I recently reread the parable of the talents, or as the revised NIV version has it, the parable of the bags of gold.  This happy new yearis my favorite parable because it is all about happiness.  You probably know the story.  A master gives three of his servants bags of gold to invest before he goes on a long journey.  A ton of money.  The first servant receives five bags, the second three bags, and the last servant receives one bag, according to their abilities.  I can imagine the first two servants saying something like “Wow, look how much our master loves us and trusts us!”  Perhaps the third servant said something like “Great, more work for me.  He’s going away for awhile and I was just hoping to take it easy while he was away.  Now what am I going to do with all this money?”

The first servant goes away excited and begins to put the money to work.  The second servant does the same.  The third servant digs a hole and buries the gold.

After some time the master returns and asks the servants what they did with their bags of gold.  The first servant reminds the master that he gave him five bags of gold and he turned it into ten bags of gold.  The master exclaims to him, “Well done good and faithful servant!  Come and share your masters happiness!”

The second servant proudly reports that he also doubled the masters investment, and again the master praises his servant and invites him to share his happiness.

What was the ultimate goal of the master?  That his servants would see how much he loved them and trusted them, and that they could put their creative abilities to work and make more to please their master, receive his praise, and enjoy happiness with him.

The third servant had a totally different attitude toward the master.  He saw things differently.  His perspective was skewed.  When the master questioned him about his bag of gold, he told his master that he knew that he was a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  I can imagine the masters outrage.  “I loved you, saw potential in you when nobody else did.  I gave you a chance to be a contender, and you have the audacity to accuse me of being a hard man and greedy?  Alright then, you will get the kind of master that you perceive me as!  Throw this worthless servant into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

Jesus follows this parable with sneek peek into the future and judgment day.  Jesus tells his listeners that He will sit on His glorious throne and He will begin the judgment.  Those who came to the aid of the “least of these my brothers and sisters” will enter eternal life.  Those who failed to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, shelter to the stranger, help to the sick and encouragement to the prisoner, will be judged as failing to help even Jesus himself, and will be thrown into the lake of fire.

The point Jesus is making with these back to back narratives, is that He gives bags of gold to all his followers in the form of abilities, spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.  We, his followers are to use our bags of gold to help the needy brothers and sisters in the Family of God, as if they were Jesus himself.  When we do this, God exclaims to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into your Master’s happiness!”

To enjoy happiness, we must make others happy.  The best example I know of putting this principle into practice is Charla Pereau.  Almost 50 years ago she took her bags of gold, her compassion, her vision, her energy, her love for God and her speaking ability, and invested them in the poor of Mexico.  She began by taking a handful of kids living in a garbage dumb and giving them shelter, food, water and most importantly, the love of Christ.  Today, a half a century later, thanks to her efforts and those of  Foundation For His Ministry, there are four homes housing over 200 children, and outreach ministries that feed and clothe thousands of poor Mexicans, medical clinics that heal the sick, and servants that go into prisons, offering hope and encouragement to the hopeless and discouraged prisoners. The bedrock of this ministry, and the core of Charla’s heart, is knowing and sharing the love of God.

Everyday Charla hears the words of her Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and share the happiness of your Master.”  My prayer for 2014 is that we would all use our bags of gold for the glory of God and enjoy sublime happiness in Christ.

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The deepest root of the contemporary malaise of Western culture is an individualism which denies the fundamental reality of our human nature as given by God – namely that we grow into true humanity only in relationships of faithfulness and responsibility toward one another.  The local congregation is called to be, and by the grace of God often is, such a community of mutual responsibility.  Lesslie Newbigin – The Gospel in a Pluralist Society