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Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. (Matthew 25:14-28)

Thus begins the parable of the talents, as told by Jesus of Nazareth . If you missed the Sunday school class when this one was covered, the parable tells the story of a master who entrusts three servants with money (“talents”) — to one, five talents, to a second, two, and to the third, one. The first and second servants double their money. The third buries it in a hole. The master commends the first two, not so much the third.

It’s probably not much of a stretch to see this story in light of stewardship. But it does give me pause when I consider it in light of the way Lutheran World Relief values stewardship:

Both our respect and appreciation for each other and the critical and urgent nature of our mission call us to employ the highest standards in our lives and work. We are not owners; rather we strive to be wise trustees: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). Aware of an imbalance and abuse of resources globally, we are compelled toward responsibility, justice and bold investment for the sake of our mission.

In short, it makes me think about how I answer this question: How do we use what God first gives as gifts as a resource for the flourishing of life?

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If we learn anything from the parable, we learn first that stewardship is about trust. In the world of first century Palestine, there were no federal banks or mutual funds or stock exchanges. So not only did the master entrust his servants with his resources, but the servants likewise had to entrust those same talents with others whom they trusted to use their talents wisely, to bring a return.

Well, at least the first two servants did. In effect, the third suffered from a lack of trust. He could not bring himself to trust that others would have his best interests in mind.

Second, stewardship is about risk. Indeed, the third servant’s lack of trust is expressed as a deep fear of risk. It’s the whole reason he does nothing but try to preserve what he already has.

But the risk of a good steward is never foolish risk. It is the kind of creative risk that knows its context and is confident of its outcome. Ironically, for a steward, this kind of risk is easy when it’s built on trust.

Last, stewardship is about hope. Perhaps the hardest words of the parable are uttered near the end by the last servant: “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid…” (Mt 25:24-25). Rather than deny it, the master confirms the servant’s suspicions. And then he deals with him harshly.

Strange as it may sound, for those of us who know what we know about God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these words are words of hope. It means that no matter how godforsaken things may seem — how abandoned, forgotten, deserted, or miserable a place may be — God can still reap a crop there. Even in places where others have scattered seeds of hate and oppression and cruelty, God can still gather a harvest there.

I have my own suspicion that any steward who stewards in the work of a place like Lutheran World Relief traffics in abundant hope like that.

Travis Scholl is managing editor of theological publications at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He blogs for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and you can follow him on Twitter @travisjscholl

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