Our lesson for Bible study tonight is on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. I have to confess that I always used to feel sorry for the third servant – the one who wrapped his talent in a napkin and buried it. He was afraid, after all, that the master would expect too much from him. He was afraid of failure, and who among us isn’t terrified by that? Why are some people so nervous on their wedding day? Fear that they failed to choose the right one; fear that they won’t be able to make the marriage work. Why don’t people go back to school or make a career change or adopt a child or do any of the 5,000 things we think about doing at some point in life? I think if we questioned ourselves, we would find that the fear of failure is behind all of it.
I’m thinking about this a lot because, professionally, I’m out on limb with God right now. I went back to school for my doctorate because I was convinced that God wanted me to pursue a career in higher education, but now, as I get closer to the completion of the degree, I’m experiencing no small anxiety about whether or not I’ll be able to get the job I need. Yes, I know worry is a sin. God and I have been talking about that lately. Still, there’s nothing like the sensation of climbing higher and higher with no safety net. I’ve always been afraid of heights.
But was the servant with the buried talent right to be fearful? You should know, first of all, that commentators don’t buy his excuse. The master’s rebuke points out the error in the servant’s logic. If he had really feared that his master would make unreasonable demands, then wouldn’t he have worked harder to try and meet those demands? His laziness suggests that he didn’t really fear his master at all, and that all his talk about the master’s harshness was just an excuse for not doing his best. After all, how risky is it to just put the money in the bank and let the interest accrue? Perhaps, the servant meant to do so in the beginning, but the master was gone for a long time, and maybe he began to think that the master was never coming back for his property.
And that leads me to conclude that my fear of failure is really, in itself, a failure of faith. I will never be faithful to God, and to the important things He calls me to do, unless I trust Him to be faithful to me. I have to know that God will complete everything He has set out to do in me and through me. That gives me the confidence to take risks in my obedience. It gives me courage to walk forward without seeing the bridge over the next chasm.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, a church that was especially fearful about an uncertain future, Paul says, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3). These aren’t just the words of an apostle; they are the promise of God delivered through a servant who knew what it meant to risk everything for the kingdom. God was faithful to Paul, and He will be faithful to us when we learn to trust Him for the outcome.
I Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”