By Dr. Robert Zielinski
I have generally found it to be true that when someone stands up in front of a crowd (usually well dressed, business attire; maybe with cameras and microphones around), and they tell you “This is NOT ABOUT THE MONEY”…….
You can pretty much be 100% certain…….
It’s ALL about the money.
But today’s parable from Jesus, I think, while superficially involving coin, is really NOT about the money. It may not be a bad investment strategy, mind you, to “bury”, that is, be conservative, with a portion of the total in managing investments. And Jesus has plenty of times when he really is talking to us about money and wealth. But really, today, this is not about the money.
You see, what these servants were given is a gift. Those who got the bigger portions, may feel like they earned it somehow, through past success or loyalty or whatever, but in the end, what they get is purely in the master’s discretion. He didn’t have to give them anything. He could have locked up his money while he was away. But he wants it put to good use, so he gives it to these servants. And he expects them to use the gift, not ignore it.
If you give someone a gift isn’t the worst thing to find it one day still untouched in the box it came in? If that happens, don’t you feel hurt, or angry? Wouldn’t you rather hear that it got destroyed the day after you gave it to them? At least you know they were using it!
The master becomes angry with the third servant because he didn’t use the gift he gave him. We don’t know how the master would have reacted if the servant had tried and failed with that money, but it’s hard to imagine the outcome could have been worse for him than what he got for not even trying.
So, the parable is about gifts, but more importantly, I suggest to you, it’s not about the monetary kind, but the spiritual kind. It is a very fortunate coincidence of language that the name of the currency involved here is called a “talent”. We all have skills and talents, but like the third servant, we are often afraid to use them.
A few years back, Zion offered a short course in helping us to identify our spiritual gifts, modeled after the list the apostle Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians. Linda and I took it, and you know what I discovered?
I was the third servant.
Although I had the inkling, I had been afraid to do things like this, stand here in front of a congregation and think out loud (which is really all a sermon is. Honest!). I had sat in classrooms till I was past 20 years old, but, I was afraid to participate in a Bible study. I taught medical students, but I was afraid to lead an adult ed class at Zion. And though I wanted to help, for sure, it was way too uncomfortable for me to ever consider going to someplace like Haiti.
I figured out that I had buried the gifts God gave me in the ground. So I dug them up and gave it a try. And it was life changing.
Sometimes the problem is that we think our “gift” is too small to matter. The third servant may have felt like, it’s only one coin, what can I do with that compared to the 8 coins the others have? This becomes a great excuse for not trying.
I am a doctor, as many of you know. I treat cancers. I am blessed to be surrounded by a great staff at the Buffalo Medical Group. As a large, multi-building, multi-specialty group, we have a lot of staff who have a lot of roles.
These days, medicine is trying to be more about customer satisfaction, making an uncomfortable thing like a doctor visit be as least unpleasant as possible. And you know what we find? The doctor time is only a small part of the patient experience, of what they find important.
Patient satisfaction surveys tell us that everyone’s job is noticed in some way. Does the building manager feel insignificant in the delivery of medical care? The patient who finds an easy parking spot and navigates painlessly around a big office building is on their way to a good experience. Does the janitorial service who was there overnight, the place empty, feel like they are lowest ones on the food chain? A clean bathroom and orderly waiting area make people feel comfortable with the folks they are trusting their lives with. “I’m just the receptionist” or “I’m just the secretary”? Not infrequently, my patients call and ask not for me, but one of my nurses or medical assistants by name because they know they will be taken care of like a family member.
Everyone plays a part in patient satisfaction, and mine is actually a surprisingly small one. Everyone contributes to a positive patient experience. They all make me look good, and make the patient confident they are being well cared for.
In Haiti last year, while the medical team and I were busy with sick children in a packed and dark church sanctuary, Lee Linderman (camp director at LCLC) and Michelle Biegner and others were off playing with the kids in the streets, or engaging in crafts. And there was Mickey, a big quiet man, an engineer by trade, not particularly comfortable in the bustle of what amounted to children’s day care out there on the streets of Les Cayes. His role on the trip was supposed to be building stuff at Grace School on Ile a Vache. On this medical clinic day, Mickey must have felt like he had no role, nothing to contribute. But he eased his way in and started make bead bracelets for kids and Moms while they waited a long time to see me or a nurse. He would make one (symmetrically arranged beads, color matched to the child’s outfit…he’s still an engineer, after all), and then he would coax a kid over to give it to them. The smiles he produced on those dirty little faces were priceless. The fact that it came from an unexpected source only increased the impact. I’m sure he had every bit as much of an impact on some of those kids as our medical care did.
Everyone has a role.
And they all add up.
So when I stand up in front of a crowd, nicely dressed, and say “the parable is not about the money”, it really isn’t.
It’s about how we all have gifts to use, parts to play, and our master wants us to figure out what they are, and jump in to the fray. Not to run away and bury ourselves or our gifts in the sand.
Sometimes we may feel like our part is minor, but that’s not for us to say. Sometimes what seems like the littlest thing makes the biggest difference.
Because in God’s house, no one is unimportant. No one’s job is insignificant.
And that, my friends, really is The Good News. Amen!