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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 28A
Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8,12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-10
Matthew 25:14-15,19-29

This morning's Gospel is one that's troubled me for a long time, on two fronts. First of all, there's that landlord. We often assume the authority figure in Jesus' parables represents God; but the guy portrayed here-- a harsh, unforgiving, absentee slaveowner-- is a tough image to swallow.

Secondly, there's that fact that it's the guy with only one talent that the story picks on. I mean, really-- it doesn't sound like he had much to work with, does he? Who can blame him for being cautious? After all, one should be prudent, especially when one doesn't have much to begin with, right?

Well, maybe. but I learned something this week, that changes that image a bit. I learned about talents. Now, when you and I use that word, we mean a skill that someone has, like playing the piano, or drawing or some such. But back in Jesus' time, it was different. A talent was one way they measured-- it was both a unit of weight, and of commerce. This makes sense, when you think about it: the value of a pile of something will increase if there is more of it in the pile. So a coin's value, for example, would be determined by how much it weighed-- how much silver or gold it contained.

One of the most common coins we read about in scripture is a denarius. This was a basic unit-- worth a day's pay to an average laborer. One denarius, my bible dictionary tells me, would have weighed 4 or 5 grams-- a fraction of an ounce. They were small.

A talent, on the other hand, was large-- the largest unit of measurement at the time. Scholars estimate that one talent would have weighed something like 65 or 70 pounds. That's a pile of silver or gold that would have outweighed (two young parishioners) Elizabeth and Abigail put together!

Let's do the math. At roughly 70 pounds, one talent would have been equal in value to something like six thousand denarii. At a rate of one denarius per day, that makes a talent worth something more than sixteen years' wages.

Brothers and sisters, that isn't chump change. Sixteen years' salary, handed to you all at once?? Geez-- sounds like winning the lottery!

That puts a different spin on the story, doesn't it? Even the least of the slaves was given an amazing amount to work with. Enough that "burying it in the ground" was not a matter of scraping back a handful of dirt. This was not a passive action. The guy had to work at not using what he was given.

That's the way God's gifts work in our lives, isn't it? Yes, these can mean the ability to make music, or create fine art; but they can also include a knack for bookkeeping, or home (or church) repair skills, or simply having the patience to listen to and pray for others in the community. Whether the gifts in your life are the sort we usually consider as "talent" or not, I can guarantee you these things-- that there will always be someone around who seems to have more of it than you do; that you will still have more than enough to do some seriously good work for God; and that deciding not to use them is more trouble than it's worth.

Oh, and that cranky absentee slaveowner? It may seem, sometimes, as though God operates that way; I know I've had times when God seems unreasonable or distant, or both. Inevitably, however, what it turns out to be is my own distance, my own unwillingness to bend. "I will never leave you nor forsake you," he promises. We are adopted children, sons and daughters, and beloved heirs to the Kingdom; we can choose to walk away, but we will not ever be abandoned or cast away. Remember, Jesus "descended into hell" for us-- and came back, rather than leave us alone.

So, my brothers and sisters, I challenge you to think about those gifts in your life-- abundant, overflowing gifts of time, and talent, and treasure. Spend some time this week thinking how they might be used for God's glory. And then, don't stop there-- don't dig a hole. Take a risk: invest yourself, in Jesus' name.


Blogger BBOvenGuy said...


My name's Bob, and I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now. I found it while looking for Indiana Episcopalians, since I was raised as one myself.

I currently live in California, where I attend All Saints Pasadena. You may have heard of us in the past week, since the news broke about the IRS making trouble for us. Our Rector brought the tax man into his sermon today on the same parable - now is not the time for us to be giving in to fear and burying our talents in the ground.

By the way, congrats on your recent ordination!

November 14, 2005 12:29 AM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Welcome to my corner of the blogiverse, Bob-- and thanks for your well-wishes!

Yes, that story caught my attention, in part because the dean of my seminary formerly served at your parish.

Not having heard the sermon that got the fed's knickers in a knot, I can't say whether or not the preacher crossed the line between letting the Gospel address the culture, and preaching personal political preference.

However, I entirely agree with the message you mention here: in the face of whatever the world's action is, we still have God's purposes to work for, and the gifts God has given to do so.

Come on back anytime!

November 14, 2005 6:59 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT sermon

be blessed :)

November 14, 2005 10:14 AM  

Blogger Being Shielded said...

My CM used the explanation of "talenta," too, but came to a slightly different conclusion. He actually has a manuscript for it, and I'll see if I can post it over at my place sometime later today.

November 14, 2005 11:17 AM  

Blogger BBOvenGuy said...

Is Gary Hall the dean of your seminary? I know he's out there in the Midwest now. He was one of the finalists when we last elected a bishop out here. We miss him now.

If you're interested in seeing more about our tax situation, you can find more - including transcripts of the sermon in question and yesterday's response to the IRS by our rector - by visiting the All Saints website.

November 14, 2005 8:06 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Yes; he was installed at Seabury last January, so was my dean for about 6 months before I graduated. You can see some of the details here.

And thanks for the link!

November 14, 2005 8:41 PM  

Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Finally got around to reading your sermon. It sounds really familiar :)

November 14, 2005 9:57 PM  

Blogger Young fogey emeritus said...

Liked this so much I blogged it today.

November 15, 2005 8:07 AM  

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