How many folks here remember the first time they drove a car? This is going to leave some of you kids out, I hope, but remember that time? Have you ever been so excited? At my folks farm, the driveway was a quarter mile long, so I when I got to drive down the driveway it seemed like a lifetime. All I had to do is be sure and not run down any sheep. Going out on the road was real excitement, wasn’t it? Or maybe real terror? So many things to watch out for, so many things that can happen so quickly. I was reminded of that a could time when I found myself driving through Chicago or Boston rush hour in a rental car.
I bring up the first experience, because for most of us the first car we drive is somebody else’s car. Our parents or grandparents or whoever put a lot of trust in us not to total this great investment they’ve made. Sure, behind the wheel you have freedom. You can drive anywhere you want, you’re the master of your agenda, opportunities beckon. Having a car means you have independence.
Sometimes we get a passage in the Bible that difficult to understand, we wonder why Jesus said what he did. This passage gets abused regularly. One take is this story justifies the rich taking from the “lazy poor”, and it’s God’s will that the Rich get Richer. Like the quote attributed to Civil War era con artist Canada Bill Jones, “It’s immoral to let a sucker to keep his money.” Of course, we have to massively rewrite or ditch the Beatitudes and ignore the part of Matthew 25 that follows it when it talks about those who serve the least serve Christ. Another take is a justification for “Drill baby, drill.” In this line of thinking, we have an obligation to extract every drop of oil, every chunk of coal from the ground to keep our economy thriving, and the consequences of pollution don’t matter, usually because the world is going to end pretty soon anyway. This forgets about the order to Adam and Eve to care for the Earth, to use it but not use it up.
However, we need to wrestle with this and not put it aside. Jesus meant us to learn something positive from all his parables, even if it means digging down deep to get it. Just because this means more work doesn’t mean we should pass on it.
Today’s Gospel reading is about people who are entrusted with a great deal. A talent of gold, silver or copper in that time was a significant investment. It weighed from 58-80 pounds, so it not only took up space, it was heavy physically. It could equal 6,000 denarii, and the wage for one day’s labor was 1 denarius. You do the math of how much each talent represented: if you don’t want to do it, the best was to think of it is that it probably was worth the entire lifetime earning of an ordinary worker. One man had five of these given to him, one had two and the other had one. Now this wasn’t a society where there were banks or stock markets, there were investments, but they entailed quite a bit of risk. Caravans were ambushed or got lost and ships could sink, and dishonest people were everywhere. They really didn’t have anything significant in the way of insurance. If you wanted to keep something safe you buried it, particularly money. In this story, the master isn’t known as a bad man until the end, and for these guys you could say he wasn’t that bad. After all, the master entrusted more wealth to them together than some towns probably had. Someone who gave me the entire treasury of a state to look after I would think liked and trusted me. I would think they were out of their minds, but I would think they liked me a lot.
The two who got the most, took risks. They could have lost it all, and faced the wrath of the master when they returned. One played it safe in a dangerous world. He knew that he had more money than he might make in a lifetime, and it knew how it would look if he failed. He thought he knew what kind of master he had: greedy, manipulative, vindictive. I might be tempted to bury the thing, too.
The master returns, and the first two have done better than expected. How many investments get you 100% return today? We wish. If you find one, let me know. And the master is generous with them, sharing his table with them, which is elevation to equality. Then the third one comes in, and confronts the man. He knows what the deal is, and he’s played it safe. He’s bringing back what he was given, he hasn’t done anything wrong. A lot of folks at this point in the story might be nodding their heads in approval: just because the other two got lucky doesn’t mean I will, and it’s usually my luck that things don’t go right. The master won’t be too upset. Or will he?
As we look at this parable, once again, we’re looking for how this story tells us about the Kingdom, not about whether everybody in the story plays fair with each other. The guys who invested probably took their wealth from unjust business deals. The guy with one is standing up for the poor. But we can go another direction with this one.
If you’re afraid of driving, you can let your car sit in the driveway. It’s happened, I heard on Car Talk where someone left a car in a garage for 11 years. It won’t run when you need it. You won’t have wasted money on it, but you won’t get anything out of it or get anywhere.
Faith isn’t something to sit in the driveway or to bury. Faith isn’t something we have to protect from harm. If we try, we’ll lose it. It won’t go. It won’t be enough. We have to get out on the road and try to go somewhere. It’s risky, all kinds of things can happen. That’s life. That’s also what our God expects of us. We have to take risks for what we believe, we have to try to let this great faith we have be the engine that drives us. Like teenagers, God turns us loose on the road, but he gives us an insurance policy better than any. No matter how battered our faith may get, it will still take us places we can’t go otherwise.
We travel on a big bus as Church. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate GPS, and Christ gives us the fuel, but we have to take our turn at the wheel, take our time doing the little things like filling the tires with air, or changing the spark plugs to keep things going. If we don’t do our part, the bus will stay parked, and we need to stay on the bus. For some folks, we are the only Gospel they will know, the only Church they will know, so we do get our time at the wheel, so to speak.
Today we’re here to invest what God is giving us. We’re given something worth more than anything in the world: the Body and Blood of Christ. If we bury it in here, what do we lose? And if we take it out and respond to the needs of the world around us, how will the master respond to us when he returns?