The Parable of the Talents

Sermon preached by Canon David Osborn, at St Thomas’ Church

There is a touch of ‘Dad’s Army’ about this parable in Matthew’s gospel. There are quite a few parables of this nature at the end of this gospel and this one as ever would have been understood very clearly by the original hearers as the focus is on the third servant in the story…..rather like a joke. You will recall that the Walmington on Sea platoon of the Home Guard once, by accident, were involved with two armed German naval officers. Pike, the innocent butt of Capt. Mainwaring’s barbs was warned by the good Captain ‘not to tell him your name Pike!’ Of course, Mainwaring then goes away muttering, ‘you stupid boy!’ Well, the third servant in our gospel story is the hapless Pike of the parable recounted here.

This parable of the talents is well known but it is important to remember that a talent was a weight, not a coin and was rather like the modern bitcoin; it was a thing of value but not physically real. The attention though is riveted on the useless servant, and the original hearers would have been in no doubt that he stood for the scribes and Pharisees, the eternal baddies of the NT. The whole aim of the scribes and Pharisees was to preserve the law…..any change was fiercely resisted……they were the original ‘we have always done it this way’ lot! Jesus challenges them and almost to say that there cannot be true religion without adventure, without taking risks. This is not the same thing as recklessness, but rather life in the HS taking God at his word.

Well, different people have different gifts, each of us has different abilities, perceptions and approaches to things: it doesn’t, in God’s eyes make one person better than another, but just different as unique sons and daughters of his family. So the servants who were given 5 and 2 talents went off and made it work: they made a profit and their accounts looked good. In other words they correctly divined what the best way to use what they had was, and they did it well.

The servant with the one talent didn’t lose it, but simply shrugged his shoulders and said to himself, what can I do compared to so many people around me who are better qualified or more gifted than me. So he buried it! But, as the master reminded him, he didn’t even do the simplest thing which was to have put it in the bank: he could have gone round to the C & G building society…….that’s the Capernaum and Galilee Building Society in case you are wondering. The condemnation for the man was that he didn’t try.

All groups have weakest links so to speak, but in reality, we know that the strength of any group or team is actually in the weakest link, despite what Anne Robinson says. Most professional sports teams’ coaches work harder at the contribution of the perceived weakest links than with the team’s stars. It was the SA golfer Gary Player who said that the more he practices, the luckier he somehow becomes at the game.

So it is with our faith and the church. You are not good with accounts? But you can pray daily for the mission of God’s church. You are not good at public speaking, but you may well be the person who is a good listener, and goodness knows we need good listeners. You are not good at being on a committee? You presence though is valued though week by week as part this bit of the body of Christ: there is a role for everyone in God’s Kingdom.

In a way, I feel sorry for the third servant. For this person, God is not good news, this servant has turned his own failure into a weapon against himself: he seems to shout, ‘it’s your fault God, not mine’. He cannot recognise any more the good within himself because he doesn’t actually know himself. There will always be people who better, wiser, richer and more attractive than us: but that is not what God looks at. God’s love, his understanding and forgiveness is far far wider and deeper than we can imagine. William Hazlitt, painter, poet, and philosopher said that a human being is the only species who can laugh or cry because he is the only being who knows the difference between what is…..and what can be. Our world is a sacramental place, where God’s presence is to be found and experienced, but ultimately, we find God within ourselves.