April 6, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Master, you handed over to me five talents; see I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’
Matthew 25:20b-21 (NRSV)
How we imagine God affects how we work. We began this series with a reflection on the Parable of the Talents that focused on the negative effects of a distorted perception of God’s character on our work. As a corrective, we then reflected in turn on how God is compassionate, gracious, and abounding in love and faithfulness. I conclude this series by returning to the Parable of the Talents to see how such a vision of God results in fruitful work in our lives.
The inescapable conclusion of the biblical creation story is that life is the good gift of a good God. Like our archetypal ancestors, Adam and Eve, we did not create ourselves. Our very being – our physicality and our spirituality, our capacity to think, to feel, to create and to work – is God’s gift to us. And, like the primal Garden of Eden, we did not create the world in which we work. Soil and sky, day and night, all creatures great and small; they are God’s good gifts. They remind us – or they should remind us – that our work take place in the gracious generosity that is God’s garden.
In today’s text, Jesus masterfully reframes the gift of human stewardship using economic rather than agricultural imagery. It is a helpful reimagining of the Genesis story for our generation. The essential question of the parable is this: what will God receive on the investment in our lives? What will we make of our stewardship of God’s good gift?
Several aspects of the text provide us helpful insights. “You handed over to me” is one healthy beginning to our understanding of God and our human vocation. The Greek word for the phrase “handed over” is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the stewardship and transmission of the gospel through faithful witnesses (for examples, see Luke 1:2 and 1 Corinthians 15:3). It reminds us of the significance and importance of what has been entrusted to us in our work. Jesus’ use of this word in the context of a story about financial stewardship intimates that the ordinary work of our lives is no less important than the transmission of the gospel from generation to generation.
The other telling phrase is, “I have made … more.” From the beginning, God’s intention for humanity was to “multiply” (Genesis 1:28, NRSV). In this parable, stewards that fulfilled their Master’s trust doubled (literally multiplied) what had been given them. God’s vocational mandate for human beings calls us to be net contributors, not net consumers. Fundamental to life’s purpose is to create, to take the gift of our life and circumstances and make something “more” from it. In that sense, we are not just here to protect or preserve what we have. To put it modern investment terms, God is not interested merely in “capital preservation.”
Perhaps surprisingly, this parable underscores God’s willingness to take significant risks, and God’s expectation of us to do likewise so that we can fulfill our stewardship. When I started my work as an entrepreneur, I was concerned about my risk-taking capacity. I had worked all my life in a large organization with a relatively stable income. I had a young, growing family and a stay-at-home spouse. Much of my experience suggested I might be fairly risk-averse. So I was surprised at how easy it was to take risks when they were necessary. I learned that healthy risk-taking is driven, not by thrill-seeking, but by doing what is needed to fulfill a creative vision.
This parable reminds us of God’s abundant generosity, not only in the beginning but also in the end. The reward for our stewardship is entirely disproportionate to our accomplishments. Instead of being given a “few” more to manage, we are given “many” more. C. S. Lewis said it well: “All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the tile page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (The Last Battle)
What matters now is our attention to what we’ve been entrusted in the present. Some of us are at the height of our careers, at the height of our powers. Others are at the beginning of our vocational journey, where much is promised yet unfulfilled. Some of us are nearer the end of our journey than the beginning, where our lives and gifts appear more fragile and uncertain. Wherever and whenever we find ourselves, the challenge is to be “trustworthy in a few things.” As someone has wisely said, the challenge of this life is not in doing great things, but in doing small things with great love. May that be true of us. And, may we hear our Master Jesus say to us on that Last Day: “Well done. . .you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.”
Something to Think About:
In the context of your life and work, what does it mean for you to be “trustworthy in a few things?”
Something to Do:
Take time today to pray and journal about what you want to do in this next week that reflects God’s compassion, grace, love and faithfulness.
Lord Jesus Christ, by your Spirit form in us the unmistakable marks of God’s character: compassion, grace, love and faithfulness. Embolden us to be faithful risk-takers and multiply the stewardship you have entrusted to us. We ask for your glory and for the greater good of the Creation you have made. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.