Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

You’ve got talent! (Lk 19:11-27)

If there were to be a St.Michael’s talent show, I wonder what would happen? Perhaps you are immediately thinking of that person who would sing, or dance or juggle or do other amazing things ……or worry about that person who would insist on telling the jokes that would make you cringe. I wonder what you would offer to do. Maybe you would be like me and just decide to sit back and hope nobody asks me to perform as I know I don’t have any of those talents. It might be O.K. for others but it’s not for me.

If you are looking back at the Bible passage – always a good thing - you might be feeling either confused or relieved as there is no mention of a talent show there and wonder why the sermon title for this passage is, “You’ve Got Talent”.  We are going to see shortly that it is the right title and in some ways it’s even scarier than preparing for the X factor or Britain’s Got Talent. Every one of us has got a talent and it is going to be assessed……but you are right the Bible passage  gives a very different picture of what is going on so it’s time to examine it.

  • The King in Waiting v. 11-14
  • The Master and his servants v.15-25
  • The Final Reckoning v.26 & 27

And the key point is: “Jesus is Lord. Be a faithful servant of all he has trusted you with”.

1. The King in waiting (v.11-14)

Jesus told a parable about a nobleman who went to a distant country to be appointed king. Before he left the nobleman gave some of his servants a mina which was a substantial sum of money and told them to use the money until he returned. Some of his subjects hated him and tried unsuccessfully to stop him being confirmed as ruler

This might seem like a fairly random story but to his hearers it would immediately ring bells. They were in Jericho and in Jericho there was a great palace built by Archelaus one of the sons of Herod the Great. Before Archelaus could assume his rule he had to go to Rome to be officially appointed to his role and, just as in this parable, a delegation followed him to Rome to protest but, as in this story, they were unsuccessful.

It is worthwhile referring to this history as it helps us understand some important things. Archelaus was the king’s son and he had been designated heir in Herod’s will so there was no doubting that he was the legitimate ruler. Those who opposed him were rebels.

We know precisely why Jesus told this parable as he tells us in v 11. It was because, “People thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once”.  Perhaps this was unsurprising as they were on the way to Jerusalem surrounded by crowds of pilgrims to celebrate the Passover and they had just seen a blind man healed and a miraculous response to Jesus from Zacchaeus. Before the triumphal entry which is the next event recorded by Luke, Jesus had to set the record straight.

Jesus, like the nobleman, is the rightful Lord but before he returns in glory he will have to face rebellion and rejection. “We don’t want this man to be king” found its expression when Jesus was on trial before Pilate. “Away with this man”, shouted the crowds, “Crucify him”. Like the nobleman, Jesus’ authority was challenged, like the nobleman Jesus would be gone for some time- going to ‘a distant country-  but like the nobleman too, he would return vindicated as ruler. Also, crucially, like the nobleman he gives his servants a job to do. Now we are getting to the challenge of verses 15 - 25.

2. The Master and his servants (v.15-25)

This passage in Luke has obvious parallels with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 25). It’s not the same and there are differences but it will help us to understand some points here so I will also be referring to it. Certainly the idea of ‘using your talents’ is a lot easier to get our heads round than the phrase ‘using your minas’ which was apparently the rough equivalent of 3 months wages. We will be making some direct applications to ourselves shortly, but first let us come to grips with the story.

The servants have each been given a mina with the clear instruction to put the money to work. The first man had made another ten mina and the second another five. They had achieved a different amount but each was rewarded and Matthew’s account helpfully shows that it was the productive use which made the master happy. The master uses identical words of praise for each “Well done you good and faithful servant…. Come and share your master’s happiness”. So far so good and all very encouraging but what of the man who didn’t use his mina?

I wonder how you react to verse 21? I have stressed that the master in the parable represents Jesus and now here he is being described as harsh and grasping. The master doesn’t even  seem to deny the charge! I know it has puzzled me in the past but it makes sense when you consider:

  • The master was hardly an abusive boss. He had freely entrusted the servant with a generous amount of money and those who had used their talent well had great reward lavished upon them. The master is hardly mean.
  • The echoing of the servants words in v 22 shows another point too. Even if he hadn’t used the talent out of love, loyalty or any other good motive, the servant is without excuse. He’d been given a clear instruction in v 13, “Put the money to use” and had not done so. He hadn’t been given that dreaded ‘performance target’ but was free to use his initiative. If the servant had really thought the master so harsh surely he would have done something. After all, thinking back to school days weren’t we sometimes tempted to try and get away with not doing homework but we always did it for the really strict teachers.

