Counting our Days, not our Gifts25th Sunday after Pentecost
For the third week in a row in our Gospel reading, Jesus is getting closer and closer to his crucifixion. Every year at this time, I wonder why we focus on Jesus’ teaching before his death and then immediately turn to the waiting period of Advent. Maybe it is because we need to look at the end and how Jesus prepared his followers so that we can better understand the significance of our Advent wait. We are two weeks away from opening that door again. What are we waiting for?
Jesus tells a story to teach the disciples. A wealthy man is going on a journey. He summons three men who work for him and entrusts them to manage his wealth in his absence. He gave to the first one five talents, to the second one he gave two talents and to the third, one talent. In this culture, “talent” has a monetary designation. One talent was equal to 15 years of earnings by a day labourer. So, five talents were equal to 75 years of earnings, two talents, thirty years. Each of these three servants were privileged to have responsibility for great wealth.
When the master returned, he wanted to know how the men had managed such a large sum of money. The one that had responsibility for the most had doubled what had been entrusted to him. The same with the second man who also doubled what he had been given. The owner said to these two, “Good work, you did your job well, from now on be my partner.”
Then he called in the final one, who hem-hawed and said, “Well I knew that you were a harsh man, and I was afraid I might disappoint you. So, I hid your money where I knew it would be safe. So here is what you entrusted to me, and I return all of it to you.
All three men were trusted by their master and were responsible for a portion of his wealth. It is easy to rush past the first two men’s investments. They are the “A” students in our day, they did well. We give them their reward and then rush to the “problem child,” the one who didn’t perform as expected. We fall into judging each of them and determining their worth. Give all three credit for being chosen and trusted.
Consider that we have been entrusted with what God values most; each of us are given gifts according to our ability. I may have five gifts or two or only one. I may be called to do twenty things or one thing. It is my responsibility to use that gift.
This parable isn’t about how much was given but how each was responsible with what he had been given. The third servant was afraid of the owner’s reputation, knowing how he tended to react and respond. The servant reacted with fear instead of trust when he buried the talent. So, is his fear worth it? Did he act too cautiously, unable to risk himself and trust? Maybe we might see ourselves more honestly and ask, where have we not trusted? Where has our lack of trust led us to be stymied by our own fear?
As we learn from the person that had one talent, perhaps the greatest risk of all is to play it safe, to live cautiously. This is indeed what he did, to not be responsible for trusting himself and using his one talent to see what could become of that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that the sin of respectable people is running from responsibility.
So, it was this man’s responsibility to not play it safe, to not give in to his fear. Too often, we have the danger of thinking we are too small, that we are not enough. When we focus on comparing ourselves with others, we diminish what we have been given.
How do we diminish ourselves and feel we are too small to make a difference? How are we giving in to our fear and burying what possibility and opportunity that may be in front of us?
The passage we read from Psalm 90 ends with, “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” In other words, we have the opportunity to take responsibility for this life we have been given and pay attention to how we use our days.
I end with a prayer offered by the Psalmist in verse 17 that follows the verses we read earlier:
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands–
and prosper for us the work of our hands!