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Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 28

Saint Margaret’s

Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

“After a long time, the master of those slaves came…”

Today’s Gospel account is part of the last of the five great Discourses of the Gospel of Matthew, what is essentially a long sermon dealing with the so-called end times and their consequences; dealing in other words with issues of finality, judgment human and divine, risk, stewardship, and vigilance. And of course time and its purpose or end, the most important element of all; and all of which we see clearly in our Lord’s Parable of the Talents which we just heard proclaimed to us.

Now, you may remember that, in biblical terms, a talent is a unit of currency or money, and a rather large unit of money at that; the equivalent, scholars tell us, of an average working person’s earnings over ten or fifteen years; so probably in today’s terms in the neighbourhood of one million pounds or euros, give or take a few pennies or cents.. So an ancient talent was not exactly a coin you would carry around with you in your pocket. After all, it would have weighed some forty or fifty kilos. In any case, a million pounds here and a million dollars there, as they say, and pretty soon you are talking real money.

So, the Master of those slaves or servants in Jesus’ tale was fabulously wealthy. Maybe not Elon Musk wealthy. But wealthy well beyond anything Jesus’s disciples could have imagined. For reasons not explained in the Parable, the Master goes on a long journey and entrusts his wealth to his servants, apparently without any particular instructions about what to do with it. Nevertheless, the first two of the servants double what is entrusted to them by the time the Master returns; the third, preserves capital and not much else.

“After a long time,” Jesus concludes, “the master of those slaves came…” A long time...

But how long exactly is “a long time?” Jesus does not tell his disciples nor us, although it would be helpful, you could argue essential, to know. For, if we assume the Master stayed away, say, ten years, a rather long time for a journey in any day or age, the slaves or servants of the story who doubled their Master’s money would have gained on average a 7.2% rate of return. In other words, even today – mathematics does not change – your investments will double in ten years at this rate of return. This is of course not easy to pull off, though it is also not impossible.

Now, if the Master was away for a mere five years, and his servants still managed to double his investment, then he would be a very happy Master indeed. For, this would mean, by my calculation, a whopping average return of 14.4% per annum, an almost unheard-of rate in any age, even for Warren Buffet. On the other hand, if the Master was away some fifteen or more years, all three servants could have benefited from a good financial planner; and the Master in any case would have had nothing much to celebrate or write home about.

So, let’s say he was away some five years. And by the way, the Master would also have had to figure in the rate of taxation and inflation during his absence. In a way, it is almost no wonder that the third servant simply buried his coin and hoped for the best. Why take risks, he probably reasoned, with someone else’s money…? Sometimes just holding on to what one has is difficult enough. For every tale of fabulous wealth there are ten of loss and bankruptcy.

It is an accident of language that our English word for ability and innate capability, talent, should be a direct etymological descendant of the Greek word talenton, the origin of the financial talent of our Gospel Parable, which has led many a preacher to assert that the underlying message of the Parable of the Talents is that we must use and multiply our own innate talents in order to please the Lord. There may be some truth to this, but I am a bit skeptical.

For one thing, there is really no metric by which to measure our innate talents, much less to double them. They are what they are. Not to mention that such thinking might lead us to believe that we can achieve God’s pleasure by our own actions and activity, an idea Saint Paul would surely frown upon. As he explains in our second Reading this morning from his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us…” It is Christ’s merit, not our own, which brings salvation and God’s pleasure.

So what then…? What are we to invest in the time we have…? What are we to double the value of…? Of what exactly are we the stewards…? Good questions: Questions scholars have pondered probably ever since the Gospel of Matthew was first written. But if you ask me, it cannot be that we double anything of ourselves or even our self-worth. What we invest; what we double is not our own talent, so to speak. It is rather the grace of God at work within us. And in some ways by human standards , that is the most risky investment of all.

Yet in God’s upside-down economy, it is also the only road to riches, the only path to the abundance of God’s grace, grace beyond all measure and metrics, grace at work in our lives. That would seem to be the message of today’s Parable. But alas the only way we can achieve such fabulous spiritual wealth is by putting everything we have and are at risk. In other words, by giving it all away. If life itself is risky, so is being a Christian. After all, God is the biggest risk-taker of all.

How else explain creation, of which we are a part…? How else explain the Incarnation? How else explain the Cross…? In Christ, God risked his very divinity for our sake. Has the investment paid off? Another good question; one each of us must answer for ourselves. Or better yet, ask God. But when you measure what has been freely given us by such a profligate God, even a one-hundred percent, or a thousand percent, rate of return must seem like small change indeed.


The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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