Stewardship 2: The Importance and Return to Faithfulness

This is a link to post #1 in this series.

The texts we will discuss below: Matt 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27

I wanted to look at the parables of the talents in regards to stewardship first, and I put them both on, because I think they help each other.

The Matthew form is probably the most familiar. A man goes on a journey and gives his servants a large amount of money to watch until he returns. One he gives 5 talents, one he gives 3 talents and one he gives 1 talent. The first two double their amounts and are welcomed. The one with 1 talent goes and buries it afraid of losing it. He is “cast into the outer darkness” when the man returns. The stinging question is why were you so dumb to bury it? At least give it to the bankers to collect interest.

The Luke form has 10 servants instead of three. Each servant is given the same amount – 1 mina. 1 mina is a much smaller amount than a talent. 1 talent contained 60 minas. 1 mina was roughly 100 drachmas or 100 days wages. So the poorest servant for Matthew gets 6000 days wages or about 16 years. The second difference is the context of the parables. In Matthew the talents is in the middle of the “End Times” discourse. Jesus is answering the disciples’ questions about what the end times will be like and when they will be. In Luke the parable is right at the end of the travel narrative before Palm Sunday and after a Rich ruler fails to enter the kingdom but a blind man and Zacchaeus are welcomed. Obviously the purpose of the story is different in each gospel, it illustrates something different about the Kingdom of God and the amount of money means something different.

In one parable the servants are treated vastly differently but still opulently. In the other they are more modestly treated, but all treated the same. In what way are all Christians treated the same? The simple answer is that in baptism all Christians are given the Holy Spirit. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as a deposit or a down payment or guarantee until the return of Jesus. (1Tim 6:20, 2Tim 1:14, 2Cor 1:22, 2Cor 5:5). Is it a stretch to see the individual indwelling of the Spirit at the equal deposit given to all the servants?
If we take the individual mina in that sense, then the rest outfolds this way. They all perform differently in the Lukan parable – One returns ten, the next 5. One comes back and has done nothing with the mina. That one is thrown out. Individual Christians from baptism through the sanctified life all live more or less faithful lives. And that is what the king says in Luke – “you have been faithful in little, you will be put in charge of much”. The only unfruitful or unacceptable course is to guard the deposit passively. Essentially say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…” and then live as if you don’t.

In the Matthew version of the parable it is not the individual deposit of the Spirit in question, but the vastly more variable outpouring of gifts. Just looking at the church through the ages – why do some churches get apostles, prophets, miracles and strong teachers while others get thieves and abusers? We do not know. It hasn’t been revealed. What has been revealed is that this variance is how God says he’ll act until the end times. One gets 5 talents and another 1 talent. Either way the capital stake is enough to do at least caretaking business. (Put it on deposit with the bankers or maintain the capital). In this form the only unacceptable outcome is to whittle away the deposit of faith.

So, the lesson out of both is faithfulness. All the endeavors are risky. Any business is risky. Many lose money. In both of these parables those risking the deposit are all rewarded handsomely. 5 talents, a staggering some, a lifetime’s earnings, double! 1 mina becomes 10! God’s word does not return empty. If an individual or a church is faithful in their walk, God prospers it. [I should make a side note that this is not an endorsement of what we think prosperity always is. This is not a material prosperity gospel message. We might be humanly disappointed in God’s idea of prospering when he sends a church a raft of homeless to take care of instead of that bright shiny intact family.] If his people are faithful with what has been entrusted, large or small, corporate grouping or individual, God will prosper and reward the work.

So what does this mean for stewardship? The most pressing question to answer to me is: what does it mean to be faithful in stewardship? All Christians have been given the Spirit, but they have been given a great variance of material means and spiritual means. What does it mean to be faithful in our use of that variance? That will be the topic of post 3 in this series. The foundational text will be the story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4.