July 7’s devotion comes, ironically enough, from our returning honeymooner himself, Ethan Richardson. To order The Mockingbird Devotional, look no further than here.

…He who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?…” (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV)

byfqiQnM3TipvtBQEToKRzRa0slA common reading of this parable is that God, like the Elf on the Shelf, is keeping track of your good works and will settle scores with you one day. This reading may be gussied up a bit, and might say that God gives different gifts in His grace, and so not everyone is working under the same set of expectations, but the expectations are there anyway, so really the message is the same: “God has invested in you, so do the best with what you’ve got.”

I don’t think this is what the Parable of the Talents is after. First of all, God the Landowner gives different amounts of money to each servant—five talents, two talents, and one talent—and this is not to favor one servant over another, but to demonstrate that he isn’t interested in the numbers game. Like the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13), God demonstrates His kingdom by sowing seed everywhere, wildly, without concern to production. When God the Landowner returns, those who have traded and added to their talents receive precisely the same welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant…” Even though one servant brings back a much heavier dividend, he gets no better acceptance than the one who brought back less than half of his. There is no staggered rewards system here—it seems more important to the Landowner that the servants play the game than bring back a surplus.

If this is the case, then what about Mr. One Talent? Why was he punished? The Landowner is not so much angry that he hasn’t come back with “growth,” but much more upset that Mr. One Talent is all wrong about who the Landowner actually is, namely, a risk-taker and a free-bird. Had Mr. One Talent believed this—and not that the Landowner was a conniving scrooge—he would have felt free to play with his Boss’ money and take some risks, too. This belief in God the Landowner as a penny-pinching bookkeeper makes more penny-pinching bookkeepers, who wrap up their gifts in little decorative napkins and bury them below the ground. Maybe you know some of them.

It’s interesting that, in this story, those who believe God is gracious and risky take the risks themselves—and both servants come back with double. Maybe that means that, of its own, the Gospel message is self-rejuvenating. So long as it isn’t hidden, it does all the work on its own.

Also, could this be what Martin Luther means by “Sin boldly,” that the freedom of God’s Gospel makes us wild, or turns us into hip-shooting gamblers, rather than prudent lawyers? Could it be that God here is reminding us, in faith, to dirty up the pant legs and take some risks?