“There can be no religion without adventure” – reflection on Matthew 25.14-30, Rev Adrian Jones
This is a familiar parable for many of us, “The Parable of the Talents”, and at one level there is a straightforward understanding of what it might be teaching us: God gives us all different gifts and we are called to exercise them in his service, however much or little we think we have.
When we also remember though, that Jesus gives us parables to prompt questions, to disturb as much as encourage, and to get us thinking and talking (even arguing) about God and ourselves, then we must also look for the buried treasure here as well as all that is more obvious.
Even before this we ought to remember the context of the parable and what Jesus is talking about when he gives us this story. At the start of Matthew chapter 25 Jesus says “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like….” so we can see that our parable is about God’s Kingdom. Then what about “at that time….” ? Again if we read back in Matthew, we see that this whole section is about ‘the end times’ when Jesus will return in triumph and judgement. We can see then that our parable carries overtones of preparation and warning as well as encouragement to keep the faith through hardship.
Looking at the parable itself, a good place to start is with the awkward questions that it raises for us, such as:
- If the rich man gave out his money to the servants “each according to their ability” then surely he already knew what the last servant would do with his one bag?
- Equally, the first two servants only did what the master had expected of them… so did they deserve a reward?
- The Master was known to be a ‘hard man’, taking what he hadn’t worked for and perhaps had no right to take…. does Jesus want us to see God like this?
- The third servant was scared of the Master, and the rich man’s response to him suggests he was right to be! Is Jesus saying we should base what we do on the fear of God’s response?
There is a lot we could discuss together about such questions, and that of course is what Jesus intended! I believe we learn best about God and ourselves when we do it together. Given our current need for brevity however, let me just add a few thoughts.
As this parable comes within a larger passage about the coming end times and judgement, it may be fair to see it as carrying some warning about our personal responsibility for what we do with our own ‘bags of gold’ – but Jesus consistently talks about the love of God and his acceptance of us, despite our flaws and mistakes…. so it may be more helpful to see the Master of the parable as a contrast to God.
Earthly ‘masters’ are likely, as the parable suggests, to take whatever they can, from wherever and whosoever they can – one danger of ‘the end times’ is that we may be lured into going along with this sort of behaviour, even into sharing it’s rewards.
Lastly, although the Master gives according to ability there is no sense in the Gospels that God holds back on his generosity – quite the opposite! Jesus often says ‘How much more will God….’ and St Paul’s expectation is that God ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine’. God it seems, gives to us without such limits as our ability.
One commentator, William Barclay, thinks that this parable tells us “there can be no religion without adventure”. Can we dare to believe that being adventurous, even risky, with all the blessings and good things that God gives us is the way to live in his Kingdom? Perhaps the way of Jesus is to put aside our human security and to throw everything in with God.