One of my favorite silent movies is 1924’s The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks. In this The Arabian Nights style adventure I enjoyed the story and was impressed with the color tinting and creative special effects. It was the moral at the end that especially caught my attention. The movie ends with a storyteller in the foreground pointing to the heavens as the hero who has one the Caliph’s daughter head toward the moon on a flying carpet. The stars spell out ‘Happiness must be earned’.
That is a tough moral for Lutheran Christians and our great emphasis on God’s grace. Back when ‘gates of heaven’ jokes were popular the only one I know that featured Lutherans is this:
A Lutheran approached the gates of heaven and said to St. Peter, “You have to let me in. I have not performed one good work.”
The toughness of the parable for us includes Lutheran biblical scholars. In the blue Lutheran Study Bible Augsburg-Fortress publishes the only scholar note for this parable is “It would take a laborer more than fifteen years to earn a talent.” The reader is referred to two other notes that provide the same information. In contrast the following teaching on the judgment of the nations has a note that takes half the column reserved for the scholar’s notes.
The Gospel lesson is Good News. For one it acknowledges that we have different talent and gift mixes. The master in the story divides the 5, 2, and 1 talent given the slaves to utilize in his absence according to their different abilities.
The variety is a good thing. Imagine a congregation where the gift is everyone was a great speaker. There would be some great proclamation but nobody would hear it given everyone using that gift. The result would be chaos. In the parable the persons using the 5 and 2 talents hear the same thing from the master: “Well done good and trusty slave, enter into the joy of your master.”
Except for Super Bowls I have not watched NFL football much the last few years. I am in awe of what they can physically do. Some of the catches, knowing someone is probably going to hit you are truly amazing. If I had worked hard to strengthen myself and increase speed I would have been a below average high school corner back at best. I have a different gift mix. I am glad that I am comfortable serving in some of the situations I have that many people find uncomfortable.
The problem is not differing abilities. The problem of the one servant who buried the talent is he did not use what had been given him. If he had done the interest bearing account route he would have probably received some thanks for at least doing something. If he applied himself within his abilities he would have heard the same praise.
Similarly while our salvation is a gift of God, we are called to use what we have been given to serve God for who graciously has done, is doing, and will continue to do wonderful things for us from salvation to hard times. Surely a kingdom led by one who sacrificed himself as Jesus did for our salvation is worth sharing and applying to our daily living. Salvation and kingdom membership are acts of God’s grace. They call for more than a spiritual ‘couch potato’ response.
Utilizing our gifts is a better way to live within ourselves and towards others. God has created me with talents and gifts I have not always used for God’s kingdom. One talent I am using right now. In my late teens through early adulthood I could be a sarcastic and cynical speaker. I could get a kick arguing things I thought were nonsense either to fluster others or show I could argue different points well. I could say stinging things that wounded some person’s spirits. In time I came to see that was wrong. To not do that I just shut it down. I quit projecting. I spoke like my brother, which is great for intimate conversation, but did not do much for communicating with groups of people. Wiser people taught me the solution to misuse was not no use. Reorienting use of talents was the better option. I have little difficulty projecting in small to medium size worship spaces.
I contrast my deliberately choosing to place an ability on the scrap heap with Tom. He attended the teaching parish I was assigned for 5-10 hours a week while in seminary. He came with an attendant because he had been blinded and his mental capacity had been diminished due to an automobile accident. He could carry on a good conversation and engage with others like making silly bets on Super Bowl outcomes. He had been successful in business. He was able to maintain his home and pay an attendant mornings, evenings and weekends for assistance and transportation because he saved and invested well before the accident. His basic food, shelter and social needs were met and would be for decades.
Still four or five days a week Tom went to work at a firm that did mass mailings for corporations and organizations. He stuffed and sealed envelopes. Tom did this because he needed to make use with the capabilities he could utilize productively for others. Tom lived in Martin Luther’s great insight that all could be a calling from God which should be done well within one’s capabilities. Tom acted with what was left after a major trauma took talents away. Tom was and is an inspiration for me. I hope I can be much like him if I am in a similar situation.
We give thanks for God’s grace in and for life through Jesus Christ. Also we should heed Jesus’ teaching on using what we have been given as our response to such grace. Instead of my father’s voice to me on more than one occasion, “Get off the sofa and do something”, we too will hear “Well done good and trusty disciples, enter into the joy of your Master.” Amen.