Wasted Gifts and God’s Grace

Matthew 25:14-30

Fear is  what kept those talents buried in the ground, of course it is.

The third one doesn’t name it that directly, but it is what drove him to simply tuck it all away in a safe place.

And I get that, I really do.

Because the risk is powerfully great.

One could lose it all.

And since the first two who were entrusted with more, do in fact do well with their investments of those talents, we have no way of knowing how their master would have reacted if they had come back having lost more than they gained.

So perhaps his fear was entirely rational. Even so, he seems to have missed the point.

That what God has so generously given us is not meant to be tucked away, hoarded, protected.

It is meant to be spent, invested in the world and in one another, perhaps simply even just given away.

Because otherwise it is all just wasted.

This week I was taken back to a time when I did just that. And yes, it was a kind of fear that led me to hide away a gift. Only it was a fear rooted in a deeply experienced grief.

I don’t know why my dad comes to mind more often these days.  Maybe it is this time we are in when the losses seem to pile on.  No doubt it is true that these new griefs raise the old ones to the surface. It is also so that more than once in these past weeks I have paused to see that another of his generation has died or soon will.  Some among them are people he knew and loved so long ago. Whatever the reason, this came to mind as I was sitting with the parable before us now.

The Christmas before he died, he gifted each of us with a box of meat. In his working years, he had bought and sold meat, mostly beef,  at the Swift plant in Rochelle. It was his business and he knew it well. I don’t remember now what was in that box, but most likely it contained some steaks, some hamburger, and a roast or two.

I came home from our family’s Christmas gathering and put it in the freezer.

A week after Christmas his health declined precipitously and by the middle of January he had died.

And there was that box of meat in the freezer.

Only in my grief, I couldn’t bring myself to break it open. Indeed it sat there for weeks into months into the next year when it was time to clean out the freezer and it was evident that it was ruined. Unable to be enjoyed. Fit only to be thrown away. Wasted.

It is a simple example, yes. More simple, I suppose, than the one offered by Jesus now. And yet, the point is  the same, it seems to me. The master in the story entrusted these three today with extraordinary wealth.  Two did something with it and one did not. And in the end, the one who did not lost.

As I did.

The example Jesus uses now is a concrete one. Each of the three were entrusted with small fortunes or large from their Master’s hand. And yet, I do not really believe that it is about money or property that Jesus speaks today, although it surely could be just that.  And, no, I am not at all certain it is really about the talents or gifts we have each been given, seeking to encourage us to develop them well, although it could be that, too. No, rather, I am inclined to believe that we can understand these ‘talents’ which we may be tempted to bury as quite a bit more intangible than that.

In fact, I am wondering now if this might actually be understood to be a parable about grace. About God’s amazing and abundant gifts which are meant to be received and always to be shared.

Because this is so. When grace received is buried and not shared, it simply dies. Not only for the one for whom it would have made a world of difference, but also for the one who was given it to give away. For me and for you.

Now grace can and should take tangible forms, of course it should and often does. But it always starts with turning towards instead of away. It begins with unburying that which God has given us and taking a long look at it and wondering at where and how and with whom God has called us to share.

Sometimes that comes easy. And sometimes, often, it is the grueling, difficult, finally life giving work of healing received and shared between us. Which means that something was broken first.  Which means that the wounds may well run deep.

And yes, certainly this is the most difficult and the most lifegiving when it is grace given and received among those closest to us: those we have loved and by whom we have been betrayed perhaps. It also seems especially difficult these days among and for and with those who differ from us in our political positions or stances.  And when the two are the same? It can be especially hard.

I know that I, for one, am tempted to turn my back, to bury in the ground, stuff to the back of the freezer, these precious gifts of God which always bring healing and hope and new life in the most broken of places. Out of grief or fear and dwindling hope, perhaps. No matter what though,  the result is the same. And yet, this is precisely what these gifts were given to us for in the first place. For this. Here and now. And they stand to be wasted if something doesn’t change.

And no, I do not know what this looks like exactly.

  • I do know at least it means that I am to get out my shovel and dig them up, pull them out of the freezer that is too often my heart and start to thaw them out.
  • That it is time to give thanks for everything that God has entrusted me, entrusted us.
  • And that it is time to turn toward and not away.

It is long past time.

Or the fate of the third one in Jesus’ telling now is also already mine.

Indeed, there is already darkness and ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

And Jesus knew that when he told this story.

He knew that we would likely hear it through the experience of the third one before us now.

It is long past time, yes.  But it is also not too late.

And that, it seems to me, is the grace given and received in Jesus’ parable today.

It is not too late.

  • What do you think the talents in this parable represent today?
  • Do you have an example of a time when you ‘buried’ the gift you were given, only to later discover that it was ruined? How does your experience speak to your understanding of this parable?
  • Does it make sense to you to understand the talents as ‘grace?’ If so, what might it mean in your life, in our shared world, if that gift of God was ‘dug up’ or ‘pulled from the back of the freezer’ and given away? Where might we begin?