Lent #4: Abundance of Generosity
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
We are in the fourth Sunday of Lent. This year during Lent we are talking about abundance. We have been focusing on turning to Jesus this Lent. We have been asking ourselves if we need to give something up in order to turn to Jesus or if we need to add something to our lives in order to turn to Jesus. When we enter into this discipline during Lent, we often experience spiritual abundance as a result. We have talked about a resulting abundance of forgiveness, a resulting abundance of hope, and a resulting abundance of gratitude. Today we are going to talk about an abundance of generosity.
It might sound strange at first glance to associate an abundance of generosity with our passage today because at the end of it, Jesus says in verse 29, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken.” ... At first glance that just sounds like a corrupt tax law. And totally out of character for Jesus. Jesus is very clear, and we will see next week, as Christ followers we are all called to care for the least of these. We are supposed to give to those who have nothing. We are not supposed to hoard up for ourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, for we cannot serve both God and money. So we know, then, that this is not instruction to us about how we are to treat others. So, what is this about?
This parable is about ourselves. And it is about what we do with all that God has given to us. Let’s look in more detail at the parable so that we can understand what Jesus meant in verse 29.
We learned a few weeks ago what a talent was in the ancient world. It was a unit of money worth 15 years of wages for a skilled worker. And in this parable, the talents represent all that God has given to us, including money, but not only money. The talents represent ALL that God has given to us. It says in verses 14-15 that the man (who in the parable represents God) “summoned his slaves (who in the parable represents us) and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” Just think about how much money you would make in 15 years. To one he gave that amount, to another he doubled that, and to the other he gave five times that. These very large numbers are supposed to inspire us to recognize that God has already given us so much. God has given all of us gifts and skills. God has given all of us money and things. God has given all of us time and relationships. The abundance of generosity started with God. God has been abundantly generous with us. And this parable is supposed to inspire us to ask the question, “What are we doing with all that God has given to us?” Are we using all that God has given to us with abundant generosity?
Sometimes we worry about the amount that God has given us. Do we have enough to be generous? Are our gifts and skills good enough to be shared with others? The answer is yes, yes. Whatever God has given you is good enough. There are several passages in the Bible that remind us that God gives to us according to who we are, not according to some standard, and not compared with anyone else. In Romans 12:6 it says, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” Just as it says in our passage in verse 15 that the man (God) gave “to each according to his ability.” Whatever God has given to us has been given to us generously to fit who we are exactly. So again, the question is, “What are we going to do with all that God has given to us?”
God doesn’t want us to bury our talents. There were sayings in the ancient world to support what the third slave did. According to Davies and Allison in my commentary on Matthew, there were two ancient sayings that supported burying money in the earth right away. One said that burying it right away released the person from any liability, and the other said that only way to guard money was to bury it in the earth (Matthew, vol. 3, pg. 406-7). This is true if your only concern is not losing it. Jesus’ point in our parable is that what God cares about is that we use what we’ve been given with the goal of multiplying it. Keeping it safe, as it is, is not what God wants us to do. God wants us to use what we’ve been given with the goal of multiplying it. Not just for ourselves, but for God, so that God’s abundant generosity that’s been poured out into us gets multiplied back up to God and out into the world.
And again, God’s not concerned with the amount. The first slave went from 5-10 talents and the second slave went from 2-4 talents and they both received the same reward. The man says to them in verses 21 and 23, “Well done good and trustworthy slave” (I have this memorized as “well done good and faithful servant”), “you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And then the master’s suggestion to the third slave for what he could have done at the very least, in verse 27, was to put it in the bank and at least make interest on it. The point is that God is not concerned with the quantity of multiplying our talents, but instead, God is concerned with our faithful work at using what we’ve been given with abundant generosity; our faithful work in growing it, in multiplying it, in sharing it.
The other thing that God is not concerned with is how we multiply our talents, how we multiply all that we’ve been given. Obviously, what we do to multiply must bear the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). But in our parable, we are not told how the first two slaves multiplied their talents, only that they did. The only specific action we are told about is what not to do, which is do not bury your talents. This means that just as God gives us generously gifts and skills, money and things, time and relationships according to who we are, so we are called to multiply them also according to who we are.
