Courage in the Face of Comfort
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30
I’m going to be very honest and tell you that, at first glance, this parable really rubs me the wrong way. First off, obviously, is the issue of slaves and their extraordinarily wealthy master. I don’t think I need to tell anyone here just how loaded the word “slave” is in our American culture. I don’t need to tell you that we’re still wrestling with the effects of slavery, especially since we as a country have never fully confessed or repented of that evil.
Second, I’m not sure if I’m really into the economic message here. The two slaves—who from here on out I will refer to as servants—are given a ridiculous amount of money to tend to while their boss—because I won’t be saying master anymore—goes out of town. In that time, one talent was worth 15 years of the average wage. So if we translate that into Gresham’s current average annual income of $48,000, one talent would equal around $715,000.
The good news in this parable is that the boss must have A LOT of trust in his servants. Because, if we stick with the modern numbers, he gives the first servant five talents, or nearly $3.6 million. He gives the second $1.4 million and the third the $715,000, which is still not a small number.
But the story tells us that the first two servants go out on the trading floor and double the boss’s money. We’re not told how—what risks they took, whether they did it honestly, or how long it took. We just know that a guy who was already incredibly wealthy got even wealthier on the backs of his servants. So of course the boss is happy and as a reward he puts them in charge of more of his wealth.
But the third servant, he doesn’t really want to make more money for the boss, but he also doesn’t want to cheat him. That servant buries his one talent in a hole for safe-keeping until the boss gets back. He doesn’t lose any of the boss’s money, but he doesn’t make any more money for him, either. And the boss is livid. He calls the servant wicked and lazy and throws him out.
The lesson here: double your rich boss’s money or he’ll ruin your life. Straight out of Jesus’s mouth.
But maybe that’s not it. Maybe Jesus is trying to tell us something else—something else about what wealth is and where it comes from and how we use it.
We know that the parables Jesus told were not really about wheat and weeds or bridesmaids or talents. The parables are always actually talking about three things: who God is, who we are, and how God is calling us to live. This story is not about money, it’s about how we use what God gives us.
First: let’s talk about what this parable says about who God is. God is our creator, and God is a generous creator. God gives us each a huge portion of profound gifts, ways to fill this world with joy and beauty and love. Ways to create glimpses of God’s kingdom. And yes, God gave us each a little something different, just as the boss gave each of the servants a little something different. “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” Paul writes.
Which leads us to what this parable says about who we are. We are beings filled with the gifts God gave us, God’s power latent in us every moment, ready to burst forth. We are filled with God’s power to create a new world.
And I think you’d be surprised by the ways God’s gifts manifest. Just in the past week, I’ve worked with people creating God’s kingdom through their skills in accounting and law. Through their love of gardening. Through tending to those who are sick. Through speaking out on behalf of those who are oppressed or vulnerable.
I bet you already have an idea of what those gifts look like in you.
But what I think is most interesting about this particular parable is how Jesus is saying we should be using these gifts God gave us. In this parable, two of the servants take what the boss gave them, and they go into the world, and they double those gifts.
We can take the great bounty God has given us and make more of it. We can take whatever it is God has given us to create joy and beauty and love, and we can double it. And I don’t think this means we need to work twice as hard. I think the servants were just doing what they knew they were supposed to be doing. We create God’s kingdom simply by living into the gifts God gave us. But I also think those servants had to take some risks. No one doubles their investment without some risk. And we don’t step into our gifts without risk.
The risk of the world seeing us, the risk of the world knowing us, the risk of the world finding out exactly what we’re each capable of when we step into all that God has given us. The risk of people misunderstanding or ridiculing or misusing that gift.
It can be scary. It’s tempting to stay where it’s safe.
Do you know what’s safe? Hiding our gifts in a hole like that third servant did with his talent. Locking it away where there’s no risk of losing, but also no risk of growing. Keeping things exactly as they are, because that’s what you know. It’s what’s comfortable.
This parable is about courage. The courage to use the gifts God gave you. Not courage in the face of fear, but courage in the face of comfort.
When God calls to us to step into our gifts, do we risk it or do we stay where we feel safe, where there’s no risk, where it’s comfortable?
I think this is particularly important right now—when the world feels so uncertain. We need each other and our different gifts more than ever. Your family needs your gifts. Your community needs your gifts. This world needs your gifts. Whatever those gifts are—even if they seem small and inconsequential, this world needs them—because we will never know the reach of our actions, we will never know the full impact of our lives on this world.
All we can do is live faithfully, follow the way Jesus calls us to, and trust that every time we step into our gifts, we are weaving in our little thread of God’s kingdom. Amen.