As children, many of us were taught the parables of Jesus. Approximately the same number of us received the pseudo-wise interpretations of these parables from some well-intentioned Sunday school teacher or pastor. Over the years, I have come to believe that the intended meanings are much simpler than we have contrived – similar to many of my poetry analysis classes throughout Honors and A.P. English. However, one of these well-known parables has bothered me immensely throughout my life – The Parable of the Talents. Let me set the stage.
In the Bible, a parable is a story that Jesus told for the purpose of giving listeners insight into the Kingdom of Heaven – or as I like to think about it, the way things should and will one day be. The book of Matthew, chapter 25 and verses 14 – 30, records The Parable of the Talents. Jesus tells a story involving a master and 3 servants. The master is headed out on a long journey and decides to place some portion of his accumulated wealth into the hands of each of the 3 servants. He gives 5 talents, 2 talents and 1 talent to the servants respectively. We are given no insight into why he gave different amounts to each and I will make no assumptions here as I do not believe it is relevant to the point being made. The servants are given no specific direction; they are simply “entrusted” with what they are given. Keep in mind that a “talent” was a measure of money and 5 talents is the modern equivalent to 30 or 40 years worth of earnings.
After a “long time” the master returns and checks in to see what each servant has done with the wealth entrusted to him. He finds that servants number 1 and 2 have doubled what they were given. We don’t know if they invested wisely in the 1st Century Stock Market, started a successful business or some other prosperous undertaking. All we know is that they did something with what they had and were successful. The master gave high praises to these servants promising reward and greater responsibility. Then, the 3rd servant steps onto the stage and presents to the master exactly what was originally given to him – 1 talent. The servant offers excuses, all of which are cast aside by the master – along with the servant. (There is a lot to speculate about what this casting out actually means. I am not sure of the particulars, but I can say for sure that this servant didn’t receive the master’s blessing and promise of more. In fact, what he started with was even taken from him.)
That’s where the story ends. I have heard the story many times. Each and every time I am then told, in one form/extreme or another, what it all means to me. The common core of all these assessments can be summed up with two statements:
- Do something amazing with what you’re given = GOOD
- Do nothing with what you’re given = BAD
That’s it. That’s all. From childhood to a recent sermon as an adult, that’s the take-away I am offered…
… and it leaves me just as bothered, if not angry, today as it did in 2nd grade.
I get it. If I am one of the two guys who is completely successful in my efforts – hurrays all around, including the master (who I believe clearly represents God)! On the other hand, if I do nothing, things will not go so well for me. I understand this and it makes perfect sense, but it does not address the question that has burned in me since childhood: “WHAT ABOUT THE 3rd SCENARIO? What about a servant who goes out and tries something with what he is given, and fails? What if I couldn’t get a good return? What if I lost it all? How would the master respond to that?” This has always bothered me at every reading of the passage. Thankfully, I hadn’t been faced with this parable for a long time – until last week.
Last week, I was driving alone on a business trip. I often take these times to catch up on podcasts of sermons presented by Andy Stanley. Andy happens to be my favorite communicator of all time. The fact that he utilizes this gift to speak about things I already care about, matters of eternal and immediate value, makes it even more exciting to listen to his insight. This day’s particular lesson was based on the passage containing The Parable of the Talents. I was pumped! If anyone is finally going to address this life-long dilemma for me, it will be Andy. (If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Mr. Stanley is somewhat of a hero to me. Similar to the way Larry Bird and Mike Singletary were for me as a child.) When Andy gets to the end of his lesson, I am disappointed. Not so much with what he said (that was as amazing and insightful as ever), but with what he didn’t say. He, too, failed to address my burning inquisition, “What about the 3rd scenario? What about a servant who goes out and tries something with what he is given, and fails? What if I go out and try something with what I have been given, and I fail?” All those old feelings of anger and frustration arise in me once again. This time, and perhaps for the first time, I decide not to set those emotions aside. I determine to face them and settle this once and for all.
So, what was my game plan on solving this puzzle? I didn’t have one. So, determined as I am, I decided to simply meditate on the matter at hand. Now I know that meditation can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me, meditation is simply focused thought. I allowed my questions to stew in my mind. This went on for a couple of days. The question was mentally repeated over and over again, “What about the 3rd scenario? What about the 3rd scenario? What about the 3rd scenario?” Last night, a response came to mind – “I don’t feel the need to address an impossible scenario.” I decided to sit on that thought for a while. Where did that statement come from? Could it be a still, small voice? Is it of my own conjuring? I didn’t know; I still don’t know. At least it was something new to focus on for a bit. As I continued to meditate the answer expanded itself…
I don’t feel the need to address an impossible scenario. Failure is not an option because it simply will not and can not happen. I have set and confirmed a principle over and over again, both through scripture and life experiences, that says, “When you take what I have given you and do something with it, I will accomplish my will.” My word will not return void. The good work I have started, I will complete. All things work together for the good of my ultimate purpose. In summary, you cannot fail. Though you may not see the tangible success of what you do with what I have entrusted to you, I will. I am the master. I am the judge. My assessment is all that matters. I am telling you that if you take what I have given you and do something with it, success will be achieved. I will be glorified. I don’t feel the need to address an impossible scenario.
Meditate on that, but not too long –
go, do something with what has been entrusted to you.
OK. So, now that’s settled. That’s all I’ve got to say about this because I’ve got some new ideas I want to go for.