I’m not a fan of dirt under my fingernails or even the sensation of dirt on my hands at all. But there was time, not very long ago, that I walked around with dirt on my hands, just hoping no one would notice it. I knew it was there; I knew why it was there. But I definitely hid it from everyone. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about what I had been doing (or not doing) that made my hands so dirty.
Today we’re looking at the end of the parable in Matthew 25:14-30 – the Parable of the Talents. The master has returned from his journey and called his servants together to see the results of their work. The master praised the first two servants for “being faithful with a little” (reminder – the “little” they started with represented huge sums of money, 375 and 150 pounds of gold, respectively) in doubling what they were given, and said because of their faithfulness they would be entrusted with more. The third servant brought back his one talent and was reprimanded for burying the money in the ground. Not just reprimanded – he was fired. Called lazy and worthless. Cast out into the darkness, “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Yikes.
I said last week that I kind of empathized with Servant Three. Can I still feel sorry for him while running as far away from his example as possible? Because I don’t ever want to hear that kind of judgment pronounced on me.
As I read through the Parable this week and last week, I couldn’t help but compare Servant One to Servant Three. I wondered who they really were – what were their names, their favorite hobbies; what things brought them joy, and what things scared them to inactivity? The master saw something in all three servants, potential and possibility that maybe they didn’t even realize was there. Each had the ability to do something with the talent(s) he was given. Two of them chose to follow the example of the master, and one did not.
I wondered what these two servants, extreme examples, would look like today, as Christians.
What would Servant One look like today? The text says he went “at once” and traded with his talents to make a profit. We could put it this way – he became aware of a task assigned to him, and immediately obeyed. Maybe you know someone like this – they always seem to know what God wants them to do, and they rarely waste time in starting. They look for opportunities to obey. They are bold about their faith and they seem confident in the direction they’re heading, in the steps they need to take, and in God’s provision.
What would Servant Three look like today? Would we recognize the dirt under his fingernails? Would we know if we were in his dangerous position? I think this is a harder question to answer. It’s tempting to try to give him a pass, to say that he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. But I think the entrusting of the talent implies that this servant knew his assignment and chose not to obey even a little. Maybe you know someone like this, as well; but you probably don’t know that you know it. Let me tell you about a time when I looked like Servant Three.
A couple of years ago I became very aware that I was supposed to be writing and sharing the story of what God has done in my life. I won’t scare you off by saying, “God spoke to me,” but it was clear to me that I had a task assigned. I had been in the Scripture every day, praying for direction for the next phase of my life, asking God to use me. But as soon as I knew what it might look like for Him to use me, I got scared. My risk-avoidance kicked in, and I backed off from all the things I had been doing in my personal life. I still went to Bible study and said the right things, I still was part of the worship service (and worship team!) at church. On the outside, it looked like I was “doing ministry” for God. But the whole time I was sitting on top of a mound of freshly turned earth, hiding the task that had been entrusted to me.
There was disobedient dirt under my fingernails.
And now I wonder about those two years – what opportunities did I miss? Where would I be today if I had just followed the example of my Master? It feels a little bit like wasted time. Not a little bit. A lot. I regret digging that hole. I’m grateful for the opportunity to still put that talent to work. He washed my hands and sent me back out to try again.
Maybe you read this and you have no idea what I’m talking about, and that’s fine, I guess. If you aren’t aware of dirt under your fingernails, you probably don’t have it. We all receive assignments and opportunities as part of our Christian walk, but you KNOW when you receive one. There’s no mistaking the 75-pound weight placed in your hands.
But if you are like me, and you have that dirt under your fingernails, I implore you to go dig up the talent, the task, the incomplete assignment; dig it up and bring it back to Jesus and confess what you did with what He entrusted to you. Offer Him your dirty hands again and ask Him to show you how to use what He’s given for His glory. It’s always worth it to do things Jesus’ way.