Jesus told a story. It was a story about buried treasure. A man decided to take a trip abroad. Before leaving, he called three of this slaves and gave them various amount of money to use while he was gone. When he returned, he found that two of the slaves used the money in the pursuit of profit and they returned the master’s money along with the excess. Both were commended for their efforts. But the third slave took a different approach. He buried the money, believing that protecting the assets was more important than risking it for gain. He proudly presented the original amount to the master, claiming that he knew the master’s character and he had taken measures to not lose any of the treasure.
If we capture the mood of this story, we will see that Jesus turns the tables on the expected outcome. We are ready for the master to say to this third slave, “Good job. You minimized the risk and protected my money. You didn’t loose a single cent.” But this is not what the master says at all.
The master is irate. He says, “You don’t even know my style. I expect my investments to return gains. I am in the habit of reaping where I did not sow and gathering where I did not toil. You have wasted my treasure. You had the opportunity to do something with this and you chose the safe route of inaction.” The story concludes with a dire consequence. Jesus says that the master took the money from the one who had tried to protect it and gave it to the one who risked it in profit making. Then the master threw the third slave out into darkness.
How many times have we heard this parable used as the basis for a sermon on our talents? Has God given you the gift of music, of evangelism, of preaching, or consolation? Use your God-given talent for Him or suffer the consequences. Has God given you the gift of prophecy, teaching, giving or showing mercy? Use these “talents” for His kingdom. But even though this exegesis is well intentioned and the thought is correct, Jesus’ story is not about our God-given talents. It is about money, plain and simple. I suspect that we have allowed this confusion because we grew up with King James English. In the King James Bible, the Greek word huparchonta is translated “talent” – an old expression for a sum of money. Unfortunately, our modern word “talent” has nothing to do with money, so away we go with everything but the intention of Jesus’ parable. Huparchonta means “things which someone possesses, goods”. In this story, it clearly means physical assets. And if we read the story on this basis, we see something quite unusual. God is not interested in risk reduction. He actually punished the one who reduced the risk to zero. God is interested in gains and gains can only be accomplished by taking risks. Profit is the result of risk-taking. Burying your treasure is the result of fear.
Today I see the Christian community obsessed with risk. But, like the third slave, the Christian community is worried, fearful, that taking risk might result in loss, so they systematically bury God’s treasure. It’s called assets. Buildings, land, vehicles, equipment, bank accounts, CD’s, and a host of other forms of property (“things which one possesses, goods”) are buried away from useful production. The cry to be debt free is a cry of fear. Oh, what if this happens or what if that happens? Did we forget that the Master expects to receive gains on all that He has given to us? Or did we think that He would be happy to see a big edifice of brick and mortar without a mortgage, sitting there as a monument to our foresight? Not producing a thing. “I expect to reap where I did not sow,” says more than use your musical talent to play hymns in church. It says that we should understand Who is in charge of the universe and take some risks because He expects us to. It says that if we really believe that He has given us all these possessions to use while He is away, we had better put them to use rather than bury those potential assets in the ground.
When will Christians become known for the risks they take rather than the fear they show? Is God in charge of the financial world or not? Sometimes I think that you could never draw that conclusion from the way that Christians act. How long will we go on asking people to give us money to take care of our business instead of taking care of our business so that we can give money back? We need to read this parable again and remind ourselves that God’s attitude toward risk-taking on His behalf is very different than the way we normally think.