Did you hear about the company that makes blank bumper stickers? They’re for people who don’t want to get involved.
Some may laugh, but we know that apathy and complacency are detrimental to growth. If satisfaction is the norm, then movement forward becomes a bit abnormal. Safety is a heightened concern when we speak of national security, but when an organization “plays it safe,” that generally means that stagnation can set in. The same is true with individuals. Not seeking to improve allows a person to move backward. Status quo living is a goal which continues to be harmful to folks. When did mediocrity become an acceptable standard? In any profession, mediocrity is not rewarded, yet not reaching for the stars is unfortunately becoming the rule in our society.
The nice thing about apathy is you don’t have to exert yourself to show you’re sincere about it. That may be the only nice thing about apathy. In our parable, we find that complacency and apathy have no place in the Kingdom’s work.
In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus told parables about the Kingdom of God. He was in his last week of life, and talking to his disciples. Speaking in parables, he was talking about the Kingdom of heaven.
Our text began with a man going on a journey. Jesus was facing the cross; his time was short. He was to die in a few days. This discourse probably happened on the Tuesday or Wednesday before he died on Friday. Jesus was the man going on a journey. He was going to leave the disciples, who in the parable are called the servants. Jesus had entrusted everything to them. He had invested the last three years into this ragtag army, this group which had become his students. The parable was instructive to them as believers; the parable is also instructive to us.
To the first person, the master gave five talents of money; to the second, two talents and to the third only one. The key to the gifts is not the amount, but to the phrase, “each according to his ability.” This is not a parable about finances, although corollaries can certainly be drawn. This stewardship is not as much about money as it is about the intangibles which we have received by God. Can everyone be a great teacher? No. Can everyone play a piano skillfully? No. Can everyone sing harmoniously? No. Does everyone have talents? Yes.
I think this parable is about what God has given us. While some may have been given five talents worth of singing, they may have only been given one talent worth of teaching. While some may have been given five talents worth of listening, they may only have one talent worth of public speaking. Get the picture? You and I know how God has gifted us. We know where God has called us to serve. You and I know our own strengths.
“Play to your strengths” is a phrase used in sports on occasion. If a football team has a great running back, in a big game, they will utilize him in a big way. They will play to their strengths. While in college, I watched Herschel Walker carry the Bulldogs time and time again. The coach, Vince Dooley, played to his strengths. The first time I saw a Georgia-Florida game in person, Hershel ran for more than 200 yards, and UGA won 44-0; that was 1982.
What are your strengths? What are the talents which God has given you? Don’t think about the easy answers. Think about yourself. How has God gifted you? Leadership is a talent. Friendliness is a talent. Hospitality is a talent. Wealth can be a talent too. How are you using your strengths, these talents, for God’s Kingdom?
The persons who had received five and two talents put them to work, and doubled them. Did you notice that the master did not tell the servants to do anything with them? Verse fourteen only indicated that the master entrusted his property to them. What they did was based on their understanding of the master. In the parable, the first two, those who were good stewards of what had been given them, were actually set-up men. Kinda like our modern-day joke-telling. “There was a priest, a rabbi and a Baptist preacher who…” That joke would be about a Baptist preacher. The third person was the punch-line. The same is true about the parable; the emphasis is upon the third person, the servant who was given one talent.
The third man played it safe: he buried his talent hiding it from harm. Uneasy about displaying what the master had given him, fearful of what might happen if he shared his talent, and scared of taking any risk, the man simply buried it.
How tragic to hide what God has given us! How careless we are when we choose to bury the good in us! How regrettable when we allow fear to overshadow what God could do through us, if only we believed.
Burying our talents comes from a variety of reasons. Fear may be the greatest deterrent; risk-taking requires faith, that belief that God will be with us no matter what. Safety and apathy mediocrity and complacency have no place in the Kingdom of God. Sitting on a talent or not using it to the fullest is not why God has given us talents in the first place. God gave us talents to be placed into service in the greatest arenas possible; God gave us talents to be used to their fullest.
Herschel Walker came from Class A Johnson County High School in Wrightsville. It was in the smallest division in the state; my high school played them for the state championship in December 1979. Herschel was a big-time player; he rushed for 302 yards in the state championship game. But he was from a Class A school. Coming from a meager, humble environment, he could have played it safe and gone to a Division II or Division III college program; after all, that is where most players from Class A programs go. To have done so would have been to short-change his career.
Not to use our talents for God or to under-use our talents is to short-change God. Never mind fear or complacency. If you and I have a gift and are not using it, then we are letting God down. If God has given us a great gift, then you and I need to use the gift greatly. Holding back is not pleasing to God.
Likewise, mediocrity should not be rewarded. Just doing enough to get by, setting the bar too low, finding the easy way out is not what God had in mind when we were given talents. If God has given a gift, then we are to use it; not sit on it; not settle for the minimum return; not loaf or take it for granted. In the parable, mediocrity is not what Jesus rewarded.
