Parables from the Back Side: The Timid Soul
Rev. Sandy Johnson
June 26, 2016
This morning we begin a new sermon series that will take us through mid-July before I leave for my summer vacation. The topic for the series is “Parables from the Back Side” and I have been inspired by the book by the same name by J. Ellsworth Kalas. This idea of parables from the back side will be to approach many of the parables of Jesus from an unlikely viewpoint, or from the back side. We will view these parables through the eyes of “a minor or unsympathetic character” which should give us some new meanings and insights to these timeless lessons from Jesus.
Let’s begin with a prayer: Gracious God, as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive your message, we pray that the words will represent your timeless teachings and we will be moved to action. Amen.
Imagine that each morning in your bank there would be a deposit pf $86,400 specifically for your use with the following set of rules:
- Everything that you didn’t spend during each day would be taken away from you at the end of the day.
- You may not simply transfer money into some other account.
- You may only spend it.
- Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400 for that day.
- The bank can end the game without warning; at any time it can say, “Game Over!” It can close the account and you will not receive a new one.
What would you do? You would buy anything and everything you wanted right? Not only for yourself, but for all the people you love and care for. Even for people you don’t know, because you couldn’t possibly spend it all on yourself, right?
You would try to spend every penny, every day and use it all, because you knew it would be replenished in the morning, right? You would work hard not to waste the resources that were being given to you.
ACTUALLY, this GAME is REAL. Are you surprised?
Each of us is already a winner of this *PRIZE*. We just can’t seem to see it.
The PRIZE is *TIME*
- Each morning we awaken to receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life.
- And when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is NOT credited to us.
- What we haven’t used up that day is forever lost.
- Yesterday is forever gone.
- Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time WITHOUT WARNING.
The question before us this morning is, what are we called to do with the gifts that God gives us, these 86,400 seconds? Let’s consider the scripture lesson this morning. The story is one of many parables that Jesus shared with his disciple as he attempted to complete his teaching just before he was crucified. Jesus and the disciples had entered Jerusalem earlier that week and Jesus spent his days teaching at the temple. Jesus was stirring up the local Jews with his radical views and was challenging the leaders with his harsh criticism. He and the disciples had left the temple for the day and had walked across the Kidron Valley, up the hill to the Mount of Olives where he met privately with them. The disciples began questioning Jesus about when he would come into power. Jesus had told them that the temple would be destroyed as a sign of his coming and a sign of the end of the age, the end of the Roman rule.
He goes on to explain in the three parables that follow, each about the coming of the Son of Man for final judgement. The first is the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and their need to be prepared. The parable of the talents, our lesson this morning, is an allegory for responsibility during the period of time before Jesus’ return. The last parable contains the judgment of the nations, how we are to be evaluated. It tells that God will separate the goats and sheep, those who have blessed will inherit the kingdom. This third lesson in chapter 25 tells us that it is in caring for the unfortunate, the hungry, the stranger, and the person on the margins of society, that we are in fact taking care of Jesus; as we become his hands and feet.
Going back to the parable of the talents then, we can see that this call to responsible stewardship is key to being aligned with God. The story says that a wealthy man who was preparing for a trip called his employees together and charged three of them to tend to his business while he went away. The employer knew that each of his people had different abilities and so gave to each a responsibility that was commensurate with their abilities. To one he gave five talents, to another he gave two talents and the last one he gave only just talent.
A talent is a measure of weight. It is not directly a form of currency but one talent represented more than fifteen years wages. So the man who received five talents received 75 years or a lifetime’s worth of salary for safekeeping. The first two servants took the funds they received and invested them. They demonstrated a fearlessness and aggressiveness that the employer respected and appreciated. They appeared to have inferred instructions that the master did not give, or at least not that we were privy to.
But the third man, the poor timid servant. Out of fear and caution he took the money he was given and buried it. He was afraid to lose it, afraid to risk it in the market, so he did what he thought would be best, and he buried it to keep it safe. This was a man who lacked self-confidence, the world of business intimidated him and he was unable to make a decision. What if he invested this talent and he lost it? He knew he would be in trouble for sure. “So he did the safe thing: He buried the money in the ground. In a way, he was rather proud of himself. He was accustomed to being a loser, but in this case, he hadn’t lost a thing.” Imagine his shock when the employer returned and raked him over the coals for being lazy and wicked.
Is anyone else a little uncomfortable with this treatment? How many of us might have done the very same thing this servant did, particularly knowing what he knew about his master? Here was a man who reaped what he didn’t sow, a man who received benefit, not from his hard work but from his reputation, or perhaps from his shrewd business dealings. When his least able employee does nothing with the resources given to him, he is stripped of his responsibility and fired. My heart goes out to this man. He may be a timid soul, but he isn’t a bad person.
