Economics and Matt. 25

woman with an open wallet giving money

Concerned about the economy?  Learn from Matthew 25.

Matthew 25 is comprised of three judgment scenes, all of which deal with the proper use of resources.  The first (the parable of the wise and foolish virgins) instructs us to anticipate the resources we will need, the second (the parable of the talents) tempers the first by reminding us that being prepared doesn't mean hoarding, and the third (the sheep and the goats), reminds us that God's ultimate goal for our resource-gathering is to be sure that even "the least of these" have what they need in both provision and compassion.


As our national economy has hit the skids, it has struck me that the challenges of these stories in Matthew 25 are the challenges facing us both as a nation and as individuals as we try to learn our proper relationship to the resources God has entrusted to us. 

We got into this mess because we were unprepared to be called to account or to have any bumps in the road.  We kicked the can down the road, year after year, convinced the consequences of our greed and recklessness could be either avoided or delayed long enough that we would feel no effects.  Wrong.  The bridegroom got delayed, we had to use more than we had planned, and, like the five foolish virgins, we ran out of oil for our lamps.

That experience scared us, so we then proceeded to make the mistake of the second parable: what we still had, we buried.  Remember the scene in Matt. 25:14-30.  The master goes off on a trip and entrusts his money to three servants: One gets five talents, one gets two, and the third gets one.  A "talent," is a monetary unit, and in Jesus' day one talent was worth over 15 years worth of wages for a laborer.  We're not talking chump change.  Even the guy who got only one talent got a lot of money.

The first two went out and invested the funds and on the master's return, he found his money doubled in both cases.  The third servant, however, got scared and buried his money.  It didn't gain anything more but neither was there any less.  He played it safe.  But the master is furious and dumps that particular investment manager while promoting the others and entrusting them with more.

I think in the past couple of years, the third servant has looked pretty smart to us.  We understand him.  He's scared of losing what he's got and so he takes zero risks with it.  He knows he won't gain any, but right now he's too scared of losing some to even consider risk.  We forget that he is the only one in the story to be condemned.  There's a reason for that.

Economists are telling us that third-servant behavior by banks and businesses is why we are not seeing a decent recovery.  Government actions made sure they had money--they were given varying numbers of "talents," but most haven't turned around and invested it.  They haven't used it to create new jobs or to make new loans, they have buried it in the fear that the Dow will exile them to outer darkness if they lose any more.  It is understandable, but it is making things worse.

And now, as we look to a new Congress and the difficult choices before us to get our fiscal house in order, the third story in the series sits before us.  "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

Matt. 25:31-46 is the end-game; that is the reason we are to invest and grow our resources rather than bury them; that is the reason we are to be prepared for what's ahead--so when difficult times come, we can continue to provide for those in need.

Whether we are legislators dealing with the fiscal issues of our towns, states, or nation or whether we are simply trying to decide how best to use our own personal resources, the lessons of Matthew 25 are the same.  Be prepared--save up so there is extra when the unexpected happens (wise and foolish virgins); But don't just hoard what you have.  Remember that it's not yours.  You are a steward of God's resources and God wants you to take some risks to increase the bottom line (parable of the talents) in order that that increased pool of resources can help to care for "the least of these" (sheep and the goats).

As far as I can tell, that is how biblical economics works.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, put it this way:  "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can."  The purpose of the first two is not to help us live high on the hog but rather to give us the opportunity to be Christ for others and help lift the poor out of the ditch.  I think this important chapter in Matthew is telling us the same thing.  If we have the will, the way forward is clear.


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