Who wants to be a millionaire?
Are you glad to see the TV programme back with a new presenter? Did you see the contestant winning a few weeks ago with the million-pound question being about pirates? But never mind the TV programme, who wants to be a millionaire? Would it change your life? Would it shape how you spent your money? How you spent your time? How hard you worked? Whose company you kept? Where – and how – you lived?
Well that is what’s on offer here – in more ways than one.
But first we’ve got a bit of catching up to do with Jesus. Since we last read in Matthew back in September, Jesus has stayed in and around the temple at Jerusalem, telling parables about the Kingdom, answering questions, warning the teachers of the Law – and therefore us too—about hypocrisy, then speaking out about the destruction of the temple and the end of the world. By the start of chapter 25, Jesus is in full flow again telling a parable about the ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. This is a very common Biblical image of Christ’s return and indeed of our relationship with Christ. They had all been invited but only half of them were ready and only half of them went into the feast. The time that they had spent waiting had been wasted and they were not ready to take up the bridegroom’s invitation.
So when we start reading today and the first verse says “so it is like a man going abroad,” then the “it” is the same “it” as the previous parable. This parable builds on the previous one to tell us how we are to wait for Christ’s return.
That waiting involves working. And it’s very well-paid work.
Although we talk of this parable as “the parable of the talents,” the translations that we use in Ardoch and Blackford speak for the parable of the bags of gold. It’s just a quirk of translation that we use the same word “talents” to mean a gift or skill as people of Jesus’ day used to refer to a unit of weight measurement. That’s the first clue about how much these three servants were given; it wasn’t counted out—it was weighted out. A footnote in the NIV Bibles helps here: “a talent was worth about 20 years of a day labourer’s wage. Let’s do the maths.
Before taking these figures back to the parable, just look at them in our context. Although it would take about 65 years to earn a million pounds at this rate, but add inflationary increases or promotion along the way, and many of those in current employment can expect to earn over a million pounds – pre-tax of course. Many reading this today are no longer earning a salary but the principle the value of what we earn over our life time remains. How much of that does God trust us with? All of it? How much does he say we can get by on? 90% of it, because the first 10% belongs to him. Are we OK getting by on the equivalent of £900,000 or are we not trusting God with that and cutting back on our offerings to the work of the local church and to Christian ministry elsewhere?
Back at the parable, the master has gone and it’s time to put at least 20 years’ salary to work; two of them get on