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The Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30, is one of the more popular of Jesus’ parables. As such it gets used to make all kinds of points. Some points are good, like usage of it to make the point that salvation is unique. Some points are not so good, like when people use it to prove that Jesus was undoubtedly a capitalist.
Just for context, here’s a summary of the parable - The master of the house leaves a certain amount of talents with each of three servants while he goes away. To one servant he leaves five talents, another two talents, and to the last servant he leaves one talent. When the master returns, the first two servants are eager to show the master what they have done with their talents. Each of the first two servants has doubled the amount that the master entrusted to them. The final servant, fearful that he might lose his talent, has hidden it. The other two servants are rewarded by the master, while the third servant is thrown out into the darkness. The archetypal interpretation of this parable equates the money or talents with the concept of skills or abilities. In fact, the common definition of the word “talent” comes from this parable.
I have used this parable before to show that each person’s path to salvation is unique. Simply put, the three servants did not start in the same place, and they did not end in the same place. Therefore, it is possible that we may each have different roles to play, different things to do in order to follow the will of God for our individual lives. But in further reflection on this subject, and with some prompting from Dr. Michael Cosby’s book, Portraits of Jesus, I believe there is another lesson to be found in this well-worn parable. I never thought of this question until Dr. Cosby implicitly posed it in his book. How did the successful servants increase the amount of money they had to give back to the master on his return? Well they did anything that anyone else would do in order to gain money. Matthew tells us that they “traded.” But the broader point is this – they were willing to take risks with the talents that the master gave them. It was just as possible that the man with 5 talents could’ve come back with 3, having lost 2 talents in his wheeling and dealing. But the two servants were successful because they were willing to accept the possibility that they might lose, or be unsuccessful. Which servant is the one who is rejected by the master? The one who was unwilling to take those risks, the one who took his talent and buried it in the ground.
So now the question comes to us. What risks are we taking to increase the Master’s kingdom? What personal risks are we taking? What risks are we taking as a group of believers? Are we taking the risks that the Master would want if we allow ourselves and our lives to be wrapped up in a cocoon of Adventism or Christianity? Are we taking the risks that the Master would want if we as a church keep doing the same old things the same old way? Or are we being like that last servant who took his talent and buried it in the ground? For example, the SDA church this summer is running an evangelistic series in New York City. I am not against this per se. Any attempt to draw people closer to Christ is a good thing. But I am just one among others who have wondered whether it is time for us to do something new. I think it’s time we leave the “ark of safety” (not literally) and begin to take some risks in order to grow the kingdom of God. I know that can be a scary proposition sometimes. I am not trying to argue that missteps cannot occur and that such a course of action cannot be fraught with peril. But we have to conquer the fear that extending ourselves beyond the world of Christianity or doing something in a way that hasn’t been tired will somehow lead to the loss of our salvation. I believe that if we take risks in faith and seek the Master’s guidance along the way, we can be successful in the same way the servants of the parable were.