn’t cut out to be an investor; maybe he needs a different job. Maybe we need to learn a whole new way of looking at authority, both divine and worldly, but none of this can be worked out until our relationship is reconciled through faith in Christ.

Step 6 – Final Prognosis: Our Yes in Action
The new relationship between master and slave offers new opportunities to live and work together. No longer bound by the fear of authority, the slave can interact freely with his master. In the same way, our relationship with Christ can be the foundation from which all else in our lives spring. We needn’t let fear keep us from acting on the authority we’ve been given as Christ’s women and men in this world. We have been given the authority to care for creation and offer redemption to all that will listen. Now that’s a yes worth sharing!


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