Buried Treasure?
Judges 4:1-7 Matthew 25:14-30
November 13, 2011

This morning’s parable from the Gospel of Matthew is one that is a bit difficult to decipher. The part that entails the first two slaves, who work with the master’s money and are able to double the amount entrusted to them, makes sense. The part that deals with the third slave is confusing. The third slave has not done anything with the money he was asked to watch over, except bury it to keep it safe. Burying treasure was a common thing to do in those days, so it was not unheard of, especially with the large sum of money he had been given. One talent was worth 6,000 denarius and each denarius was worth a full day’s wages. He said that he buried the money because he was afraid of the master’s wrath if anything happened to it. This is the part of the parable that gives us pause, especially because we often assume that when Jesus speaks in parables he is speaking about our relationship with God. But if God is supposed to be represented by this master, then thinking of him as harsh, as one who would take advantage of others by taking what is not his, is just plain confusing. The only way I can make some sense out of this, is to see it as the viewpoint of someone who does not really know his master very well, or perhaps as someone who refuses to see his own flaws and instead of being honest about his own shortcomings, places the blame on others whenever possible. In this case, maybe he placed the blame for his inaction on his master. Rather than owning up to the possibility that he was in the wrong, instead he turned the tables and said that he had not done anything risky because he had seen his master in action and did not trust him to treat him fairly. We have all been guilty of this tactic at different points in time; we see the weak points in others that are really our own weak points, and instead of owning up to them, we look around for someone else to blame. The old saying is true, that when you point a finger at someone else, there are three other fingers that point back at you. When something about another person bothers you, it is a good idea to take a long, hard look at yourself, and see if that very same thing might be something you are guilty of. So, maybe there was some of this going on, but the major thrust of this parable is really about how we use or do not use the talents given to us.
Throughout our lives, there are many opportunities for us to rise to the occasion of making full use of our talents, of our particular gifts. The strongest message of this parable is that we need to be willing to step out in faith when these opportunities come our way. We need to seize hold of the times and places when we can make a difference, when our abilities match the needs at hand. If we bury our treasures, then no one can enjoy them, no one can make use of them. The first two servants who did as their master had hoped that they would, used the talents given to their safekeeping in ways that multiplied the riches. They used the gifts out in the world, trading in the marketplace to increase the value of what they had been given. There was nothing surreptitious about their dealings, nothing hidden or secretive. There was also nothing particularly religious about the way they made money. They were out in the hustle and bustle of life, making full use of the possibilities out there for increasing the value of the talents they had been entrusted with.
Very often we separate our spiritual selves from the world at large. We seem to think that we need to keep our faith separate from the everyday minutia of our lives. This seems to play out in several interesting and somewhat strange ways. Over the course of my years as a pastor I have encountered plenty of people who felt that they could not come to church when they were going through a rough patch in their lives. It is sad to think that if a person is having a hard time and is not able to contribute the financial support that they once gave, they would feel that they should not come to worship. Or, if a person is dealing with a lot of stress and responsibility and therefore doesn’t have time or energy to volunteer to help on committees or at fund-raisers, that they would feel uncomfortable showing up in the pews or asking for prayers in the circle. I do not believe that church is just for the people who have their lives under control. I do not believe that a person should only be a part of the circle when they can support everyone else and do not need the support themselves. If the church is a valid expression of God’s love, then it is a place where people can come no matter what else is going on in their lives. Sometimes, it can be important to come to church because of what else is going on in our lives. Sometimes it is important to come because we need the love and support of folks who care about us no matter what, and who will pray for us and with us. Sometimes we come in order to experience the unconditional acceptance of those who love as Jesus taught us to love, and we recognize that receiving this love is a wonderful gift.
Another way we are prone to separating our spiritual selves from the world is how we deal with money. Maybe this is another reason why this parable of the talents is so important for us to hear? Many years ago I heard a consultant who had come to talk to church folks about giving and stewardship. She stood up in the circle of gathered people and asked, “Does anyone have a match?” Several people reached into their pockets to pull out matches for her. She thanked them, and then said to us,”Why do we feel totally at ease asking for a match, and yet so uncomfortable asking for money? Both are things we need, so why is the request for money so fraught with discomfort?” She went on to talk about the fact that we don’t like mixing religion and money. We seem to think that money is dirty and that talking about it draws us away from spiritual things. Somehow money has come to represent a shadowy side of things that we don’t want to mix up with our faith, and we assume that if we talk about money, then we are not being spiritual. At the conference I went to in March, Scottish theologian and hymn-writer John Bell talked about the church’s relationship with money. As a part of a study of scriptures that related to stewardship and giving, he had us brainstorm all of our associations with money. It was interesting to see how negative our list was, considering that all of us needed money in order to pay for the essential elements of our lives such as food, clothing and shelter. After this exercise, John invited us to consider what it might feel like to simply be honest and forthright about the fact that churches need money to run. It might feel spiritual to sit back and see if some miracle happens, but you basically tie God’s hands if no one knows that you are in need of a miracle. The specifics about what that miracle is and how much the particular miracle you need costs is a helpful piece of information to put out there where folks who are the hands of God might hear it.
Whether it is the church or a person that we are dealing with, hearing what the needs are in a clear and honest way, enables the rest of us to make good use of the talents we have at our disposal. We are less likely to bury our treasure when we know that it can be useful. We are less likely to bury our talents when we know how, when and where they are needed. Each of us has talents that are not obvious to others. If we don’t share what we have to offer, then no one will ever know that it is there. It is not bragging to be up front about what we have to give. It is just honest. We need to change our approach to asking for what we need, and offering what we have to give. If we can do this both in our personal lives and in the church, then we might be surprised by the treasures that are unearthed.

Loving God, you give us all we need in order to live good lives. You give us talents that are needed in this world, but talents that we sometimes are not sure of how to use. Help us to be honest about who we are and about the gifts we have to offer, first with ourselves, and then with others. Help us also to be honest about what we need, so that you can stir up some miracles in our midst. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.