So why is Jesus telling us this story? What is he really trying to say? We are to take risks? We are to manage our master’s resources better than this poor soul? What if we go back to our opening example? Let’s consider the 86,400 seconds that we are given every day to be either used or lost. What is God asking of us? For all of us to use these precious gifts in the same way? To be identical in how we respond to the use of these seconds? Hardly!
Even though we don’t want to make this one-talent man out to be a villain, he represents each of us, who doesn’t use what God has given us, to our fullest potential. It is the use of our potential that God is asking of us, not to compare ourselves to others. I know I’m not the only person who has thought, “Why aren’t ‘they’ doing more?” “Why do I have to do so much?” It just seems unfair to me that some people get away with doing hardly anything.
But wait a minute. Who died and promoted me to God?? “Jesus is telling us that although life may be tough and it may at time seem unfair, God is fair. We don’t all have the same number or quality of talents, but we will be judged only by what we do with what we have.” God won’t ask me to play violin in the Las Vegas Symphony, nor will he ask me to discover the cure to cancer. Those are not places where I excel. But he has asked me to utilize the gifts and resources I have to make Boulder City a better place to live and grow in relationship to Christ.
“The timid soul doesn’t look like a villain, because we have such stylistic ideas of what our villains should look like. Anyone who wastes life is a villain. Some waste it in obvious ways, like the prodigal in a far country. Most of us waste it in “socially acceptable” ways, which brings us no reproach. To waste such a divine investment is serious business.”
“Every human being begins with a gold coin, a life to be lived. The size of the coin varies according to the circumstances of life into which we are born, the abilities invested in us, and the setting in which we live out our lives. But we’re all given a gold coin, 86,400 seconds. We are given life itself, yet most of us never realize what a wonderful coin it is. Now and then we have a burst of insight, when we see how beautiful and special life is, but most of the time we toss about our gold coin in rather haphazard fashion, never really calculating its worth.
“The employer in Jesus’ parable asked only one thing of his workers, that they earn something with the gold coin he had given them. The inference seems to be that the earning ought to be commensurate with the amount we’ve received. Thus the five-coin person brought back five more and was commended, as did the two-coin person. It seems clear that the one-coin man would have been praised with much enthusiasm if only he had brought back a single additional coin.
“Like the employer, God asks only one thing for giving us the gold of life: Earn something with it. Use what you have for a purpose.” He doesn’t specifically say what purpose, or how we are to use our gold coin to the best use, but when we focus our attention on God and his purposes, his way of life, his spiritual principles, we can’t go wrong.
What I take away from this story is that God wants risk takers, God wants us to trust Him in the things he calls us to do and know that even if we fail, even if we don’t achieve what we had originally thought; when we do what we are called and utilize our resources to his glory, he is charged with the results. What looks like a failure might in fact be the boost we need to greater achievements which will point us directly to God.
We are in a delicate time within the life of our congregation. As we continue to grow, our budget continues to be stretched beyond its limits. More people translates into increased opportunities for ministry which has put a strain on our monthly budget. These are the good kinds of growing pains in the life of a church. Although we aren’t afraid, and we are boldly doing things to improve our month-to-month cash flow, we understand that we all hold a piece of the financial responsibility of our local ministries. Together we work toward God’s purposes, utilizing the resources he has given us to “earn something with it.” We come together as a worshipping community so that we can do more together than we could alone. And together we will achieve more.
As you leave this morning, consider what you will do with the resources God has entrusted to you. What will you do with your financial, educational, physical, spiritual, or emotional talents that God has assigned to you? Will you offer increased financial contributions to the church? Will you volunteer to teach a class? Will you lead a small group addressing the physical, spiritual or emotional wellbeing of our sisters and brothers? What will you do to honor the talents God has given you?
Let us pray: Glorious God, we hear your challenge to live up to the gifts you have given to us. We hear you calling us to align ourselves with you and to work all 86,400 seconds of the day to bring honor and glory to both our church and to you. Give us the courage to step out of our comfort zone, to boldly do those things you are calling us to do and to not fear failure, trusting in you for the results. We pray this all in Jesus precious name. Amen.
 Adapted from “Parables from the Back Side: Bible Stories with a Twist,” by J. Ellsworth Kalas. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 1992.
 https://neurocommunity.org/coach-bear-bryants-magic-bank-account Accessed June 25, 2016
 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+25%3A14-30&version=NRSV Accessed June 25, 2016
 Kalas, J. Ellsworth. Parables from the Back Side. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 1992. Page 28
 Ibid, page 29
 Ibid, page 30