Sunday, September 27, 2009

Risky Investing

"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. "For [the kingdom of heaven is] like a man traveling to a far country, [who] called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who [had received] two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them. 'His lord said to him, 'Well [done], good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord. 'He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them. 'His lord said to him, 'Well [done], good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord. '"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, [there] you have [what is] yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give [it] to him who has ten talents. 'For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Matthew 25:13-30 NKJV

It seems no matter how often I read this parable, I always discover something new when I revisit it. I want to share just a few of those things with you today, especially in light of the financial unrest many may be experiencing right now.
I suppose I could be best described as an extremely conservative investor. As far as my money goes, no risk is the best risk. Of course, with three daughters, I never really had any money to invest anyway, but that's another story. Your first thought when reading this parable could be that it's a story of different approaches to investing, but as we have come to learn, there is usually much more than the obvious to scripture.

As always, context is key to understanding any portion of scripture. Here, Jesus is teaching His disciples about the importance of watching for the coming of His kingdom. They thought that it was about to occur, not understanding Jesus had yet to die, so Jesus illustrates that fact by telling this story. The master was going on a journey which would require him to be absent for some time, and during his absence, his servants would be required to administer his estate. The first point we should consider here is that the servants were investing their masters talents, not their own.

Secondly, it is important to notice that the master knew his servants abilities, and as such, he only gave them what he knew they were equipped to handle. In other words, no task or responsibilities were asked of his servants that they would be unable to perform. He did not set them up to fail, but rather gave them everything they needed to succeed.

Eventually we find the master returns, and immediately he calls his servants to "settle accounts" with them. He was not content to just return to his estate and pick up where he left off, but rather wanted to examine the performance of his servants to see if they had fulfilled their responsibilities well. So I believe the third, and maybe the most important point is that if these servants knew their master well, they knew they would be held accountable for their performance. It was no surprise to them that he wanted to see how they had done in his absence.

Well, as we read, two of the servants performed up to their masters expectations. They "immediately" went to work with what they had been given, and were faithful to perform their duties. As a result, their investments produced results which according to their master, were not only acceptable, but worth a great reward. It is interesting to note as well that although the two were given different degrees of responsibility, their rewards were the same. All the master required was "faithfullness".

Now we look at the third servant. By his own admission, he was afraid to do anything but hide the talent. But what was he afraid of? His own master? It would appear that the master did not agree with this excuse for he certainly chooses to spell out what he thinks of his servant. "Wicked and lazy"! What a combination. These two words used together in the Greek describe someone who by his very nature, is unwilling to put forth the effort to complete a task. So we have someone who not only is lazy, but tries to excuse his lack of effort by blaming someone else and making excuses. Well, he gets his reward as well, having what he does possess taken away, and being cast out with others of his kind.

The message Jesus is giving us here is not too difficult to understand. Jesus is our master, and He has gone away to "prepare a place for us" and will soon return. In His absence, we have all, as believers, been entrusted with administering His estate. How do we do that? Most scholars agree that the "talents" are opportunities to share the gospel with an unbelieving world. Some of us are given more, some less according to our abilities, but the one thing He makes clear in this parable is that the only thing He requires of us is to be "faithful". We are expected to take every opportunity He gives us to share the good news, and when He returns, there will be an "accounting".

The only "risk" involved with this kind of "investing" is the failure to try. The results are up to God, not us. God will not put us in a position to fail by asking us to do more than we are able. The opportunities we experience are given by God, and well within our capabilities. If Jesus' return is as close as we think, maybe we should pay even more attention to the opportunities we find as we watch for His coming. When He returns and calls us for our accounting, will we hear the words "well done thou good and faithful servant"? That's my prayer, and I sincerely hope it is yours.

Keep watching.