United for a Purpose – Each According to Their Ability, Matthew 25:14-30

Preacher:         Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Location:         First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale         

Date:               November 15, 2020

         The scene is being set for Jesus’ final days alive. Previously, we have seen Jesus in the Temple having rounds with the religious leaders, scholars, and politicians as they continued to pepper him with questions in order to trap him in his own words.  Well, the scene has changed.  After silencing those officials, Jesus has left the Temple and has descended down a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem and then hiked up a road through an ancient Jewish cemetery to the Mount of Olives which sits across from the Temple Mount on the east. It is most likely the same road he came down a week later riding a donkey on his entry back into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday which in Matthew’s story-time is only a week away.

         Jesus gathers this crowd of disciples and ends his teaching ministry by telling stories of what the disciples can expect in the future.  They are unsettling stories because they are stories of God’s judgement and are a call for the people to be ready to meet their God. Last week, we heard Nic speak of story of the ten bridesmaids and how some were left out of the festivities because they were not prepared with enough lamp oil. Jesus follows up that story with ours today from Matthew 25:14-30.  Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘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 into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two 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 into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’[1]

This has never been one of my favorite stories in scripture to be honest. Every time I hear it I cringe a bit as the tone of the parable sounds so unlike the meek and mild, loving Jesus we’ve met in the Gospel thus far.  He sounds harsh and dare I say, a little mean, in today’s text. Casting that poor guy out into the darkness where’s the weeping and pain. Calling him wicked and lazy? Ouch! I always thought that it was a bit of an overreaction for the slave owner to do that to a servant who guarded his master’s money and didn’t lose any of it. What is Jesus trying to say to you and me? What’s he warning us of?

A venture capitalist gathers her three-vice presidents into the board room.  “I’m going away for a while and I want you to handle my money and investments while I’m gone. I’m going to split my portfolio into thirds according to the ability each of you have demonstrated and I want you to care for the portion you have.” One invests her money and doubles it. The second vice-president invests her money and doubles it, too!  The third vice-president thought he was being shrewd. “The boss gave me 15 year’s-worth of her wages and I’m going to make sure it’s secure.  I’ve got an old fireproof gun safe in my basement and I’ll put the money there.”

That seems like a good conservative fiscal strategy, doesn’t it? After all, it is a pandemic and the market is a little all over the place. “I will just place the cash inside my vault and not lose any of it until this political election is over.”

The boss returns and the one vice-president says, “Look, I invested the billion dollars you gave me and made a billion more!” If you were the boss, how would you feel? You’d be thrilled and say, “Awesome! Giddy-up!” The second vice-president said, “I took the half-billion invested it and made a half-billion more!”  If you were the boss, how would you feel? You’d be thrilled and say, “Awesome! Giddy-up!” The third vice-president tells the boss, “I took the quarter billion dollars you gave me and locked it up in a safe! I wanted you to see that you could trust me with your money!”  Now, if you’re the boss, how would you feel?  She looks at the vice-president who locked her money up in a fireproof vault in his basement and says, “You’re fired. Security will escort you out the building! Giddy-on-up-out-of-here!”

Why would Jesus share this Story? Why is the poor guy who buried the money cast outside? Why was that vice-president fired even though he did not lose any money? Why?

Because of squandered ability and opportunity. Verse 15 says each was given according to their ability, their power. The word Matthew uses for ability is the same word we derive our modern word for dynamite.  We each have been given charge over what is not ours because the expectation is we will use the dynamite, the power and ability that we individually have, to do something productive with what we’ve been given! Three people were given charge of a gift they did not own; two invested their gift and doubled their return.  One buried the gift; it simply sat there.

Matthean scholar Dale Bruner invites us to zoom out from this text and look at it from a 40,000 level[2]. Perhaps as we talk about the talents, about our using the aptitude that God gives each of us, we need to first remember what the Master, i.e., God has given us.  Jesus has just come from having debates with old-way thinking scholars and religious leaders. He reprimanded them because they were totally missing the point about what a life with God was meant to be about.  Jesus has been railing on them at the Temple for focusing on the nit-noids of the Law to the exclusion of fulfilling the Law of God which is what?[3] To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. And what else? To love our neighbor as ourself. Yesterday, the confirmands being examined by the Session were asked, “Why do we love others?”  They correctly responded, “Because God first loved us.”

Because God first loved us.

Hear the Story again. The Lord gave each to his three servants according to their ability.  To one, the Lord gave grace.  The Lord went away and while he was away the servant invested the grace and doubled it. The Lord responds by lavishing the servant with even more grace. To another, the Lord gave grace and when the Lord left for a time, the servant invested the grace and doubled it as well.  The Lord is a thrilled and pours out more grace upon the servant to the servant’s joy. To a third, the Lord gave grace and while he was away, the servant took that grace and did not do anything with it but kept in a secret hiding place only he knew about. When the Lord returned, the servant said, “Lord, I kept the grace to myself and did not attempt to invest it in any way.”

Can we better understand and make the connection why Jesus shares this parable?  Jesus is trying to hit home the point that as Christ-Followers, we have been given grace in order to invest it in others so God’s grace can be multiplied. We are given grace in the hopes we will blow it up and let it freely rain upon those who don’t deserve it.  We are not given and extended grace to keep that grace for ourselves and make it solely for “me.” Through this parable, Jesus is telling us that if we want to remain at the party and not be told at the Judgement to leave, then we are to be about investing God’s grace freely given to us and cultivating that same grace in those around us.

Beloved, Christ-followers are united and undivided in our call to be grace sowers, growers and harvesters. Are we?  Surveying the landscape of our nation with its citizens politically thrashing at other people’s necks, with a pandemic that requires all of us to adjust our engrained routines to new ways of living, and with the bifurcating mindset of Us against Them and I’m Right and You’re Wrong, don’t you think we should be more intentional and strategic in investing God’s grace with one another? We act like a culture who is burying the graces bestowed upon us by God and are keeping them for ourselves or “my side.”  Friends, when we do that, it not only makes God sad; our Story today tells us that it makes God angry when grace is not reinvested in order to grow it larger. If we keep it, i.e. grace, to ourselves, it simply means we are spiritual narcissists. If we keep grace to ourselves and withhold it from others, we literally become an anti-Christ.  

The Good News is that we worship and follow a God who lavishes us with grace and who only asks us to do one thing: Invest that grace in and through others in Christ’s Name. Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder

First Presbyterian Church

401 SE 15th Avenue

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301



© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Dale Frederick Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary. The Churchbook, Vol. 2.

[3] See Matthew 23 & 24 for these first-century theological debates.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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