Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝
Remember when the workers in the vineyard were paid their wages at the end of the day? No matter how long they worked, or how much of the heat of the day they endured, they all received the same coin. That parable meant that no matter how great our differences of abilities and service in God’s kingdom, we’re all granted the same salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
Today’s parable of the talents has a notable difference from that, doesn’t it? Here Jesus teaches from the opposite angle. Here, the master of the household doesn’t give equal shares to his servants. One gets five talents—a huge amount—of money. One gets two and the last gets one. He gives according to their ability. They’re all equally his servants. They’re all equally in the household. But while the master is away, they have different abilities and responsibilities; so the master has different expectations for each one. Our Master, Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and He’s coming back in glory at the end. As Christians, you are all equally His servants, and equally in the household of God. You are equally forgiven, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all your sin. In the meantime, as you await His return, He has different callings and plans for each of you. And because He gives you certain callings and responsibilities, He entrusts you with talents, what you need to get the job done. It’s all part of the plan to keep the world in order and the body of Christ going until the Last Day.
Different people will have different callings for the good of all, by God’s design. This applies to all sorts of things. Some will have more money and others will have less. Some will have more talent and others will have less. God doesn’t make us identical, but He gives us various gifts. Together, we make up the body of Christ.
We sinners take this truth, however, and it discourages us. We sum it up this way: life isn’t fair. Yes, if you must push me to admit it, life isn’t fair, and people are different because God made them that way. This is hardly profound, but it’s part of the parable. Jesus adds this, too: to whom much is given, much will be expected. If God has given you much, then you are a steward of much and you’re called to exercise that stewardship faithfully. If you are blessed with abundant wealth, then it is given to you to use that wealth wisely. If it is abundant talent, then it is given to you to make use of that talent according to God’s will. It’s given to be used within your callings in service to others, and in service to God.
This should be good news. This should all be a great comfort from this parable. For one thing, you’re already in the house—you’re not trying to earn your way in. You’re part of the family of faith, not because of what you’ve done with what you’ve got, but because Jesus has already redeemed you. That’s Good News. God has given you what you need to accomplish what you need to do. This doesn’t always mean that things will go easily according to
your plan. Life might be very difficult, as the Lord teaches you to trust in Him, and not in the abilities He’s given you. There will be failures along the way, there will also be times when you learn what you’re not suited for, how God’s gifts to you don’t match up with what you were hoping to do. Frustrating as it can be, it’s part of discovering what God has shaped you to do, and not to do.
What matters is, you belong to the Lord. Until Christ’s return on the Last Day, He has plans for you. And because He has different plans for different people, He gives different talents and gifts to different people. All of this is designed for the good of all, as each uses what he has—and who he is—in service to those around him. Here’s the problem, though. As sinners, we don’t see God’s careful planning and entrusting as wise or good. Instead, we often resent it and we resent God. We, or the people we are trying to impress, are seldom happy with who God has made us to be.
Rather than give thanks for what you are by God’s design, you’ll be tempted to focus on what you aren’t. Dissatisfaction and discontent are two big temptations for the devil. And not only will you be dissatisfied with who you are, but in jealousy you may also resent who God has made others to be.
And when people find something about themselves that they do like, what is the temptation? Self-centered pride. Rather than give thanks to God for the gift and use it in service to others, the big temptation will be to use it in service to yourself, to gather recognition, power, wealth and a sense of superiority.
Or you may not want to use the talents that you have, reasoning that to do so would take too much time or be embarrassing or below your status. Or, another of the devil’s tricky temptations: you’ll be tempted to covet especially what the world glorifies, which may not be at all the greatest gifts for service in the household of faith. Physical beauty and strength are well-known idols. Riches are another attractive god, yet even some who have amassed a great amount of things are not content with them. You and I will also be tempted to covet those showy things every day. All of this is true, and it’s not good. But none of this pride or resentment or jealousy or discontent or coveting is the worst part.
For when you resent who you are, or resent what God has entrusted to you to take care of, you actually accuse God. It’s more serious than a self-esteem problem. You are saying God is messing up in what He has given. By thoughts, words and actions, you say that He isn’t wise, that He doesn’t know what He’s doing, that He’s untrustworthy. That is where discontent leads—to the accusation that God is not to be trusted, that He’s not compassionate like He tells us He is. What next? When a sinner thinks that God is not compassionate, then he concludes that God is a hard master. A sinner isn’t going to want to serve a God who reaps where He didn’t sow. Resenting all that God has done for him, he’ll harden his heart and deny that God has given him anything. That’s what happens to the servant with the one talent in the parable. He’s the only one who thinks the master is a hard man, and so he does nothing with what the master has given him. By failing to use what the master has entrusted to him, he’s effectively saying, “I don’t want to be your servant anymore.”
That is where the devil’s temptations ultimately lead. That’s his goal, to get you to resent God’s gifts for you and others until you say, “This is a hard God. I don’t want to belong to Him.” It would not be God who has become hard, but your heart instead. You would be opting for the outer darkness, for weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So, what’s the solution? It’s not just telling yourself to try to be more thankful and helpful. It’s repentance. Repentance begins with confessing the resentment that your heart feels toward God for what He hasn’t given to you and for what He has given to others. It includes confessing envy, jealousy, coveting, thanklessness and discontent, along with all other sins that would lead you to doubt God’s mercy, to portray Him as a hard master just because He opposes your sinful will.
But then there’s more. When you realize that staying out of His household is not a good idea, then your repentance is met with the Lord’s absolution—you are assured as you are today that you are forgiven for all of these sins all because of what Jesus has done. And here is what Jesus has done for you. For you and for your salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. According to His human nature, He became a specific person with a specific appearance—and, says Isaiah, a plain and unremarkable appearance. According to His human nature, He took on weaknesses and frailties of man. He could be weary, hungry, sad … bruised and wounded. But rather than resent those limitations or envy others, He remained without sin, using His humanity fully in service to those around Him—and fully in service to all the world.
That service led Him to the cross. There, He was the object of anger, wrath and resentment. They sought His death by the cruelest of means. He submitted to that—not because He was powerless against them, but because He was there to suffer God’s judgment for sin. For theirs and yours.
Risen from the dead, your Savior comes to you. By His Word and Supper, He continues to forgive you all of your sins, keeping you clothed in His righteousness and strengthened in the one true faith. Because of His cross and His grace, you can be sure of this: it is God who made you to be who you are. It is God who has entrusted you with gifts and abilities for service, and it is God who still preserves you and your stewardship. He uses your strengths and your weaknesses for your good, as well as the good of others. Because of the cross, you can be certain that God works this for your good, and not for evil. Because of the cross, you’re set free from resentment and envy and discontent and the rest of those temptations that would harden your heart toward Him.
And when you’re tempted again, you repent again; and His grace is sufficient for you.
Dear friends, rejoice. The Lord has made you who you are for service where He has placed you. Until He comes again, that means there will be inequality in the eyes of man. But what the world calls inequality, unfairness, the Lord calls suitability—indeed, He has suited and equipped you for the things He would have you do in service to your neighbor and in service to Him. And while those gifts may be various and unequal in our eyes for service in this world, His grace is the same for all. In other words, no matter what the Lord has entrusted to you for this life—great or small, you can be sure of this: you are a saint in the household, sealed with baptism’s forgiveness.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.