Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
November 14-15, 2020
“How Well Do You Know Jesus?”
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension
Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
If you go to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood and after entering the main doors, getting your temperature taken, answering a few questions about your health, you can proceed to the Tower elevators to see the person you came to visit. But I want you to look to your left before you get to the elevators. You will see pictures from the last ten years of folks who were chosen as employee of the month.
Swedish is a huge place and it has literally thousands of employees. What would it take for one person out of thousands to be chosen as the best employee of all of them during that month? I think it would similar to what you just heard read in our parable when the master returned after his trip and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25:23) You’re the best. You’re amazing. Way to go.
This reading, called the Parable of the Talents, in my estimation, contrasts one (or two) who knew their master and one who didn’t know him at all. I’ve asked the question in the title of my sermon, and I’ll ask it now and throughout this message – “How well do you know Jesus?”
Just like the preacher I mentioned last Sunday who told us he didn’t like the book of Amos, so I have to tell you that I don’t like the title of this parable. From the earliest of days this parable has been called, “The Parable of the Talents.” One guy got five talents. One got two. The last one got one. When I think of a talent I think of an ability or an aptitude or a skill. It isn’t fair that some folks have so many of them. They’re good looking and can drive a golf ball 350 yards and can tell the best jokes and have a million friends and are so smart they can count to a thousand!! Man, I want to be like them!! But some of us don’t even have half that. And some have one measly talent – and even that isn’t that hot.
That is not it at all. A talent. A measure of money. Lots of it. Our translation that we used today called it a “bag of gold”. One talent was worth 20 years of wages. And the master, leaving on a trip, entrusted that huge sum to them. Let’s say you make $50,000 a year. 20 years of that amount is $1,000,000. Not bad. What if you’re making 6 figures, $100,000? Double that. That master just left you $2,000,000. Not a bad guy. That is for the guy who got one bag of gold – one talent. And the ones that got two bags of gold or five bags of gold got a bunch more.
I want to talk about that guy who got the one bag of money, the one that got a million dollars. What did he do with it? “But the man who had received the one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matthew 25:18) He, I guess, was being safe and had a great fear of losing that money. People hid money all the time during those days.
But the problem he had was not just what he did with that money, the problem is that he didn’t know his master. Listen to his words about why he did what he did, “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’” (Matthew 25:24-25)
Can you imagine that? You had been entrusted with that amount of money and when the one who gave it to you comes back you look him in the face and say, “I’ve known you to be a hard man”. This adjective means ‘harsh’, ‘cruel’, ‘merciless’. And then he accuses him of being a thief, greedy and without any type of moral fabric. “You harvest where you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed.” You steal from others.
The problem is that he didn’t know this master who had given him such a gift. He didn’t trust him. He didn’t follow him. He didn’t serve him. This parable is asking the question, “How well do you know this master?” “How well do you know Jesus?”
When you know Jesus you will know His joy. I know that most of the people that I preach to in our sanctuary, or those who watch us with the recorded message, are Christians. You know Jesus. But sometimes you don’t know His joy. Life can be mess and it can be joyless. When the other guys who had the two bags of gold came back and showed what they did with their gift the master responded, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Come and share your master’s joy. They knew him. They trusted him. They served him. He shared with them his joy.
Jesus comes to give us the fullness of life. The guy who didn’t know his master missed out in sharing his master’s happiness. Do you remember the emotions of grief when Jesus wept over Jerusalem? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37) He wants to share the joy of life, the peace of forgiveness, the fullness of the Spirit’s power with everyone. But they wouldn’t have Him. His desire is that everyone would be given the master’s joy and happiness. It comes by Jesus. Forgiveness of sins is by Jesus. Eternal life comes by trusting in Jesus. Power to live in joy comes by Jesus.
If God is not part of your life, if the choices you are making are making of mess of everything, if your faith is inadequate and you don’t know the joy of the master, today is the day to know something better, to know Someone better – it is the day to know Jesus.
Jesus told a number of parables in Matthew 25 that had sad endings. This is how this account ends, “So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:28-30) Last week we read the Parable of the Ten Virgins and this was the final word, “Later the others also came, ‘Sir! Sir! Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:11-13)
But God’s desire is not for sad endings and doors being shut and words about never knowing us. His desire is that we would know our master’s happiness because we know our Master – Jesus. We know His generosity of mercy and love and salvation and hope and joy.
You know Jesus well. You don’t just know about Him – you know Him. You trust Him. You believe in Him. You have a new life through Him. If you know Him – serve Him. Some people look at this parable and feel that it is not fair that the master gave to his servants different amounts. It looks like God does not love everyone equally. We live in a consumer society where having more is considered better. Though we are differently gifted, we are equally loved. And we can equally serve our God in whatever ways we have been gifted. In Corinthians Paul says, “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (I Corinthians 12:14-18) We are differently gifted but equally loved.
How well do you know Jesus? He knows you so wonderfully. Know Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. Serve Him. It brings Him joy that you would know Him so well. It brings you joy that He knows and loves you so deeply. Amen!!