Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: parable

What is a talent?

Jesus told a parable of a man going to a far country who distributed talents to his servants. The talents given in this parable were money, not ability, for it says that He gave “to every man according to his several ability” (Matthew 25:15).

After generations of misunderstanding this passage we have come to understand talent to mean ability. This is not such a bad thing, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. But it is a serious misunderstanding to interpret the parable to mean that when we become Christians God will give us some new ability that we never had before. That is not taught in this parable, nor anywhere else in the Bible.

What this parable does teach is that God wants us to develop the abilities that we have so that they can be employed for the good of His Kingdom.

I was thinking of this the other day as we were in Saskatoon. Our first stop was at the Christian book store. I am impressed with all the staff here, but I’ll just mention one. This store has a loyalty program which requires the person at the till to enter the customer’s phone number. Tanaya never asks for my phone number, but the cash register slip always comes out with my name on it and a summary of my loyalty account.

This young lady obviously has a phenomenal memory, but that’s only part of it. I do not get preferred treatment over other customers, she makes every one of us feel that we are especially welcome in the store. We say she has a special talent for the job she is doing.

I don’t believe that this is a talent that was given her at the time of conversion, or any other particular moment. It is rather the result of her efforts to develop the abilities she had in a way that would be of helpt to thers.

The same day we had dinner with our friends Ray and Ruth. Ray is an accomplished artist; he has made his living by other means, but has been able to sell some of his art work for good prices. As a child he had an ability to see things around him in a way that allowed him to draw accurate representations.

His third grade school teacher remembers drawings of birds and animals on the margins of his school work. He has studied to refine and deepen the ability he began with. He painted a 60 foot mural in the church which he attends that depicts the history of the world from Creation to the Last Judgment. He also has a talent for teaching basic art techniques to children and people of all ages.

Finally I had an appointment with my eye doctor. This man has given me numerous injections for macular degeneration, which is now stable, and has done cataract surgery on both my eyes. His skill is the reason I can still see to type this post. Someone at the CNIB once told me that this doctor is the best in Western Canada for diseases of the retina.

For each one of us there is a way that we can develop whatever natural ability we have and put it to use in God’s kingdom. We should not feel that we are helpless until God grants us some special talent. Let us not despise the ability we already have, no matter how insignificant it may appear to us, and be ready and willing when He gives us an opportunity to put that ability to use for His honour and glory.

The millionaire and the scrublady

There is a certain Millionaire who hath his Offices on the Second Floor of the First National Bank building. And when he goeth up to his Offices he rideth the Elevator. But when he goeth down, then he walketh.

And he is an haughty man, who once was poor, and hath risen in the world. He is a Self-made Man who worshippeth his maker.

And he payeth his Rent regularly on the First day of the Month, and he considereth not that there are Human Beings who run the Elevators, and who clean the Windows, hanging at great height above the Sidewalk, and who shovel Coal into the furnaces under the Boilers. Neither doth he at Christmas time remember any of them with a Tip or a Turkey. And there is in that Building a Poor Woman who scrubbeth the Stairs and the Halls. And he hath walked past her often but hath never seen her until Recently. For his head was high in the air, and he was thinking of More Millions.

Now it came to pass on a day that he left his Offices, and started to walk down the Stairs. And the Scrublady was half way down, for she had begun at the top and was giving the Stairs their first Once-over. And upon the topmost Stair, in a wet and soapy spot, there was a large Cake of Soap. And the Millionaire stepped on it. Now the foot which he set upon the Soap flew Eastward toward the sunrise, and the other foot started on an expedition of its own toward the going down of the Sun. And the Millionaire sat down on the Topmost Step, but he did not remain there. As it had been his intention to Descend, so he Descended, but not in the manner of his Original Design. And as he descended he struck each step with a sound as if it had been a Drum.

And the Scrublady stood aside courteously, and let him go.

And at the Bottom he arose, and considered whether he should rush into the Office of the Building and demand that the Scrublady should be fired, but he considered that if he should tell the reason there would be great Mirth among the Occupants of the Building, and so he held his peace.

But since that day he taketh notice of the Scrublady, and passeth her with circumspection. For there is no one so high or mighty that can afford to ignore any of his fellow human beings. For a Very Humble Scrublady and a very common bar of Yellow Soap can take the mind of a Great Man off his Business Troubles with surprising rapidity.

Wherefore, consider these things, and count not thyself too high above even the humblest children of God. Lest haply thou come down from thy place of pride and walk off with thy bruises aching a little more by reason of thy suspicion that the Scrublady is Smiling in her Suds, and facing the day’s work more cheerfully by reason of the fun thou hast afforded her.

For these are solemn days, and he that bringeth a smile to the face of a Scrublady hath not lived in vain.

– Author unknown

Missed opportunities

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time  Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Colossians 4:5-6

Like many other Christians, I read these verses and feel that I need to be much busier in the work of the Lord. So far, so good. The question is, however, what is it that I need to be busy doing? I can fill my time with doing good things, but how do I know that this is really what God wants me to do? Am I asking the Spirit to guide me in doing God’s will, or am I just busy?

The word translated time in these verses seems to have more the sense of opportunity. One Bible dictionary says that “redeeming the time” means “to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good.”

