The Parable of the Talents

Ray Woo has been serving as an intern at St. Mark's as he continues in the process towards priesthood in the Episcopal Church. As part of his internship, he preaches regularly, leads the Daily Office, visits the homebound, and teaches Bible Studies. Below is a sermon he recently preached at St. Mark's which incorporates the theology of stewardship. Life is short. How might we use the talents that God gives us in this life?

Matthew 25: 14-20

I love all of the arts - sculpture, ceramics, painting, music, all of the arts. There are some Medieval paintings by the great masters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that depict a very peculiar theme. These paintings I refer to do not depict the holy family, or our Lord, or the saints, or natural landscapes, or even beautiful women or handsome men. 

Rather they depict a monk or a priest sitting solemnly in front of the skull of a dead person. How very odd you might say! But these monks and priests are not doing something weird or freakish. They are praying and meditating on life and death itself. They are praying and meditating on precisely what the Psalmist speaks of in the Psalm today - on the meaning of human existence: 

“Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past. You sweep us away like a dream.  We fade away like grass” (Psalm 90: 4, 5). 

Life is indeed so impermanent and unpredictable! I was going home from Evening Prayer this past Thursday. I thought I would drive up University Avenue to Manoa Market Place, one of my favorite hangouts to have some Pho, the delicious Vietnamese noodle soup.

The traffic was unusually slow at this time of the evening. As I inched up near Maile Way, I saw a horrible accident that probably just happened a minute earlier. A tall, strong, athletic female UH student had been struck down by two cars that collided. Because the traffic was so slow, I was able to see her motionless body lying on the ground. Her friends were surrounding her trying to revive her. Someone apparently had called 911, and I heard the loud siren and saw the ambulance rushing down from Manoa Valley. I was stunned and saddened that this horrible accident had happened, and I thought about it for a long time that evening, the next day, and even now, for I saw life and death passing in front of my own eyes.  It could have been me, or worse yet, someone I know and care about. What will happen to this young woman? Will she survive? Will she recover from the accident? I hope so.

A day before, an hour before, or even just a minute or split second before the accident happened, I am sure this young woman had absolutely no idea that her life would be so drastically changed at the very next moment. So young, so promising, and so filled with talents was her life ahead of her.

The day of the Lord that the Scriptures, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament readings that we have been hearing these past Sundays, do not have to refer only to the destruction of Jerusalem and its magnificent Temple in the year 70 AD by the Romans, which for the Jews of that time was the end of their world as they knew it. Nor does it necessarily always have to refer to some distant cosmic event that God might bring about at the end of the world. I respect both of these interpretations; however, the day of the Lord may also happen anytime in our lives. It may be an accident, and it may be something so drastic that catches us by surprise.

The Psalmist is right. Life is short and impermanent. The monks and priests were wise to ponder on the human skull, and to meditate on the swiftness of life and the meaning of existence. Life is indeed short and fleeting. The key question is this: in what manner should we live our life and make it as meaningful and fruitful as possible?  What does our Lord ask of us and how does He call us to serve Him with the talents He gives us in our life?

On last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell the story about the coming of the Bridegroom and how the five wise virgins prepared well for the wedding celebration. Today, we hear Jesus speak about a generous master giving his servants “talents” to be used wisely. As we approach the end of the church year with the Feast of Christ the King, and as we anticipate the coming of Advent, it is timely and fitting that we take stock of all the talents, gifts, and blessings we receive from our Lord, and ponder on how we can be thankful to God for all of God’s blessings in our lives, and how we might serve God, the Church, and our local community in the most meaningful and fruitful ways possible.  The fact of the matter is: we not only owe all the talents we have from God, the Giver of Talents, but we owe the very life we have from God, the Giver of Life and the Author of our salvation.

So we hope that with God’s blessings, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will be like the wise and faithful servants described in today’s parable. We will live our life meaningfully and use our talents well to serve our Lord, the church, and our community to the best of our abilities.  Hopefully, we will hear our Lord saying to us, “Well done, you good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master” on the day of the Lord, and at the end of our life.

Raymond Woo, Intern