November 15th, 2020
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
“Pay it Forward”
“What does the world expect from you? The world would be full of disappointment unless you could take the things you don’t like and flip them upside down. Think about how you could change the world, and put it into action.” It is an assignment to 7th-grade students from a social studies teacher in a movie called, “Pay it Forward.” A boy thinks of a project for his assignment, “Pay it Forward.” His project is that he starts with good deeds for three people, asking each of them to pay the favor forward by doing favors for three other people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds. He thought the world might be changed through his project. What do you think about his project? Do you think it works?
Today’s scripture tells us the parable story of the talent. You may hear this story several times. “A man entrusted his property to his servants before his journey; to one, he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, the talents were given to each according to his ability.” This parable sounds like a simple story but has a thoughtful implication. First of all, let us learn about “talent.” Talent was a kind of currency at that time. Talent might be about a thousand dollars, which was worth more than fifteen years’ wages of a laborer. Two of them who received the talents went off at once and traded with them. Each of them made a double gain, and their master said to them, “well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (vs. 21 & 23). However, the one who received one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. And, he returned the one talent to his master. His master said to him, “you wicked and lazy slave!” (v. 26).
It sounds like a business story. However, notice that it is a parable about the kingdom of heaven. You may remember the parable story of an owner who has a vineyard and needs workers for his vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). That is also a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Actually, that story made much sense that the owner hired everyone regardless of their abilities and equally shared with them regardless of how many hours they worked. We might think that “the kingdom of heaven would be with “openness or inclusiveness and equality.”
This parable is also about the kingdom of heaven, but it didn’t make sense compared with the other story. The master gave his slaves talent “according to their ability” (v.15). The master commended his slaves who gained double money and cursed the other who did not make any profit. At the conclusion, Jesus says, “for to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (v. 29). It sounds like “materialism and capitalism.” What is different from this world?
This story focuses primarily upon how we may get double and join the master’s joy if we use the talent. But, if we do not use talent, our talent will be taken away and we will regret and cry in the darkness. The “talents” in our language may refer to natural gifts or abilities that people have. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, interprets “talent” like everything we have by God’s grace such as our body, mind, soul, spouse, children, ability, gift, and of course money and property. A scholar interprets the “talent” as “opportunities.” Each of the men is given opportunity according to ability and is expected to serve faithfully in that opportunity. I may say the “talent” might be everything we have, including property, abilities, natural gift, and opportunity. My point is that we must use all we have before our master comes back, who is Jesus Christ.
The important principle is gifts or abilities that are not used are lost. The slave who was given one talent kept one talent, but his master took it and gave it to the other slave who already has ten talents. The principle of the kingdom of God is “the more we give away, the more we have; the more we keep, the more we lost. We may be curious about how to use our gifts, abilities, money, property, and opportunities. Here is an example. In the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 16, there is a dishonest manager. He was squandering his master’s property. The master said, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management because you cannot be my manager any longer.” So, he was afraid he would be fired. He got an idea that he gives favors to his master’s debtors with the master’s property before he is fired. He thought that if he gives them favors, they may do a favor for him when he is in need. So He called all his master’s debtors and gave them favors with his master’s property. What is interesting is that the master commended the dishonest manager because he acted wisely. That point is who the man used his master’s property for, whether using for himself or others.
As such, we are like managers for God’s property. God’s property perhaps could be everything we have like “talents.” Do not compare with others who have a fancy house, who have good children, who have lots of property, and who have outstanding abilities because God gave us “according to our abilities.” In other words, do not complain to God because of what you have. The things also are given by God because God trusts your abilities to handle it. God gives us a test according to our capabilities. The First letter of Corinthians says, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing, he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Whether good or bad, everything we have is given by God according to our abilities. Please be humble and grateful for whatever you have. If you want to get more talents, use what you have to give away for others so that you may get more as if the master said, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things” (vs. 21 &23).
We, Christians, have privilege and obligation at the same time to God. The privilege is that we live in God’s grace, and the responsibility is that we have a debt to Jesus Christ to pay it forward, which we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by our good work. God’s grace and Jesus’ love is free for everyone who accepts him as the Savior. At that same time, we have a debt to live out as a witness to Jesus Christ’s love. Therefore, we call that Christians are servant ministers who serve God and neighbors humbly as Jesus did.
Let me talk about the movie “Pay it Forward.” In that movie, the teacher asked his students, “What does the world expect of you?” A boy answered him by saying, “nothing.” We may never think about what the world expects from us. Instead, we might expect the world to change in many ways, and many times: we expect an end to the COVID 19 pandemic; we expect freedom, justice, peace, equality, no poverty, no disaster, no violence, and so on. We expect the world to change in many more ways. The United Methodist Church’s mission statement is to “make all nations the disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our parish mission statement is the same. However, let us think of ourselves and what we have done so far, as much as we expect to change the world.
In the movie, the boy invited a homeless man home to feed him and let him use the bathroom to wash and called him a friend. The homeless man paid it forward by fixing the boy’s mom’s car and saving a woman who was going to commit suicide on the bridge. At first, it seemed not to go well. Eventually, people are changed, and through the people and among the people, they find hope that the world would be changed.
What about us? Why don’t you start giving favor to one person a week, asking them to pay a favor forward by doing their favors for others? That might be a way to show our love of God and the love of our neighbors. That might be the way God wants us to live our lives. That might be what the world expects from us. Let us start with a small thing that we have. First of all, let us think about what we have gratefully. And you may find who is in need and whom you may help with what you have. And put it into action, “pay it forward.” Thanks be to God. Amen.