Thanks-Giving Reflection #1: Abundance
By Pastor Gary Mills
The Parable of the Bags of Gold
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, people who would soon experience life without his physical presence. They would be tempted to view life from the perspective of scarcity. They wouldn’t have Jesus. They would have to wait for the Spirit. They would suffer persecution for the faith.
I believe that we are quite similar to the disciples and the early Christians. Some of you may remember a few years ago when we had Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. People were protesting how unfair life is because 1% of the population is enjoying wealth and affluence while 99%--the rest of us—are struggling to simply make ends meet. This is happening in a land of abundance, with incredible wealth and resources. But to the rest of the world, we Americans are the 1% and they are the 99% who think life is unfair because we enjoy our wealth while they struggle to survive. It’s a matter of perspective. How easy it is to place the emphasis on scarcity rather than abundance.
In this parable from Matthew, the master entrusts his wealth, the talents, to his servants. The servants who used their talents wisely and increased them are invited to experience the joy of the master, that is, the joy of the feast that is self-giving, sharing, being distributed into the world. In this sense the interest gained on the talents is like the hundred-fold that the disciple receives when he or she gives everything away to follow Jesus
But one of the servants didn’t see the abundance that was his.
If we consider the parable as a parable of invitation, perhaps this third servant’s plight takes on a different perspective. If the master is continually inviting us into superabundance, grace, and joy (which is nothing other than being invited into discipleship) then the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the third servant is not able to hear or accept the invitation. The third servant has not only hidden the talent, he has buried himself. The third servant is not so much condemned by the master as condemned by himself to a place, a life that knows not joy but darkness and wailing and grinding of teeth. This place, as such a life, is self-created.
For those who believe God to be gracious, giving, and forgiving; to them God is that. For those who believe God to be hard, demanding, and judgmental; to them God is that. While I certainly don't believe that God is created by our own images of God, I do think that our inadequate beliefs sometimes shape how we view God and his activity in our lives, and thus how we understand the talents, the great treasure God has given the Church, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By trying to protect it, or save it only for ourselves, we risk losing it, and thus it is diminished.
When one person shares the light of a candle with another person, the first person’s light isn’t diminished in any way. Rather there is now twice as much light in the place. Could not the same thing be said of sharing love? Or sharing the Gospel? Of sharing our talents, the abundance that God gives us? Our ability to love is never diminished by sharing it. The power of the Gospel is never diminished by proclaiming it. And the joy in using our talents for the sake of Jesus and his Church in the world is never diminished by giving them away. They only increase - a hundred-fold, seventy-fold, thirty-fold. Rather than bemoan our scarcity, let us celebrate and bear witness to our abundance! And God has blessed us, and continues to bless us, abundantly.