top of page

33 OT A ~ "Money and the Kingdom" ~ Susan McGurgan, DMin


Many of us

unconsciously

divide our lives into

separate,

distinct,

compartmentalized chunks…

There is the spiritual part—

AKA, the “good part”

that inhabits the world of Church

and sacrament;

the world of prayer and sacrifice

and general “holiness”

i.e., thinking lofty thoughts,

doing good deeds,

keeping our hands clean

and our minds on spiritual matters.


And then there’s the secular chunk

that hovers apologetically

over just about everything else…

work

leisure

possessions

money.

You know, the grubby,

practical,

messy,

worldly,

“unholy things” of life.


There are some topics

we just don’t like to talk about

in the sacred spaces of Church,

and money

is often on that list.


Should the Church accumulate wealth?

Invest wealth?

Collect dividends?

Is money “strictly secular?”

or can it be holy?

And what about the passage

claiming it's easier for a camel to go through

the eye of a needle,

than it is for a rich person to enter heaven? (Mt. 16:26)

Sometimes,

it’s just easier to avoid discussions of

money

in Church.


Even on Stewardship Sunday,

we envelop the message

in such a fluffy cocoon of

“time, talent, treasure” talk,

that sometimes, we forget that

money

is actually an important part of that equation.


Most of us avoid reading the parish Finance report,

and often—

perhaps without malice or intent—

Churches try to balance the

red

of the annual budget

on the backs of the lay staff,

who shrink from discussions of economic justice,

because,

well…

Money.

In Church.


We hire outside fundraisers

at great cost

so we can expand the sanctuary

or upgrade the school,

and maybe

that’s because we aren’t skilled

in heady world of capital finance

and long term pledges,

but maybe,

just maybe,

it’s also because we aren’t really comfortable

with money.

In Church.


We prefer to translate the Greek word,

Talents” in this passage

as “gift” or “skill” or talent as in talent show”

rather than

“cha-ching,

moola,

cash,

greenbacks,

money, money, money.”


And, it’s really not surprising.


There are so many cautionary tales

about religious financial abuse,

excess

fraud

sticky fingers

Greed masquerading as Grace.

I mean,

do we really want to know

about the workings of the Vatican Bank?

No.


For those growing up

in the Buckle of the Bible Belt,

the sound of televangelists

proclaiming the Prosperity Gospel

was as common

as the sight of their wives’ big hair

and tear-streaked mascara.


For many Christians,

weaned on a steady diet of the Gospel of Wealth,

the message received is,

The Bigger the Offering, The Holier the Giver.

The Greater the Take, The More Power in the Preacher.

The Deeper the Pocket, The More Graced the Life.

And of course, the cosmetic corollary …

The Higher the Hair, the Closer to Jesus.


Some preachers have proclaimed

the Gospel of Money and Prosperity

so often,

and so well,

that if we aren’t listening carefully,

we might just start to believe that Jesus

was really an investment advisor,

or a financial guru,

or a gumball machine giving out shiny prizes,

rather than the Savior of the world.


And yet,

neither approach—

  • avoiding talk of money in Church

or

  • focusing on money obsessively

is Biblical.


In reality,

the Bible talks a lot about money and work

and Jesus often speaks of money and possessions.


Multiple sources claim that there are over

2,000 verses in Scripture

concerning money—

and that nearly 15% of what Jesus discussed

had to do with money,

possessions,

resources.

Is this true?

I’m not sure.

But there is no escaping the fact

that Jesus spoke often of

money and commerce.

His parables frequently touched on

themes of investments,

ownership,

wealth,

labor.


Possibly because he knew

how much we struggle to reconcile

finance and faith,

wealth and the Church,

work and holiness.

Possibly because he realized

how hard it is to see "our" possessions

as God’s gracious gift.

Possibly because he understood,

“where our hearts are,

there is our treasure.”


We may not realize just how common

these passages are

because we so often “abstract” them—

gloss over the practical meaning

in favor of a lofty,

spiritualized,

dis-embodied interpretation.


Today’s Gospel reading is a perfect example.

How many times have we heard

preachers explore this passage

by discussing

“Talents,

skills,

gifts,

attitudes?”


How many times

have we heard homilies on Matthew 25:14

that never even mention money,

but rather urge us to

“Use our God-given abilities

to build up the Kingdom.