The master gave the talents, left on a journey, but the master also returned. You and I have been given talents for a reason and for a season. What we have is to be used for the One who created us.
The persons who had received five and two talents each said the same thing. “Master, you entrusted me with some talents which, through your service, have been doubled.”
To which the master replied to both of them “That’s great. What a splendid job you have done. Since I believed in you, I gave you much. Because you have been responsible with what I have given you, I will give you even more responsibility. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Again, these are side-bars to the focus of the parable.
The one who had been given one talent said, “Master, I know you expect much, and I became paralyzed with fear. My fearfulness led me to play it safe, not to risk a loss, and instead I hid your talent.” (Notice the servant called the talent “your talent” recognizing that the talent was given by the master and ultimately belonged to the master.) This servant didn’t take responsibility for what was given him; wasted his opportunity; and wasted his master’s goods. Ultimately, his inactivity reflected on what he actually thought of his master.
Were we given talents for our benefit? No! Every talent we have been given has been given by God, therefore every talent we have is to be used in God’s service. When we minimize what God has given us, when we become complacent with what God has granted us, when we use our talents in achieving mediocre goals, or when we for fear or any other reason bury our talent, we have displeased the Master who endowed us with the talent. Thinking that we can give God back an unused talent is not what God had in mind by bestowing us with the gift. Just offering back to God only what God has been given seems to be contrary to God’s intentions from this parable.
The response of the master was harsh, yet justified; he called the servant wicked and lazy. The least the servant could have done was do something to increase it. Doing nothing was the worst thing the servant could do. As a result, the talent was taken from him and given to the one who was responsible with what had been given.
If we have been given much, which we have, we will be given more if we are good stewards. Again, this is not a parable about finances; God will grant greater blessings of responsibility, if we are accountable with what we have. Our capacity for faith will grow, if we are faithful in today’s circumstances. God wants to advance the Kingdom through us, but if we are unwilling, then God will utilize folks whose devotion results in good works rather than in apathy or complacency.
Did you notice what happened to the servant who buried his talent? Did you pick up on what the master thought of mediocrity and laziness? He lost his talent and then was thrown out into the darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Without the talent, the servant was banished to a painful, unprofitable, un-lived life. The servant was scared of risking and did nothing. Afraid of what the master might do, he did nothing but give the talent back. He didn’t even spend the talent. He buried it so that it would be safe. He gave up,
Some years ago in South America, a crew of Peruvian sailors, heading up the Amazon River, came upon a strange sight. It was like a scene from “The Twilight Zone.” A Spanish ship was anchored off the coast, and all the sailors were stretched out weakly on the deck of the ship. As the Peruvians drew closer, they saw that the Spaniards were in terrible physical condition. They looked the picture of death itself; their lips were parched and swollen. They were literally dying of thirst.
“Can we help you?” shouted the Peruvians.
The Spaniards cried out, “Water! Water! We need fresh water!”
The Peruvian sailors, surprised at this request, told them to lower their buckets and help themselves.
The Spaniards, fearing they’d been misunderstood cried back, “No, no we need FRESH water!” But they received the same reply form the Peruvians to lower their buckets and help themselves. They finally did lower their buckets into the ocean waters and when they brought the buckets on deck, they discovered to their amazement fresh water. They simply had quit trying. There at the mouth of the Amazon River, anchored for days, too far from land to see the coast, but not too far from the mouth of the River, they had fresh water in abundance. Apathy had overtaken them, and they had quit. They were resigned to die when all that was needed was to lower their buckets. (Brett Blair)
Apathy is harmful; the third servant allowed complacency to paralyze him resulting with the dissatisfaction of the master. Was his fear of the unknown greater than his quest to be faithful with what the master had entrusted him? Obviously so.
What prevents you and me from using our God-given talents? What keeps us from hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Is it thinking that we don’t have any talents? Fatigue? Afraid of failure? Comparison–I’m not as talented as so-and-so? What keeps us from faithfully using our talents? A misunderstanding of what it means to be humble? Perceived time-constraints? Complacency and satisfaction with the way things are? Has the church settled for mediocrity so long that a good stewardship of what we have is seemingly out of reach? Has apathy already lulled you and me into the darkness?
What do we need to get us started? A guarantee from God for success? Self-confidence? Re-ordered priorities? Peer support? A personal call from God? Energy? How about the reality that God will always be with us.
A relationship with the master is what motivated the first two servants to double the investment. If apathy, complacency, or mediocrity are words that can describe a person, an attitude, or a person’s stewardship to God, then reflection on one’s relationship with God is in order.
Let’s not settle for the darkness of apathy. Goals are to be set higher than the line labeled mediocrity. The parable instructs us to break through the safety of complacency. The alternative is, like the third servant in the parable, a painful, unprofitable, un-lived life. How we live our life is a direct result of our relationship with the Master; so let us be good stewards of the talents entrusted to us.
If we follow on the steps of Jesus, we will never be accused of being apathetic or complacent. Let’s use our talents in being little Christs; let’s use our talents to act like Christians. AMEN