Increasing the Master’s treasure

Matthew 25:14-28

Go ahead, read it. I used to avoid it. In fact, this story used to baffle me. I never knew how to fit the God that I read about (“the Master” in the story) to what I had personally known of God. The Master of the parable indeed seemed like one who should be feared–throwing a servant “into outer darkness” for a financial mishap based on his simple human fear? Taking away someone’s money because they don’t really have any? But I had experienced God as loving and merciful and patient.

Then I learned to ask this question: “What is God’s treasure?”

We know God does not value money the way that we sometimes do. The scripture says that loving it is the root of all evil, and that we can’t serve both God and money.

God himself says “the world is mine, and all that is in it.” The God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (psalm 50) and the money in a thousand banks is not phased because his servant buried some cash in a coffee can in the yard instead of putting it in the stock market. After all, the coffee can isn’t looking so bad to some of us right now, and we don’t think God’s upset with us about it.

Then someone suggested to me that the talents can’t be taken at face value. That they may not represent money. Or….talents (spiritual or natural propensities). What can they represent then?

Well, here’s something that figures highly among what God treasures: people! When we insert this key into the parable, watch it unfold richly:

The Master entrusts his treasure (people) to his servants according to their abilities. And at some point the servants are called to give an account for what they have done with the people they are given.

His most able servant takes responsibility for and takes a risk with the people entrusted to him and brings an increase in their lives. The Master says: ‘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!’

The next servant also brings an increase in the lives of those under his care and receives the same reward.

The servant who was trusted with the least had fear in his heart due to some false beliefs about the Master. He understood the Master to be, well, a meany, and apparently a thief. I don’t think this servant realized that what he held ultimately belonged to the Master. In any case, he was afraid to take a risk with what was entrusted to him, and he buried it. At the end of the journey this treasure was the same as it was at the beginning: no better, no worse.

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant…’ (verse 26)

‘…Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (verses 28-30)

When I let my mind slip back to thinking of money as the treasure, it’s hard for me to reconcile the harsh rebuke that follows this lack of stewardship with a loving, merciful God. I want to say “come on, God. They’re just coins. Do you really care about them that much?” But then I think about people.

I have a daughter named Ellie. She is my treasure and the joy of my heart. I am so proud of her. The little things she does that show me her heart fill me up with admiration. She loves to share. When she tastes something good she holds it out to whomever is near (then sometimes she pulls it away as if to say “psych!”). She loves to be outside, no matter how cold it is. When the wind blows hard she laughs.

It is my goal that my daughter leave my house with an increase in who she is. That she would be better for her years with me. The same with my wife, Laurie. I want her to arrive at 50 years together more centered, more alive, more free, and even more beautiful than she is now.

Ellie came from Laurie and I, but she’s a distinct person, and that is a mystery to behold. It’s not as though we created her by our wisdom–that’s just laughable! No, parents take part as co-creators with the Creator in something much bigger and more timeless than their part of it.

Ellie ultimately belongs to the Master. Yet he has entrusted her to me for a time, and so she is mine.

What would be more wicked and lazy than me acting like she’s not mine? I have been given some years to bring an increase in who she is. Wow. What a better gift to receive than money is the gift of trust. Not only am I entrusted with overseeing her physical and mental nourishment and growth; I am to take the things that life throws at her and help turn them into character in her. It’s one of my main jobs to help her understand who she really is, and what her place is in my heart and in her Heavenly Father’s.

If i buried her in neglect and did none of these things, I would deserve much more than a rebuke. I would be a criminal!

In the world we understand this. Children are taken from “worthless” parents (hey, it’s in the scripture) all the time and hopefully put in the hands of someone who knows how to be faithful with a little and bring an increase.

This understanding applies not only to our natural families, but I believe is the essential in all of our relating to one another in the God’s Kingdom. Notice that the Master sees fit to bring an increase of what is entrusted to us when we show our ability to be faithful with a little: “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!”

The Master’s happiness is not found in the scale of our influence, but in the scale of our faithfulness, love, and the room in our hearts for our people.

To build something that looks like a successful ministry in mens’ eyes (revenue, notoriety, buildings, decibel levels, etc.) does not automatically bring an increase in people. To bring an increase in people is a successful ministry.

Whether our non-optional full-time ministry is vocational or something that happens in the context of our coming and going as a teacher, plumber, doctor, trash collector, mom, backpacking guide, software developer, stranger, or rock star, here are some broad questions that we should ask ourselves to help realign us with the Master’s priorities:

– What does it mean to “have” someone (as in verse 29)?

– Who has been entrusted to my care as a treasure?

– What risks can I take so they may experience an increase?

– Who do I personally look to for care? Do they know that I expect something of them? They will be able to care for me better when they do.

December 29, 2008