Jesus gives clear instructions on where to focus our giving

 

BIBLE EXPLORATIONS: GOD’S CALL AND POVERTY

Use gifts wisely and generously to help others

By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today

Matthew 25:14–30 is a lectionary text for Nov. 15

“Parable of the Talents,” by A. N. Mironov. 2013.

I’m almost finished setting up my new place after moving to the Detroit area. I’ve left one task to the end, though: rebuilding the elaborate cat playground that Salsa and Queso climb when they tire of peering out onto the patio or spilling water on my desk. I’ve left it to last because the assembly instructions got thrown away a long time ago. Trying to make the right moves that will connect the pieces together, without guidance, is going to be challenging.

Our lectionary parable in Matthew 25 also finds someone being challenged to make the right moves without any clear instructions. A wealthy man goes away on a journey and entrusts his property to three slaves, leaving them without any guidance at all. The first two slaves double their money while their master is away, while the third slave misunderstands the master’s purpose in giving him the talents and decides to bury them. This last servant thought he would best escape punishment by keeping the talents safe and sound. The parable ends, however, with the master chastising and punishing him.

Jesus doesn’t tell us whether or not the third slave has a chance to respond to the dressing down he has received, but I can imagine the latter saying, “You’re the one who went away without giving any instructions about what we were supposed to do with the money! How was I supposed to know that I should have traded with it? If you had told me what to do, I would have done it for sure!” In this imaginary dialogue, the slave owner needs only one response: “I thought you knew me well enough to know what I’d want.”

This Scripture has been the fodder for countless sermons about how God gives us talents that we should never waste. In fact, it is this parable that as early as the 12th century led to a widespread understanding of the word talents as the gifts and capabilities we have. Jesus’ parable seems to grant us the instruction we need: that is, use all of our abilities to serve God.

However, in Jesus’ time, talents were a sum of money, not our aptitudes or strengths. Scholars understand that one talent could be worth as much as 10,000 days of pay. At today’s minimum wage, a talent would then be equivalent to $580,000; two talents, roughly $1.2 million; three, almost $3 million. The slave owner hopes that his subjects know him well enough to understand what to do with his money.

God may not have given us sums this great, but the Scriptures proclaim again and again that God has given us whatever we have and that we have a responsibility to use it wisely — and to use it in ways that glorify the giver. God is the source of every good and perfect gift as seen in 1 Chronicles 29:14 — For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.

What’s more, Jesus has given us clear instructions on where to focus our giving. All we have to do is keep reading Matthew 25, when we hear celebrations over all who give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and clothing to the naked.

In an economy hit by the pandemic, where finances for households and congregations are increasingly tight, it is tempting to hunker down and think only of ourselves and our needs. But the churches and saints we admire most act like the first two slaves of our parable, taking risks with their resources, because they know their lord well enough to know just what to do. 

Chip Hardwick is the transitional synod executive of the Synod of the Covenant.


Discussion questions

  • How well do you complete a new task when you don’t have any instructions?
  • What is the best way to discern God’s desires for you, your family and your church, when the directions don’t seem clear?
  • How can you use your financial resources to bless those Jesus called “the least of these”? (Matthew 25:45)

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