The Gold You Were Given
By Shereá Denise
After hearing of the passing of Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, I was drawn to the number of tweets that included “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” In a very atypical fashion for myself, I began researching this frequently referenced scripture in hopes of learning more about how a good and faithful servant was defined and the context in which this phrase was first used.
After doing my Googles, I learned that the scripture most notably comes from Matthew 25:21 and 25:23. The NIV version of the scripture reads:
“His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Come and share your master’s happiness!”
The scripture comes from The Parable of the Bags of Gold (aka The Parable of the Talents) and, to me, did not seem as encouraging in the context of the story as it does when used by pastors to encourage us all to be on our best behavior. What I found immediately noticeable was that – on its face – the parable appears to be about investments and wealth. As I read interpretations from a variety of sources, I found myself particularly inspired by an in-depth discussion of these scriptures which was written on the jesusfilm.org website. This quote, specifically, caught my attention:
“Even though the servants are given different sums to take care of, it all still belongs to the master. They [are] merely administrators who will answer for how they invested the master’s belongings. This fact reinforces the principle of stewardship. As believers, we are all given resources according to our skills and abilities, but those resources ultimately belong to God. We will eventually answer for how we invest them.”
[Hint: Re-read that quote and substitute “gifts” or “talents” for sums/belongings/resources.]
You know how you hear someone say something a million times, but you never think deeply about what they are actually saying or what their words actually mean? Then, one day, you hear or read the words in a different way and a light bulb goes off? All at once, all of the times that I have heard Matthew 25:21 quoted at funerals or as the choir began singing the Invitational at the end of a church service came full circle. I never thought about it as more than a traditional phrase. After reading the discussion of the parable, I saw it much differently. In that moment I recognized that the bags of gold are the talent and skills that were given at birth (or maybe even what we requested after a past life) and that the judgment that the servants underwent was less about how much gold they had acquired and more so about what they had done with the gold (read talent and skills) that they were given.
The servant that was scolded by the master was the one who hid what he had been given. The one who, rather than use what he was provided with, focused more on his own fears and did not trust that he had been given just enough to do something remarkable. [There is a message here about not letting your fear keep you stagnant, but I digress.]
There are also interpretations of this parable that discuss the sums/belongings/resources as being a tangible representation of our faith – not only in God – but also in the skills that we were given and, ultimately, in ourselves. How many times have we wrongfully perceived our gifts as a burden? How many times have we focused on the gifts that others have that we do not possess? How many times have we failed to have faith in what we were given and instead questioned why it was given to us? How many times have we doubted who gave us our gifts? How many times have we completely overlooked who we are because of our gifts?
I am thankful that Congressman Cummings did not hide his gold. I am thankful that he recognized the gifts that he was given and used those gifts to play a part in helping others realize their gifts as well. I believe wholeheartedly that in present times, Congressman Cummings truly represented what it was to be a good and faithful servant. His perseverance, his dedication, and his acceptance of his gifts must be what gave him the strength to continue to do the work he was selected to do - even in his last days.
I am also thankful that, though my skills may not look like those of Representative Cummings, I was given the skills needed to improve my own community in my own way. One day I, too, hope to hear that I multiplied my gifts and that, in so doing, I was a true representation of stewardship. I hope to be able to release so many of the fears that I have (or have had) about my own talents and be able to demonstrate just how purposefully I invested my gold.
Rest in power, Representative Cummings! Thank you for sharing the gold you were given.