The passage in Colossians is addressing our witness to others. Perhaps it could be rephrased to say that we should be ready to act when the Spirit prompts us to do or say something for the Lord. Is there a danger that I may be so busy doing the things that I believe to be good and needful that when the Spirit speaks I cannot hear Him? Or that I am just too busy to interrupt the important thing I am doing to do the thing the Spirit tells me is more important? How many opportunities for service do I miss because I am too busy with something ele?

Or, to put it another way — am I so busy doing right things that I have no time to do what is right when the opportunity arises?

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of a man travelling to a far country who gave his servants varying amounts of money to use for his benefit while he was gone. The money is expressed in talents — a talent of silver in Bible times was about 45kg. This has given rise to our English word talent, denoting a special ability. This is a misunderstanding of the parable. Each servant was given a number of talents, “according to his several ability.” Thus it was not abilities that were being handed out, but rather opportunities to use their abilities in their master’s service.

One servant thought he had no ability to profit by the opportunity given him and the master characterized his unwillingness to serve as wickedness. How many opportunities to serve do we miss because we think our Lord is asking something beyond our ability? Do I see it as wickedness when I am unwilling to do the small things that the Holy Spirit asks of me?

Hermas’ vision of the church

The Shepherd of Hermas is an ancient Christian writing, probably from the 2nd century AD.  These excerpts are taken from the translation of J. B. Lightfoot, first published in 1891.

While I was advising and discussing these matters in my heart, I see, before me a great white chair of snow-white wool; and there came an aged lady in glistening raiment, having a book in her hands, and she sat down alone, and she saluted me, “Good morrow, Hermas.”

Now, brethren, a revelation was made unto me in my sleep by a youth of exceeding fair form, who said to me, “Whom thinkest thou the aged woman, from whom thou receivedst the book, to be?”  I say, “The Sibyl”  “Thou art wrong,” saith he, “she is not.”  “Who then is she?” I say.  “The Church,” saith he.  I said unto him, “Wherefore then is she aged?”  “Because,” saith he, “she was created before all things; therefore is she aged; and for her sake the world was framed.”

Now she was seen of me, brethren, in my first vision of last year, as a very aged woman and seated on a chair.  In the second vision her face was youthful, but her flesh and her hair were aged, and she spake to me standing; and she was more gladsome than before.  But in the third vision she was altogether youthful and of exceeding great beauty, and her hair alone was aged; and she was gladsome exceedingly and seated on a couch.  Touching these things I was very greatly anxious to learn this revelation.

So I fasted one day; and that very night there appeared unto me a young man, and he saith to me, “Seeing that thou askest me revelations offhand with entreaty, take heed lest by thy much asking thou injure thy flesh.  Sufficient for thee are these revelations.  Canst thou see mightier revelations than those thou hast seen?”

I say unto him in reply, “Sir, this one thing alone I ask, concerning the three forms of the aged woman, that a complete revelation may be vouchsafed me.”

Listen,” saith he, “concerning the three forms, of which thou enquires.  In the first vision wherefore did she appear to thee an aged woman and seated on a chair?  Because your spirit was aged, and already decayed, and had no power by reason of your infirmities and acts of double-mindedness.  For as aged people, having no longer hope of renewing their youth, expect nothing else but to fall asleep, so ye also, being weakened with the affairs of this world gave yourselves over to repining, and cast not your cares on the Lord; but your spirit was broken, and ye were aged by your sorrows.”  “Wherefore then she was seated on a chair, I would fain know, Sir.”  “Because every weak person sits on a chair by reason of his weakness, that the weakness of his body may be supported. So thou hast the symbolism of the first vision.”

“But in the second vision thou sawest her standing, and with her countenance more youthful and more gladsome than before; but her flesh and her hair aged.  Listen to this parable also,” saith he.  “Imagine an old man, who has now lost all hope of himself by reason of his weakness and his poverty, and expecteth nothing else save the last day of his life.  Suddenly an inheritance is left him.  He heareth the news, riseth up and full of joy clothes himself with strength, and no longer lieth down, but standeth up, and his spirit, which was now broken by reason of his former circumstances, is renewed again, and he no longer sitteth, but taketh courage; so also was it with you, when you heard the revelation which the Lord revealed unto you.  For He had compassion on you, and renewed your spirits, and ye laid aside your maladies, and strength came to you, and ye were made powerful in the faith, and the Lord rejoiced to see you put on your strength.  And therefore He showed you the building of the tower; yea, and other things also shall He show you, if with your whole heart ye be at peace among yourselves.

But in the third vision ye saw her younger and fair and gladsome, and her form fair.  For just as when to some mourner cometh some piece of good tidings, immediately he forgetteth his former sorrows, and admitteth nothing but the tidings which he hath heard, and is strengthened thenceforth unto that which is good, and his spirit is renewed by reason of the joy which he hath received; so also ye have received a renewal of your spirits by seeing these good things.  And whereas thou sawest her seated on a couch, the position is a firm one; for the couch has four feet and standeth firmly. . .  They then that have fully repented shall be young again, and founded firmly, seeing that they have repented with their whole heart.”

%d bloggers like this: