"For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been." The poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that. While his poem spoke specifically of a lost opportunity in love, the truth of his verse extends far beyond that. We all understand the truth behind it: What a sad thing to see wasted talent, wasted resources, wasted opportunities.
Last week, I wrote about what gifted servants you are. We looked at Jesus' parable in Matthew 25:14-30 and thought about all the many ways God so richly blesses you - with everything, from the material goods to good health to a good attitude and great opportunity! You are gifted.
Today, let's talk about how you respond. In the story Jesus told in Matthew's Gospel, there are two very different responses to the master's generosity. The first two servants are very similar. Verse 16 says: "The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more." Did you catch that? "At once." They were faithful. They made the most of their gifts, both their abilities and the money entrusted to them. When the master returned, they considered it a privilege to return the profit to their Lord, who then says to them: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Notice what they are commended for! Not for what they earned...For their faithfulness.
But the third guy is different. He was unfaithful in every respect. Verse 18: He "went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money." This action took more work than just putting in the bank. Then he presumes to lecture his master, as if he had some moral high ground - in the face of the one who had given him such a gift, with which, by the way, he did nothing.
Outlandish! Right? Inconceivable for someone to act like that. Right? How could he act like he knew better how to use his master's gift than his master?!? Right? You know what's coming next, don't you? Any time we get upset about the way someone in one of these parables acts, Jesus holds up the mirror.
Time to examine ourselves. We know our master has given generously to us. Maybe we don't feel like we've been given so much more than others, we're not the five talent people. Maybe the two talent group... but more likely we see ourselves as the one talent group. God has given generously to us - but not so much more than others. Either way - it's interesting to note that the unfaithful one in the parable was not the one who was given everything - but the more normal one, the one more like us.
And before we try to deflect the mirror saying, "I'm no evil servant, maybe not the best, but certainly not evil. I'm not wicked," notice...this third servant wasn't unfaithful by using his gifts for evil. He was unfaithful for not using his gifts for his master.
The application slaps us in the face, doesn't it? No matter what your gifts may be, you are to use them faithfully, in service of your master. Your gifts may be different than someone else's. Your gifts may be less than someone else's. But each one of you has gifts - gifts especially entrusted to you from God. Be faithful with what you do have. That is what Jesus expects, and that should be our goal.
Probably the place it is easiest to self-evaluate is in the area of our offerings. How easy it is to make excuses. But what does the parable teach? No matter whether you think you have too much else going on or too little money to spare to give faithfully, who cares about what amount it is? Are you being faithful? And in the parable we see that such a big part of that is the attitude. What motivates you? Are you giving just to fill a need, to meet a budget, to run a church? Or are you excitedly bringing back to your master as he returns the result of your hard work in using your gifts? "Look Master. I used what you gave me to make this."
Here's how that can happen. See the master in this parable. See who he is. And when the mirror shows your unworthiness to even be his servant...when the mirror shows you to be the one who should be thrown out into the darkness - come back to see your master, who stepped in to your place; and he was thrown into the darkness of Calvary in your place; and he used his gifts as the truly good and faithful servant to earn your profit.
Jesus, our Lord and Master, has taken away all of our sins. His blood covers our unfaithfulness, along with our excuses and our lack of gratitude and generosity. And think of this. In doing all that, Jesus has made us more than his servants. Paul says, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17).
We cling to the promise: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). And in the cleansing flood of Jesus' blood, our lives of service, our use of our talents that he has given us, our offerings and our time are placed on his altar in perfect joy.
You are his gifted servant. Use those gifts with joy. And then, you'll never have to regret "what might have been."
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.