Are you familiar with the Parable of the Greedy and Mean Investor?
Perhaps you know it as the Parable of the Talents which is what most people reference. The Parable of the Talents told in Matthew 25:14-30 is one of my favorites for so many reasons. One reason I love this story so much is because, like all of the parables, there are a variety of nuances in interpreting the story. Another reason is because the verse, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" is a verse I keep at the forefront in my life. I try to guide all of actions by asking if this is how Christ would respond as my life expires. Lastly, growing up I had such a distorted and confused understanding of this section of scripture when I called myself an Atheist. Like many other Atheists and Agnostics, I saw a God that I did not want to know and that I knew would reject me even if I did tried to please Him.
Allow me to summarize...
Jesus describes a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more talents. So also, the one with two talents gained two more. But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
Before going further I should note that a talent was a sum of money worth about 20 years of a day laborer's wage. So, this was a massive amount of money for each of the servants.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five talents brought the other five and the man with two talents came to show he gained two more. To both the master said, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
The man who had received one talent came and said, "Master, you are a hard man, you harvest where you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your money in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you."
His master replied, "You wicked, lazy servant! You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For whoever has will be given more and they will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness."
Before I came to faith I understood this story quite literally. This is a story about a really rich guy with servants. The rich guy rewards the people who make him richer and punishes the people who do not make him richer... even if they do not lose him money. As a really poor kid from a poor family, I always saw myself as that third servant. I was so poor that if I ever had that huge sum of money I would just want to hold on to it and I would be terrified I would lose it all. In the end, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the world is the same terrible and godless place I always knew it to be.
Having a rudimentary understanding of God actually distorted the story further. I now had some understanding of the parable concept. A parable is a short fictitious story that illustrates a moral principle or concept. Now I understood the Master as God but the rest of the story was the same. A mean God gives me less to start out with and then punishes me for not doing as much with what I have. In the end, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the world is a terrible place ruled by a terrible God who is just waiting for me to mess up so He can squash me with His thumb. I still lose.
At this point in my life, God has given me a different understanding. I had always looked at what the Master was doing in the parable... how the Master reacted... how he treated his poor, weak, incapable servant. I gave little thought to the servant himself, how he responded, what he could have done differently, and what an opportunity he really had. I also took little time to think about the other two servants and what they did with the same amount of time and opportunity. There are some very real facts here that I ignored, facts that the parable form was meant to illustrate.
Again... a wealthy man went on a journey and entrusted his servant with the equivalent of 20 years of a day laborer's wage, let's call that $300,000 in today's money. Never mind what he gave to the other servants... he gave him $300,000... and he knew that he was expected to use that money as seed money to gain more. Do we really think the master did not trust this man? Is it likely that this very wealthy man only had three servants? I doubt it. He likely had many, many servants, but these are the three he trusted most. He probably discharged a great many servants before leaving for his journey and other servants probably traveled with him to continue to serve him. This was not his weakest servant-- this was one of his best, one of his most trusted and highly regarded servants. He knew what was expected of him, and yet he still took that money and hid it in the ground.
When we compare this to the other servants, we see the startling contrast. The other two servants doubled the money entrusted to them. Do you think they did that overnight? Did they do that without first spending and investing a great deal of the money? What if the master came back before the return on investment was realized? This is likely what the third servant was concerned about. But the first two servants took these great risks knowing that with great risk often comes great reward. These servants knew that the master had confidence in them. They knew the master saw talent in them and they persevered and strived to live up to the expectations of the master.
Why did I previously focus on the Master? The Master gave me the talents and then allowed me to do what I wished with them. Then when I used my talents for bad and squandered them in my life I blamed the Master. We see this all too frequently, and it is very relevant to nonprofit and ministry leaders. How often have we blamed God for not giving us enough gifts to support the mission He laid on our hearts? I know now that God has given me all the gifts and talents I need to be successful. Sure, there are others who are more talented and others who are more gifted. My talents, though they may be small, are sufficient. If I am not given more, it is likely because I am currently coasting or playing it safe with the talents I have. As I use these talents to their potential, I will be given more. Those who choose not to use their talents call this provision luck; however, we know it as a mixture of hard work and God's blessings.
Dr. Jeffrey J. Rodman, a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and Certified Grants Specialist (CGS), and has focused the last 15 years on grant writing, fundraising, and funding development for church, Christian ministries, and other nonprofit organizations. Dr. Rodman holds a bachelor in Counseling, a master degree in education, and a doctorate in religion. Dr. Rodman founded Here-4-You Consulting in 2000 and has worked with over 200 ministries from across the United States and over a dozen other countries. He has secured nearly $100 million in funding from every imaginable type of funding source and has an average 10 to 1 Return On Investment (ROI)... meaning that on average NPOs secure $10 in funding for every $1 they invest in services.
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