Don’t hide your gifts,

don't allow them to tarnish or stagnate,

but offer up your talents for the community!”


And this is certainly a good message.


But those who

never

want to discuss money,

finances,

or material resources for mission

miss the mark

as wildly as those who preach a

never-ending Gospel of Prosperity and Wealth.


Because in this passage from Matthew,

Jesus is talking about

Money.

Not skillsets—

Cash.

Not the ability to play the violin

or entertain a toddler—

Funds.

Not the talent of

teaching,

or healing,

or spiritual direction—

Coins of the realm.

We can abstract this parable if we want,

but what happens when we face it

head on?


In modern English,

the word, “talent”

has come to mean skills or abilities.

But this parable is about money,

specifically about investing it.


Matthew’s audience would not associate

the Greek word “talent”

with gifts and abilities.

They would have been thinking,

“Cash."

And lots of it.


A “talent”

was a monetary unit of 6,000 denarii.

A denarius was the standard day’s wage,

so one talent

equaled 6,000 days--

or 16 and a half years of labor

for the average man or woman

Or,

the wages of 16 different people,

each working for a year.

Any way you parse it,

it is big bucks,

about $1,300,000 in today’s terms.


A servant who was given five talents to invest—

or even one talent—

was being entrusted with a fortune.

And this specific master wanted his servants to

put his money to use,

multiplying it,

growing it,

amplifying it.


Sometimes,

Christians speak as if growth,

return on investment,

dividends,

is something a bit sketchy--

something we do because,

darn it,

we’re human and we love money,

but it’s certainly not a topic fit for

sacred conversation.


But this parable

challenges that viewpoint.

This parable invites us to consider

that God is charging us to

invest our skills and abilities,

to invest our wealth,

our material resources,

our silver “Talents”

whether that sum is large or small

for the needs of God’s kingdom

and for the needs of God’s people.


This parable invites us to see

the whole of our lives,

as sacred,

dedicated to worshipping God.

Not just on Sunday,

in the sanctuary,

but on Tuesday and Friday as well,

in the marketplace and boardroom,

and yes,

on the securities trading floor.


Perhaps it invites us to consider

that our actions in the financial world

will have an impact on the Kingdom.


The Hebrew people had a word,

“Avodah”,

that is used 289 times in the Old Testament.

It is variously translated as

“work”

“worship”

“serve”

depending on the context.

Imagine!

A word used for work

is also used for worship.

“Avodah” reminds us that our work,

whether it is direct ministry to others,

or investing the financial assets of clients,

can be a way of honoring God;

a way of serving God’s mission;

a path to holiness

in the midst of our daily lives.


A man dedicated to alleviating hunger

among the poorest of his neighbors

is doing God’s work.

But so is the young female entrepreneur

whose tech start-up provides

much needed jobs and services.


The Master in this parable

entrusted his servants

with precious resources to steward.

Two of them rose to the occasion.

They accepted the challenge,

invested the Master’s talents,

and returned 5 for 5

and 2 for 2.


The third servant,

frightened of failure,

allergic to risk,

paralyzed by the challenge,

simply dug a hole,

and buried his million in the ground.


And that was the one action

Jesus condemned in this parable.

Fear.

Inaction.

Risk avoidance.


The servant who buried both investment

and self in the sand,

wringing his hands

and hoping for the best

was called out for being unfaithful.


The servant who played it safe,

Lost.


God invites us to invest and multiply

our abilities and skills,

our wealth and our resources

for the community

and for the work of the Kingdom.

This work includes proclaiming the Good News,

teaching,

preaching,

and caring for the hungry,

the weak,

the lost and suffering.

This work takes money.

It takes material resources

as well as time,

talent,

courage,

and commitment.


The life of discipleship is truly a life of adventure.

Along the way we will see

opportunities for multiplication

where others might only see danger.

Along the way,

we can take risks,

or we can dig a hole,

wring our hands,

and hope for the best.


God invites us into a life where

work,

money,

physical resources,

are “avodah,”

holy things

that can serve the Kingdom.


And God invites us to be faithful.

In great things and in small things,

in ventures valued at millions

and in ventures so small,

so invisible,

they are known only to God,

we are invited to be faithful.

“Come,

Share your Master’s joy.”

124 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page