Proper 28a, Nov. 19, 2017

November 20, 2017

Strategic Investment

Matthew 25:14-30


14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’


There was a time when I thought I might become a stock-market genius. Actually there were two times. The first time was when I first learned about mutual funds and I came to believe that if you had any available money you should put it in a mutual fund. I convinced the members of my extended family who are involved in a family farm corporation that we should move a CD we had in the bank in to a mutual fund. This was around 1999, and I did look like I knew what I was talking about for about a year. Then the bubble burst, and I think we ended up with about a quarter of the value of our original CD.


That experience trimmed my interest in the stock market for a few years, but then I heard a great interview on National Public Radio with a guy who wrote a book called: The Little Book That Beats The Market by Joel Greenblatt. I bought and read his book, and I was convinced he had a sound strategy. He made it clear that it wasn’t a magic formula, but it made sense and I became convinced that in time I could turn our meager portfolio in to a small fortune. To the dismay of our financial planner I became actively involved in the investment process and I began to follow the strategy that Mr. Greenblatt advocated. Once again, I enjoyed watching the numbers improve in an impressive way for about a year and a half, but then the housing bubble burst, and energy prices fell, and my own little bubble burst.


Consequently, I have lost my illusions of beating the market. I am reconciled with the idea of experiencing average returns on my investments. I’m basically grateful to have a little something to invest, and I’ve developed the wisdom to not count on extraordinary growth. You might say my expectations have been conditioned by my experience, and I guess that’s often the way it goes.


My late father in law, Dr. Charles Chalfant, began his medical practice in Rogers about the time that Sam Walton had unfortunately lost the lease on his building in Newport and moved to Bentonville. They weren’t friends, but they had become acquainted, and when Sam Walton began trying to put together investors for his new enterprise he approached my father in law about investing in his new idea. Unfortunately, for Charlie, and the rest of his family, he had recently been burned by someone else who had approached him with some kind of a real estate deal that had gone badly and caused him to loose some money, and he had no appetite for investing in another unproven enterprise.


The good news about that lost opportunity is that Charlie was a really good doctor, and he probably wouldn’t have worked as hard and as long as he did if he had made the kind of fortune that an early investment in Walmart would have generated. I think it can be argued that many people benefitted from his long career as a family practice doctor. You can always find a way to become philosophical about a painful loss.


I don’t believe Jesus was offering financial counseling when he told this parable, but he used money in order to get our attention. And money does get our attention — especially when you speak of great sums of money. A talent was actually a coin that very few people would ever have seen. A talent was worth 10,000 denarii, and the average annual wage was about 60 denarii, so one talent was about fifteen year’s worth of wages.


Large sums of money get our attention, and Jesus knew this. It’s something that most of us have strong feelings about, and while we are often inclined to think that a huge some of money would be the solution to most of the problems we face in life — Jesus was not one of those people. Jesus simply used a story about a vast amount of money to illustrate the thing we really need to have in order to live an abundant life. Or maybe I should say he told this parable to illustrate the thing we can’t have if we want to enter in to the joy of God’s presence. And the thing that can be the largest obstacle to our relationship with God is fear.


In this parable, Jesus portrays God as being a lot like a Sam Walton character – which is not an uncommon image of God for Jesus to use. Jesus often portrayed God as being loaded. Jesus once described God as being the owner of the vineyard where the workers were paid in an exorbitant manner, he portrayed God in another parable as being the absentee landlord of a beautiful vineyard, and he often portrayed God as the One who throws elaborate feasts and weddings. Even though Jesus didn’t live like the son of a powerful CEO, I think Jesus wanted us to think of God as being the major stockholder in the most important corporation that exists. Making money wasn’t a high priority for Jesus, but he did want us to understand the value of the work we have been called to do, and he wanted us to be aggressive in the way we use what we have.


When Jesus speaks of this man who gave tremendous amounts of money to his servants and then left for a long period of time I understand Jesus to be saying that God entrusts people like you and I with resources of incredible value, and God wants our trust in return. In this parable, even the servant who was given the least was given a tremendous amount of money. Jesus was not wanting us to think that God actually conducts business with hard currency, but he was wanting us to understand the value of what we have been given, and he was wanting us to be aware of the way in which we use what we have.


