Here's a confession that may tell you more about me than you want to know:
As an adolescent, I was haunted by the this Parable, "The Parable of the Talents."
Perhaps you think it odd. I know I do, if I really consider it much. What was I doing, anyway, thinking about this parable? It's really not all that well-known, and it's not the most-discussed parable in youth groups, either. (I would give that honor to either the Parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: lots of good skits on those two.) Nevertheless, it is a lesson for preachers: you never know who is listening out there, and what they are hearing, when you get up and simply read the Gospel.
As for me, the hook all had to do with that word "Talent." The Parable of the Talents. It never occurred to me that a "Talent" was actually a real unit of money, like a denarius. I went directly to the word "talent", perhaps because I longed to be talented at something: singing, dancing, painting, embroidery. I wondered what it would be like to be good a shooting baskets, or hitting home runs, or running fast. (I was and still am not gifted athletically.) I was shy, but secretly wondered what it would be like to be a star in some way or another, to get up in front of people and shine.
To make matters worse, I identified with that third servant, the one who had only one measly talent and buried it in the ground instead of using it. I was pretty sure that if I had a talent, I only had one, and if I did, it was writing. But, how to use it? I obsessed about that as only an adolescent can. (sorry about that, all you well-adjusted adolescents who do not obsess. That's what I did.) I wanted to "be a writer", but I had no idea how to go about it, and I wondered if I was not burying my one measly talent in the ground because I wasn't using it the way God wanted me to. And I was 17.
Now that I am older if not wiser, with some Biblical exegesis under my belt, I notice a few things that I never saw before:
1. Since a talent IS actual money, the literal value of a "talent" matters. Even one talent is NOT measly. A talent is 6,000 denarii, about 20 years wages. It is a huge amount of money. It is not measly. What you have to offer is not measly. And don't forget that God first gave it to you.
2. The third servant buried the "talent", or "money," because he was afraid he would lose it somehow. He was afraid of God's judgment about that. His picture of God was harsh and unforgiving. Coincidentally, that's just the way God behaved toward him.
3. Now, looking back, this parable seems to me less about singing or writing or baton-twirling, but about taking a risk, and specifically taking a risk for the sake of God's kingdom. As it turns out, I'm not so great at that either. Perhaps it would help to consider God more as the one who is willing to take the risk of giving me this ridiculously valuable talent, than as the one who is willing to cast me into the outer darkness.
4. From the standpoint of being a missionary, it occurs to me that the "talents" might be the ridiculously valuable riches of the gospel, which we can bury in order to "preserve" unchanged for future generations, or share with others, which has its risks. Our church might grow, but it also might not look the same in the next generation as it did in the last one.
Forgiveness, mercy, love, embodied in our hands, our hearts, our voices, our baton-twirling, solo-singing, soup-ladling lives: ridiculously valuable. Not because of us, of course, but because of the One who threw away his life, risked his life, invested his life -- in us.