Rule of 72

November 12, 2017/Matthew 25:14-30


Any of you who are wise in the ways of investments may have read today’s sermon title and wondered why I am preaching on doubling your money.  For those of you who are more like me than my husband, you may never have heard of the Rule of 72.  Because if you’re like me, you want to be sure any money you’re able to shift over into savings will be safe, will still be there if and when you need it.  Your “investment” strategy, if it’s anything like mine, consists of socking dollars away in a savings account that makes it a little harder to get to, a little harder to spend.

So I relate to the third slave in Jesus’ parable.  Those first two slaves, they were all about the Rule of 72.  The Rule of 72 says to divide your interest rate into 72, and the answer will tell you how many years it will take to double your money.  I don’t know what those two slaves’ interest rate was – and we’re not told how long they were able to invest the talents that the property owner entrusted to them.  But they sure knew how to make money.  They were willing to take the risks necessary to double their money.  They were willing to work for it, manipulate it, and grow it.  I think that’s terrific.  Risky, but terrific.

The third slave worried about losing the one talent he had been given.  He didn’t like taking risks or stepping out on faith.  He wanted to protect his capital – and yes, he was a little worried about how the property owner would react if he tried a risky investment and lost his shirt.  So he dug a hole and buried the money, safe and snug, and went home relaxed and unconcerned about market downturns or deals gone bad.

We know how the story ends.  Well done, good and faithful servant!  That’s the message for the first two slaves.  Well done!  You’ve doubled my money, so now, I’m going to give you even more responsibility.  And why don’t you move onto my estate, while you’re at it.  You’ve earned it!

But the last slave caught heck.  He had feared the master’s reaction if he had lost money, so he handed him only the one talent he had started with.  One talent.  You wicked and lazy slave!  You could at least have put it into the bank!  I’m taking the one talent you have and giving it to the others.  Now get out of my sight!

The two slaves received more responsibility and found themselves welcomed into the presence of the master.  The one slave found the little responsibility he had taken away and found himself banished from his master’s presence.

If that sounds a little harsh to you, I understand.  It sounds harsh to me, too, on first reading.  But when you dig into the text a little deeper, it becomes a little clearer.

Matthew’s gospel contains a series of three parables – this story is the third – that “teach what constitutes proper conduct as people await the return of the Son of Man in glory.”[1]  The master gave his servants different amounts of money according to their ability.  One servant received ten, another five, our “lazy” servant only one.  The master knew each one had different capabilities, different, well, talents.  So he entrusted the money accordingly.  And then he turned them loose.  He did not dictate how they were to handle these funds, give explicit directions on the outcome he expected.  He simply handed the money over and left them to use their talents to manage his talents.  “The master goes away, thus providing the distance and room needed for the others to lead, grow, take chances and flourish.  The exceptional love of God is … demonstrated by God’s willingness to self-limit so that we may exist and live creatively, in the image of God.”[2]

“The industrious slaves are positive examples of how Christians are to conduct themselves in the present.”[3]  God gives to each of us certain abilities and talents, and God calls on us to use those gifts to work for the kingdom.  We’re guilty of “holding onto a talent knowing what we should do with it, but not doing so.”[4]  In an earlier parable in Matthew, Jesus called that hiding our light under a bushel basket.  “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” he said (Matt. 5:16).

The third slave did more than hide his light under a basket.  He buried it, deep in the ground, tamping the soil down over it, putting the light out.  That is what earned the master’s wrath.  Not his poor return on investment, but the fact that he really made no investment at all.

The point is not … about doubling your money and accumulating wealth.  It is about living.  It is about investing.  It is about taking risks.  It is about Jesus himself and what he has done and what is about to happen to him.  Mostly it is about what he hopes and expects of [his followers] after he is gone.  It is about being a follower of Jesus and what it means to be faithful to him, and so, finally, it is about you and me.  The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything.  The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe.[5]

Like the third slave, “we bury too much goodness, time, love, treasure, and talent in the ground.”[6]  So maybe, during this stewardship season, it is time for us to adopt a higher-risk investment profile.  Maybe it is time for us to risk a little more, dare a little more, in order to see what God might make of our risks and our daring.  Maybe it is time for us to be servants who manage our talents well.

[1] Thomas D. Stegman S.J., Feasting on the Word, Vol. A/4, 309

[2] Lindsay P. Armstrong, Feasting on the Word, Vol. A/4, 311

[3] Stegman, 311

[4] Armstrong, 311

[5] John M. Buchanan, Feasting on the Word, Vol. A/4, 310

[6] Armstrong, 311

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