I heard that not too long ago in Trinidad, CO, a soap maker decided to close her shop so that she can sell her products at the local farmers' market. Her first day was phenomenal. It was so good that the long time soap maker filed a complaint with the board and had her banned. The market was only big enough for one, and he was there first.
I coached soccer when I could. I loved teaching one of my favorite sports to my sons and other children. I just had one problem. I was told to follow the rules set by the American Youth Soccer Organization. I was not to have a tended goal, nor was I to keep track of the scores or winners and losers. The theory behind that was in making sure everyone was a winner. The AYSO wanted everyone to learn a great sport as well as lessons that can help the kids down the road in life, such as team work.
Last week on facebook, I saw a poster. It was about the road to success in life. It had two panels, side by side. Perhaps you've seen it. It says, “Many people assume that the road to success is a matter of choosing the right road. In reality, the road to success is full of failures along the way.”
Now the question is what do these illustrations have to do with one another? They are some of the examples of how the world measures success. The first one, success happens when you have the monopoly of market. The second actually fails to prepare kids for failure. The third isn't really a road map to success as it is a motivation for how to deal with failure in life, because they happen, to everyone.
The world so easily gives us its view, its purpose, its value of things in our lives. It's willing to tell us what life looks like for the successful person. But what does success look like for the Christian? How does God define success? This is what we will look at this morning in Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents.
Now I want to quickly define the word talent. In the monetary sense, this is a large sum of money. Let's say that Jonah receiving his one talent, he has received a year's salary. At least this was true for the day of Christ. But then all the English Bibles have left this term the same, talent. And I can appreciate that. Not all of us are blessed financially. I know one man who works as the handyman of his church because he just doesn't have an income that he could give of anything and still make ends meet. So he uses his talent in keeping the grounds and building. This in turn saves the church those expenses. He does this as his service to God, using his own strength to serve. Another person is quite the talented musically that not only does he serve his church with his music, but then in turn takes to nursing homes to bless the residents there with music. You get the idea. If you are blessed financially, that is a talent that can be used for God's kingdom, or not. If you have talents in other areas, you can use them for furthering the Kingdom, or not. But because talent can be loaned to either, I like the word.
Now for the question that you are asking, what does Jonah have to do with this parable? Until recently, I've always named the unnamed characters to make them more relatable. Usually, I use Bob. In the Desert Southwest, Bob is a safe name. Now, not so much. So as to not draw any bad press to any of the Bobs in the audience, Jonah becomes my negative character. It is his example, his reaction that shapes the outline this morning. The first two, all we know is that during the unspecified time, each man took his sum and doubled it. We do not know how bumpy that road was. We don't know what risks were taken. All we do know is that they doubled what was entrusted to them. They put the money to work for their master. Like Paul told the Church of Corinth, all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial. The easy application is to say that if you put what God has entrusted to work for His glory, then you will reap a bountiful harvest. You can even say that there is no failure when you work for God's glory. But that's the easy application, so I want to look at Jonah and what he has to teach us this morning.
He dug a hole and buried his blessings. Did he fear his master? More times than we care to admit, fear of God's wrath holds us back. We fear because we know we are sinners. Maybe it's not that we fear God, but what would people think if they knew this was in my past? But that is the freeing power of the cross of Christ. All that is in the past is behind us. Paul said to the Romans that he constantly struggles with sin, finding himself doing that which is wrong. But to the Philippians, he says, “This I know, forgetting what is behind me, I press on to the prize before me.” If you have repented of the sins in your life, if you lay your burdens at the cross, then lay also the feelings of guilt and shame. Unbury the gift.
As I contemplated further on Jonah, another thought crossed my mind. Since Jesus' parables have real spiritual application, let me look at Jonah's and suggest that Jonah wasn't so much a believer as he was religious. His faith in the master came down to doing nothing more than what was expected, he went through the rituals but never trusted. Perhaps he believed the lies of those around him, those who were not beholden to the Master. “You reap where you did not sow. You harvest where you didn't plant.”
To the religious or the nonbeliever, that is a warped, but accurate way of seeing God. God expects His followers to make other converts, in essence, reaping what was not sown. These are the lies.
First, understand that when God created man, created us, our pure purpose was to be in daily fellowship with our Creator. This is why God called man's creation the best, the crowning point, the grand masterpiece. But sin separated and destroyed that fellowship, so God paid the price through His Son to restore that fellowship, and this while we were still God's enemies. By accepting the gift of Christ, God declares you in good standing, sin-free. So how shall we respond to such an awesome gift?
Suppose you come upon Sanders and there is a man going from pump to pump inserting his card to pay for your fuel. You ask him if you can get your other car. He says yes. He then adds, feel free to tell your neighbors. Now do you? Who wouldn't call all he knows and tells them of the free fuel, but only at Sanders? Now the generous man can claim he helped out hundreds. Did he reap where he didn't sow? He after all didn't market his gift. But as poor an illustration, it goes to point that we should be as eager to share our faith with others.
In closing, which person are you? Are you like the first two freely sharing your gift, your blessings, your talent, or have you like Jonah buried it? If you are the first, great. Encourage the Jonahs. Not all intend to be like him, but are because of fear. For those who fear, know that God has forgiven you. Unbury your talent and use it, share it with others who need to know this same hope. For those who buried the talent because you are religious, let me encourage you that God is wanting a relationship with you right now. Stop going through the motions and come to live a life of freedom through Christ. Let us encourage one another to using our talent to further our Father's kingdom in Christ Jesus.