I had a bit of déjà vu the other day. I was going to Lexington to the Regional Assembly, traveling on US 60 between Frankfort and Versailles, when I noticed a state trooper coming up behind me with the blue lights flashing. Thankfully, he passed me by, but it reminded me of the time when, on the same stretch of road about fifteen years ago, a state trooper pulled me over for speeding. It was very early in the morning and I was on my way to Central Baptist Hospital to see someone before their surgery.
The difficult part of the entire encounter with the trooper was the way he asked me questions, basically asking them in a way that required me to admit my guilt. His first question, after taking my registration, license, etc, was Mr. Charlton, did you not notice that I was following you for at least a mile with my lights on? I didn’t think it was fair to expect me to answer a question that would incriminate me, but to not offer an answer didn’t help my situation any. His next question was, do you know how fast you were going? Again, I didn’t think it was fair to ask me a question that would make my guilt obvious. I didn’t actually know how fast I was going, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to say that I knew my speed within a particular range. I knew I had been speeding; I just didn’t know how fast I happened to be going. It turns out I didn’t need to do, as he had clocked my speed with his radar gun. My speed was 82, in a 55 mph zone. That’s when matters quickly got worse, because his next question was, Mr. Charlton, did you know that when you are more than 25 mph over the sped limit I’m supposed to revoke your license on the spot. I did not know that, and I wish he hadn’t told me. But then I suddenly had a flash of hope when he moved on to his next question, which was, where in the world are you going in such a hurry at this early hour? I have never played the minister card when pulled over by a state trooper or a police officer. I have minister friends who have clergy stickers on their cars and clergy cards in their wallet with their driver’s licenses. I don’t do that, but it occurred to me that I had an opening. I told the officer that a member of my church is having surgery at Central Baptist Hospital this morning, and I promised here that I would have a word of prayer with her before the surgery. I was feeling much better at that point. Surely he would let me go, seeing as how I was so badly needing to get on to the hospital to pray for this dear woman. My hope quickly diminished when he asked his next questions, which was, this surgery; was it scheduled or is it an emergency. To be honest, it had been scheduled for a number of weeks, but I wanted to proclaim that it’s looking more and more like an emergency!
The officer did not let me go without a ticket, but he did give me a break. He did not take my driver’s license and he recommended me to traffic school, allowing me to earn back the points I would lose because of the ticket. Although I should have been grateful, but as I drove away I found myself grumbling about the fact that I had received a ticket. But here’s the thing – that’s what state troopers do, that is their nature, to stop speeding drivers, so why should I have expected anything different?
As we turn to our Scripture passage this morning, I want us to think about Knowing God; that is, what it means to know the nature of God. In a moment I will read a parable that is often misunderstood. It is a parable that speaks to us about knowing the nature of God. The parable is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. I will read the version presented in Luke’s gospel.
Luke 19:11-26 –
11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.
12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.
13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.
21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?
23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
I chose the version from Luke to read this morning because Matthew’s version is one that is easier to misunderstand. Allow me to explain what I mean when I use the word misunderstand. Matthew’s version uses the word talent, leading us to generally refer to the passage as the parable of the talents. When we hear the word talent we define that word as an ability or skill, but that is not at all what the word means, at least not in this context. The word talent, in the day of Jesus, was a measurement of currency, not a reference to an ability or a skill. In Luke’s version of the parable the word mina is used. A mina was a measurement of weight, which became a measurement of currency as well. Depending upon the type of precious metal that was used in a coin, the weight would assign the value of the coin. Reading Luke’s version, with his use of the word mina instead of talent, we are a bit less likely to misunderstand the passage.
So for this morning, let’s forget about most of the sermons and studies you have heard from this parable, as most of the time they miss the real point of the passage. It’s not that they were wrong in the sense that they gave erroneous information as much as they did not provide the most accurate information. Most of those sermons and lessons provided good and helpful information, but they probably did not offer the real point of the parable in this week’s Scripture passage.
This is not a passage about practicing good stewardship, at least not in its primary meaning. There are plenty of passages in Scripture that tell us of the importance of good stewardship but that is not the point of this passage. Neither is this a passage about wise investing, as is often taught. Wise investing is important and prudent advice, but that is not the primary point of this parable.
The point of this parable is the ability to understand the true nature of God. There are a number of secondary interpretations that are valid to make – such as using our talents wisely, being a good investor, etc. – but it is important that we understand the real point of the passage. The real message of this parable comes in verses 22 and 23, in the words you knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
There it is – the servant, knowing the nature of his master, did not do what his master expected of him. The master expected the servant to use the money entrusted to him in order to earn more money for his master’s bank account. Thus, the point of the parable is not about investing what God gives to us as much as it is understanding God’s nature and, because we understand his nature, doing what he expects of us.
I think it is safe to say God expects the same of us. God’s kingdom, though present and visible in some ways, has obviously still not fully arrived. God wants us, however, to be about his business, doing the work of his kingdom. If we understand God’s nature we will understand that is what he is about – bringing about his kingdom.
So I want to ask three questions related to this passage and the work of God’s kingdom, and I’m going to put it in the singular –
1. What does God expect of me?
I believe, first of all, he expects us to be faithful.
The king in this parable was gone for an undetermined amount of time, but he expected his servants to be faithful in the task with which they were charged. The context of this parable is told to us in verse 1, and it is an important context – because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. Jesus was telling his followers that the kingdom of God was not going to suddenly appear, as if by magic, and because it was not, they needed to be faithful in doing the work of God’s kingdom. This is what God would expect of them.
As I move further and further into life I look at many things differently. My expectations are different. My hopes are different. What I want out of life is different. When it comes to thinking about reaching the end of life – which I hope is still a long way off – what I hope most of all is to remain faithful; faithful to God and faithful to the call he has placed upon my life.
My faith has always meant a great deal to me, and it is one of the absolutely great gifts of my life. My mom and dad provided many things for my siblings and me, but as I look back I am most grateful that they raised me in faith. I am extremely thankful they did.
Paul was a mentor to Timothy, both in faith and in ministry, and in II Timothy 4:7-8 he writes those immortal words I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. Paul wanted to be faithful, and he was, to the very end.
2. What am I doing?
This is not a question of vocation. We ask many, many questions related to our vocations. In fact, we probably obsess over vocation more than we should, and we think less about our mission and purpose in life. The question is, what am I doing for God’s kingdom. And that’s not just a question for a minister or an elder; it’s a question for anyone who claims to know God.
We can look to the life of Jesus and find plenty of examples of what we should be going. What did Jesus do? How did Jesus treat people? When we examine the life of Jesus we find a template for what we should be going.
Sometimes, we sell ourselves far too short. We tell ourselves that we don’t have any ability or gifts and that we don’t have much with which to work, but we all have some resource. Some have many, some have fewer, but it doesn’t matter what resource it is or how great or small it may seem. It doesn’t matter. At all. We all have an ability. We all have something we can offer.
Where am I investing my life? What am I doing with my life? Am I simply wandering through life, working through the week and then occupying myself on the weekend with some entertainment? Life is so much more.
3. What should I be doing?
What am I doing and what should I be doing are two very different perspectives. Take a few minutes this week and put these two questions at the top of a sheet of paper – what am I doing? What should I be doing? How well does our life match up with what we say is important to us?
All of us are very busy. All of us are doing a lot. But what should we be doing? Are we doing what we are called to do?
Knowing what we know of God’s nature, are we being faithful?