Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (November 19, 2023)

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done?

If we spend time looking hard enough, I think we’ll find a certain level of risk in anything we do. Some risks are slight; some are more intense; then there are risks that are particularly … well, risky.

When we stop to look for the risk in things, we may become very cautious. There are plenty of people perfectly willing to skydive, bungee jump, hang-glide, white water raft, and rock climb. From talking over the years with friends and family members who’ve tried some or all of these, I’ve learned they get a tremendous rush in doing them – the rush of navigating the rapids, or gently landing on the ground after jumping out of an airplane several thousand feet up in the air.

I’m most definitely not one of these people. I prefer that my risks be more low-key: trying a new restaurant; taking a drive down an unknown road; reading the work of a new author I know nothing about. I even once took a risk and signed up for a 5K race in Georgetown while I was in seminary – and I finished it, checked that box, and moved on.

I think we’ve also been taught that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. For me that’s where today’s Gospel reading speaks most loudly, as an example of risk-taking. But how big a risk did these three take?

The value of a talent isn’t really identified in this passage. You may recall that several weeks ago I talked about talents and denarii in the context of a parable in which a servant owes his king 10,000 talents – equivalent to the earnings of 164,000 years of labor. But with this parable, let’s go for a bit more of the “wow” factor and consider a gold talent (or talent-weight, as it referred to when discussing value). While there’s no way to know for certain, some authorities say that an average gold talent weighed something between 40 and 80 pounds.[1] As of this past Friday the cost of an ounce of gold was about $1,993.  Multiple that by 16 ounces in a pound, and then again by a minimum 40 pounds, and you come out with a value of $1,275,520 – per talent.

So for the one who was entrusted with five talents, he was tasked with figuring out what to do with about $6.3 million. The second got roughly $2.5 million, and the final one about $1.2 million. When the man left on the journey, the three left behind were essentially playing with house money. How did it work? Well, the first two took a risk – they thought big and acted bigger – and the result of them doing so was that they doubled the man’s money. The last one played it much safer; he didn’t do anything other than bury the talent to keep it safe.

The rewards they received when the man returned from his journey matched their success. From the man’s perspective, the three were left in charge of little, but because of what the first two did with the little they were rewarded with authority over much. The one who played it safe, who didn’t take any risks? His talent was taken and given to the one who had ended up with 10.

As the man has done in today’s reading, Jesus has entrusted us with talents – a word that because of this parable now means personal gifts rather than measures of wealth. But we have been entrusted with them just the same, and in this time before the return of Jesus we must decide what we will do with our talents.

What risks will we take with them?

People are often afraid of putting to work those things with which they’ve been entrusted. There’s the legitimate fear of failure or of being judged based on how their efforts play out. I’ve talked in the past about being afraid of stepping out to do new things because of concerns that someone else may do it better or experience more success. But God doesn’t want us to be afraid, and God doesn’t want us to keep our talents hidden.

No, I think God wants us to dare to dream big, and to risk even bigger. We shouldn’t be worried about the magnitude of our success, but rather rejoice in putting our talents to work. The rewards of what we do – the way our talents are increased through our efforts – will be seen in how the community and the world benefit and not necessarily in what we personally reap because of our work.

Neither should we be worried about whether we fail. As one commentator wrote on this Gospel, God isn’t acting here as a bookkeeper. The two who doubled the talents – the two who represent God’s children and who put to work the specific gifts they had been given – could have lost it all, but it wouldn’t have mattered. God’s focus is on what we do and what we try, not how well we do it.

William Faulkner once wrote, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” No matter where we look, there are new horizons; we are called to risk time to try and reach them. As with our talents, God doesn’t want us sitting on the beach dreaming of what’s across the ocean. We’re encouraged to start swimming, to risk giving up the security of the known for the sake of the greater rewards of the unknown.

At the beginning of this sermon I asked you each to think about the riskiest thing you’ve ever done. Now, here at the end, I want to flip the question in a new direction. I want you to consider the gifts you’ve each been given – the talents that have been given to you – and ask you to consider instead, “What’s the riskiest thing I’m about to do?”

The answer may surprise you. The answer may take you out of your comfort zone. But the answer will most definitely please God. You who have been entrusted with a few things will one day be put in charge of many.


[1] “What are Golden Talents? A Detailed Guide.”