I do not think we can conclude that the master wasn’t harsh but the servant had neither obeyed him nor had the right relationship with him.  He couldn’t claim that the task was beyond his capabilities because putting the mina in the cloth wasn’t even the only easy option. What about the bank? Therefore the master had the right to feel disappointed and cheated. The servant had been selected from among other servants and he had done…….nothing! There was a consequence. That mina was taken away from him. Unlike the hearers in v25, I just see this as natural. We know a talent unused withers and isn’t it the natural reaction of a carer with a child in a crèche who is just hogging a toy without playing with it to pass it on to another child who will use it.

Jesus told this story to the disciples to show them his return in glory was sure but not immediate. A time of responsible service was needed and what they did mattered. That is no less true for us today. We are waiting for the master’s return and he has entrusted us with that mina or talent. How we use it matters and doing nothing is not an option.

This is where I think the unfamiliar word mina has an advantage. It gives us the challenge to stop and think about what it means. When we think about ourselves as Christians, those saved by Jesus and calling him Lord, it surely means everything we have and are.

  • Money, wages
  • Possessions
  • Abilities
  • Leisure
  • And…..

That’s not an exhaustive list and it’s deliberately left unfinished as the challenge is to stop and think about how this might apply to each one of us.

In what way are we using our money to serve Jesus? Are we hiding it in the cloth because we don’t want to lose it? Is it left in the bank as a safe option? Please don’t misunderstand that. There is nothing wrong with financial planning or prudence but we do need to see our money as being entrusted to us by the master and needing to give account to him rather than it being ours.

What about our possessions? Are we hospitable with our homes? Do we use our cars to help transport those who don’t have one? Do we get anywhere near the example of the first Christians who made sure they used their possessions to support those in the fellowship in need?

What are your talents and abilities? Are you honouring Jesus by the way you use them? How ae you using them in the church? I guess as in most churches a lot of the work is done by a few. Where are the needs in this church? How can you meet them?  A “Thank you” to those who tidy away the hymn books or service sheets or give a smile or friendly word to the lonely or newcomer. Those two things - service and encouragements - appear in the list of gifts in Romans 12.  See them as talents and use them. There are so many things that you can do and maybe it’s you that should be doing them!

How are you using your leisure time? It was God who established the Sabbath day of rest and we need rest and recreation but don’t forget it’s not exactly “free time” as we are still accountable to the master for the way we use it.

Thinking back to the idea we began with, the talent show, I think each using all that the master has entrusted to us is the real Christian talent show. It’s like a complex jigsaw puzzle. There are loads of pieces and they are all different and maybe some bits look a bit odd and it’s hard to see how they fit in but everyone is needed to complete the picture. God has entrusted each one of us with particular “talents”- abilities and resources - and they are designed to fit together to build his church into something beautiful and effective. When we do not use our ‘talents’ as God wants us there is something missing.

3. The Final Reckoning (v.26-27)

As we come to the final verses of our passage (v.26 & 27) it is good to reflect on the cross. If we want to see what our master is like we can look there. If we want to see what we owe him we can look there.

We have seen in verse 24 that the faithless servant has his mina removed and given to the one who made ten more and v 26 takes this into the general spiritual principle that Jesus makes a number of times. You cannot gain eternal life by hanging on to what you have as Luke 9 v24 tells us, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will gain it”.

Could you really imagine a more faithless servant than the one who had his mina taken away? Not only had he disobeyed instructions and let his master down but he had totally misrepresented what his master was like. Of course the challenge for ourselves is to consider what our behaviour is telling our master what we think of him. There is an old saying about the Christian life which says “If Jesus is not Lord of all, you can’t really call him Lord at all”.

Verse 27 links back to characters at the start of the parable – the rebels trying to overthrow their rightful ruler. Their fate is swift and severe but deserved. Remember this is a parable and this was standard behaviour for a king but we also need to think about where this parable occurs in the life of Jesus. He is going to Jerusalem to be crucified. It is no light thing to reject your king. No light thing to shout, “Crucify him” before Pilate and No light thing to reject Jesus as Lord.

So in conclusion, the challenge of the parable is that the master is away long enough for the true intentions of both groups his citizens and his servants to be revealed. By the grace of God and by the deathof Jesus on the cross we can also be called children of God but we must never forget that we have been called to serve and we have a responsibility to use all he has entrusted to us for faithfully.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there can be anything more important to use our possessions and abilities on for than  preparing  for when I stand before my Master than to hear the words: “Well done you good and faithful servant. Enter into your master’s happiness.” May it be so for each  one of us.