This week I’d like to share with you a speech I delivered at the May 3 graduation event at Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia. IWU recently struck an agreement to acquire WI and work with them to create the first evangelical Christian university in Australia.
Four Wise Principles for Multiplying Good in the World
14 ‘Again, [the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
The parable of the talents is one of the most popular of Jesus stories. A man of some means prepared to go away on a long journey. He called in three of his employees and entrusted his money to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two, and to a third he gave one talent. Then he left.
The first two employees immediately put their employer’s money to use. Through their skill and faithfulness their employer’s money was multiplied. They each doubled their employer’s money.
The third employee went off, dug a secret hole in the ground, and there deposited his employer’s money for safe keeping.
In due time the man returned. Quite naturally, he was anxious to hear from his employees and to settle accounts with them.
The first two employees were congratulated and given even greater wealth to manage. The third, the one who hid the money “for safe keeping,” was chastised and fired.
This Is What The Kingdom of Heaven is Like
Jesus tells this story, along with several others, to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus was saying, “This is the nature and the working of the world according to God’s plan.”
This is the way the world works in which God’s will holds sway.
So, what can we learn from this interesting little story about God’s plan for the world, and for our lives?
What is a Talent?
In order to understand the story we need to know that in Jesus’ day the word “talent” didn’t mean “skill” or “ability” as it does today.
In Jesus’ day, a talent was a measure of money. It is said that one talent of money was the equivalent of 20 years’ annual wages of a normal laborer. So, for example, if in our day a normal laborer might make $30,000 per year, one talent would be equal to about $600,000.
When the man in Jesus’ story entrusted five talents to his first employee, he gave him the equivalent of $3,000,000 – a tidy sum indeed.
The wealth they were given to manage was handed out “according to their abilities.” But they were each trusted and valued employees. The focus on the story is on what happens to the wealth based on the actions of those to whom it was entrusted.
The story isn’t about “money” per se, though money may be one of the things entrusted to us in the kingdom of heaven as it appears on earth. Instead, I believe the talents of money in this story stand for the “goodness” with which God fills the earth.
God entrusts his goodness to the people of the earth. His goodness might be described as the life, the vitality, inherent in the earth. It might be described as the imagination, creativity, and capacity for meaningful work that are inherent in people created in God’s image. It might be described as the resources he entrusts to us – our wealth, the natural resources made available to us, our networks of relationships with neighbors, our capacity for trust and goodwill, our aptitude for moral reasoning.
I believe this story tells us three amazing facts about God’s world. Further, I believe Jesus’ story suggests four principles for multiplying the world’s goodness.