The parable portrays two ways of dealing with what has been entrusted to us, and of course one way is much better than the other way. One way was guided by trust, and the other way was guided by fear. The first two servants took what they had been given and went to work with it. The third servant didn’t go to work – he did nothing but try to preserve what he had.


Of course what I can’t help but wonder is how the master would have responded if one of the servants had gone to work with the money but had made some untimely investments. I guess that would have been a different parable with a different truth conveyed. All we have is what we’re told in this parable, and it could be that what Jesus wanted to reveal was the unfailingly positive aspect of working with the resources that God provides. Maybe the point is that when you work with the master’s capital you always come out ahead. The only way to misappropriate God’s investment is to bury it. There is risk involved in putting God’s resources to work, but that risk is to our temporary standing in society, not to our relationship with God.


When it’s only money that’s invested there is always a chance the deals will go sour and money will be lost. The talents that were given to the servants were coins, but those coins represent the capital that God invests within us that produces bountiful yields whenever it’s put to work.  The only foolish thing we can do with the things God has given us is to sit on them and hope that the only thing God wants is for us to preserve what we have received.


Sam Walton didn’t become one of the richest men in the world by choosing assistants who knew how to preserve his money. Sam Walton expected his executives to figure out how to move into new areas of merchandise and new locations for stores. I don’t want to draw many parallels between God and Sam Walton, but we would do well to carry out God’s will as well as Sam Walton’s executives have carried out his.


The unfortunate thing for us is that we often only measure value in dollars, and we tend to think that if we don’t have a large investment portfolio we don’t have anything to invest. It’s easy to think that money is the most powerful resource that exists, but that is not what Jesus taught. If accumulating money is the most essential enterprise Jesus was a dismal failure, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Jesus hampered by his lack of financial resources. There is something priceless and powerful within each of us, and Jesus wanted us to recognize this and to work with it.


I think we all know that money doesn’t buy happiness, and I have a friend who has seen this play out in a really vivid way. My friend is a pharmacist and for a while he worked for one of the pharmacy chains. He worked at more than one location, and he told me that it was amazing to compare the amount of antidepressant drugs that he dispensed at the store that was in the more affluent part of Little Rock compared to the store that was in a more financially stressed area of town, and it was in the affluent area of town that he dispensed the most anti-depressants. Now you can argue that it’s a bit of a luxury to have access to the type of medical care that would make anti-depressants available, and poor people don’t have as much access to mental health care, but it was clear to my friend that there are a lot of people who aren’t being made very happy by their money.


It’s not our financial investments that are going to make us happy or provide us with true life. And neither will our spiritual gifts if we are afraid to use them.



I don’t think it’s helpful for us to think that we earn our way into the Kingdom of God, but there seems to be a good parallel between making financial investments and investing ourselves. Just as an investor has little control over the price of a particular stock, we have little control over the value of the enterprises to which we give ourselves, but I think the odds are in our favor whenever we take the risk of investing ourselves. I think Jesus was saying that whenever we give of ourselves there is going to be an abundant reward.


Those first two servants trusted that things would turn out well if they worked with what God had given them and it did. The last servant didn’t seem to trust God. He made false assumptions about God, and it had the predictable consequence of a broken relationship with God.


You never know how things are going to turn out in those marketplaces we establish on earth. Certainly some people figure out how to beat the market in amazing ways, but few of us can factor in all of the financial variables that are at play in this world. Fortunately we don’t have to be great financial investors to experience the greatest dividend. Jesus made it clear that when we live with trust in God and give of ourselves in significant ways we have more than we can imagine and even more will be given. There is a way to squander this grand opportunity, and that is to have more fear of God than trust in God.


So have no fear – have trust, and invest yourself fully in this enterprise of following Jesus. It’s the deal of a lifetime and beyond.


Thanks be to God.



One Response to “Proper 28a, Nov. 19, 2017”

  1. Earl Says:

    The fellow who didn’t do anything with his money just wanted to keep what he had, fits a lot of us on Spritial growth.

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