Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
S. Pentecost 25.23
His master said… ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
What superpower would you most like to have? If you don’t have an answer on the tip of your tongue, I wonder… are you reading the right books? Watching the right films? If not, see me later. I think I can help with that.
I’ve been thinking about this question, deeply, seriously, since I was 5 or 6 years old. And my answer has never changed. It comes to me right away. Flying. The power to fly—without any external aids, planes, wings, jetpacks—the power to fly, supernaturally, beyond hypersonically—fast. That’s the one for me, if all are on offer.
I was rather disappointed, many years ago, to read an article on this question and to find out that the power to fly—supernaturally—is far and away the most common answer. I was so disappointed, I didn’t read on to discover #2: Invisibility? Time-Travel? Whatever. I felt a little sad my answer was so… pedestrian (see what I did there? 😉. But then I was happy that my fellow humans have such good taste in superpowers. It made me a feel a bond I don’t often feel with my fellow man.
At this point, you may be wondering: “What in the world does my favorite superpower have to do with Jesus’ parable of the talents? (I hope you’re wondering! My goal is always to get you thinking. And when I see that puzzled look on your face like: “Where in the world is this going? Is he really a pastor? Is this a sermon?) my joy is, quite nearly, complete.
Anyway, while the magician should never explain the trick, this little reflection on superpowers is to illustrate what the “talents” in the parable today really are. Most people see the word “talent” and they think of natural abilities—like good hand-eye coordination, fast running, friendliness, an aptitude for math, or drumming, or juggling. And that’s not light years away! We’re in the ballpark! But that’s far too… pedestrian.
The “talents” Jesus doles out in this parable are superpowers—quite literally, supernatural powers that only God has by nature and we can have only on loan from him, and which are indescribably, beyond imagination or expectation, extremely cool. The Greek is ταλαντον; a Greek word written with English letters. Translated, a “talent” was actually a unit of money—something like 20 years of wages for a middle class worker. A lot of money!
But; would you not give practically everything you have to be able to fly—or whatever else your most desired superpower might be? If you wouldn’t give practically everything you have to possess your favorite superpower, then I’d say: not only are you not reading the right books, or watching the right films, you’re not dreaming big enough.
But, Jesus is here to help with that, right now!
I mean, what good is money, even huge piles of money, really, except to get the stuff you want? And if superpowers are not what you want most, again; I’m worried about you! Your reading, film-watching, church-going, and dreaming must have gone seriously awry. You’ve grown up! way too fast, way too much! You’ve taken a… tumble, “another un-innocent, elegant fall/ into the un-magnificent lives of adults”. And God and his angels don’t wanna watch that terrible tumble, I (and Matt Berninger) can assure you…
Really, the “talents” are treasure—like pirate’s treasure buried on a desert island, marked by a big X. Money is just a means to an end, and Jesus doesn’t mess around with Mr. In-Between, with middlemen, but delivers the Real Goods, directly. And what would you treasure more than being re-made in the Image of Jesus Christ our LORD? To be gods, like him, with all the superpowers? Yes! So, I say the “talents” are nothing less than superpowers. And really, when the question is: “Which superpower do you want” the answer is a Lutheran “Yes!”. You want ‘em all.
Now, the Kingdom of Heaven is all about this, Jesus says: like a man going on a journey, who calls his servants and entrusts to them his goods. One gets 5 superpowers, another 2, another 1—each, according not to his “ability” as the ESV translates. The Greek is δυναμιν power, literally! The idea of superpowers is all in that one Greek word, just like a pirate’s map of buried treasure, showing you the way. Like Dr. Luther, I find discovering the real meaning of a single word can open up an entire section of scriptures and make me happy for a week.
But what does this mean—“He distributed the “talents” (his treasured superpowers) to each according “to their power?” Well; I would say several things are going on here: The master distributes according to our power in the sense of our power to handle it. But also according to our power in the sense of what we’re lacking, where we’re weakest, where we need empowering the most, according to our need. And finally, I think he sees our hearts better than we do and knows not only what superpowers we yearn for most deeply, but which ones will truly delight us the most, and gives according to the superpower we will treasure the most.
And I’ve buried the lede again, but I would say the “talents” are a very specific treasure, a very particular superpower that is simply the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The “oil” last week, we deduced, is the Church’s means of grace, the word and sacraments which connect us to Christ Jesus, crucified and risen for us.
The means of grace are imputing to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ that he won for us by taking our sin to the cross, burying it in the depths of hell and rising victorious with healing and power and glory and perfect righteousness on his wings to make us fly, heavenward, with him.
It’s not physical weakness, but spiritual badness—our sinfulness, that grounds us. The righteousness of Christ imputed to us forgives our sins, whisks them away, so we’re light as air; we fly. It is holiness that makes us gods, makes us over in the Image of Christ Jesus God and Lord. And if you are holy— sin forgiven, wrapped up in the righteousness of Jesus by faith alone—then you have all the superpowers, the divine power of God himself, at your fingertips, to wield as Xt’s secret agents.
The treasure that Jesus is—and he is the Treasure himself, his Body is like a diamond. It has many facets. Goodness, kindness, gentility, peace, courage, purity, joy, truthfulness, time-travel, wisdom, flight, invulnerability, triumph over sin, death, and devil, etc. they’re all just different ways the holiness of Jesus manifests itself.
So, the five talent man got the righteousness of Xt, say… as it shows up in goodness, kindness, gentility, peace, and courage. The two talent guy got purity and joy. And the one talent guy got the power to fly, supernaturally (just a hypothetical 😉 It’s the same righteousness of Christ, the same diamond, just different facets of that inexhaustibly rich Treasure that the Triune God is.
Trading with the talents is simply believing that the Treasure of Christ is yours and living as if everything of yours (your sin and shtuff) has become Christ’s, and everything of his, his holiness and divine superpowers have become yours. And this is how the treasure, the superpowers, multiply. The more you believe they’re really yours, they more they… are.
To bury the best talent (flying 😉 in the ground is rejection of Xt’s word. It’s unbelief. We all tend toward that—especially when we’re gifted that one superpower we want most—we also discover our fear of… heights. So, Jesus fills us again with his Body, his Blood, his holiness; so that we’ll soar like superheroes with him to heaven. In the Name of Jesus Amen.