What might this look like?
The New York Times just published two articles about a Nigerian refugee named Tani. His family fled Boko Harem in Nigeria and were living in a homeless shelter in New York City. For a little over a year, he’s been learning how to play chess at his public school’s chess club. The school waived his fees because the family couldn’t pay. A few weeks ago he won the New York State chess championship for his age-group, and the New York Times ran an article about him to show how “talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.”
In response to that, people have mobilized to support Tani’s family. They now have the choice of several different apartments, they have $200,000 from a GoFundMe, and Tani has his pick of a full-ride at three elite private schools. But Tani’s family has decided not to send him to a private school. They want to stay at his public school because that school and the chess teacher gave him his opportunity to learn and thrive at chess in the first place. They have gratefully accepted one of the apartments offered to them, but not any of the big, lavish or expensive ones, rather a modest one, near Tani’s school. And they have decided not to use any of the $200,000. They will give a tithe, 10%, to their church because their church helped them find the homeless shelter when they first arrived in the U.S.. And they will use the rest to start a foundation in Tani’s name to help other Africans struggling as they try to immigrate to the United States. As Tani’s father said, “God has already blessed me...I want to release my blessing to others.”
(All quotations and information about Tani are taken from the following two New York Times articles by Nicholas Kristoff:
We also saw this with the capable wife in Proverbs 31. She has gifts and skills and business sense and uses all of that to provide for her household abundantly, and in verse 20, “She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.” She uses her skills and resources with abundant generosity and that is why she is praised.
Another example is Julian of Norwich, who was a very famous Christian mystic from the middle ages. She also lived with abundant generosity, although you wouldn’t think so at first glance. She was called to a life of solitude and prayer in the middle of a bustling port city. Even though she dedicated her life to solitude and prayer, she had a window facing the street for the purpose of allowing anyone to come to her for “counsel or a word from God.” Many people came. She also wrote down her visions of God and her writings have inspired Christians for centuries. According to Heidi Haverkamp in her book Holy Solitude, “Even though [Julian of Norwich’s] door to her cell was bolted shut,...a life of solitude was a gift she held in trust and gave away to her neighbors” ((WJK, 2017), pg. 65-6).
Remember that confusing verse we started with, verse 29, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have in abundance.” This part makes sense. We have a lot. God has given to us with an abundance of generosity and when we use all that God has given to us, our talents (so to speak) will multiply, as we saw with Tani, the capable wife, and Julian of Norwich. But what about the second part of verse 29, “but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away”?
I want you to imagine how things would have been different for Tani if his school had not given him the opportunity to learn chess by waiving his fees. And we have yet to see the fruit of the foundation in Tani’s name to help other struggling immigrants. But if the school had said no, or his family had kept everything for themselves, they would have nothing, so to speak, and all of this goodness would be taken away.
Imagine the capable wife. Imagine if she hadn’t used her gifts and skills to create tradable goods. Imagine if she had buried her money in the ground instead of using her business sense to multiply it. She would have had nothing and the joy of her prosperous life and the generosity of providing for others by giving to the poor would have been taken away.
And imagine if Julian of Norwich had kept her visions to herself and not written them down. Imagine if she never allowed anyone from that bustling port city to come and speak with her. She would have had nothing. The encouragement and peace that people received from speaking to her would have been taken away. And the passing down from generation to generation of her writings would have been taken away as well.
When we bury our talents, we take away from ourselves and we take away from God and we take away from the world. God gives generously to us so that we can use what we’ve been given with abundant generosity.
What has God generously given to us as individuals or as families? What has God generously given to us as a church? How can we use all of it, our gifts and skills, our money and things, our time and relationships, how can we use all of it to fulfill the mission that God is calling us to here in this place? How can we multiply our talents for God’s glory? Let us share what we have here, together at Briarwood, with our church, with our family and friends, with our neighbours and our communities. Let us live with abundant generosity. Amen.