Long ago I was introduced to the story about the Slaves and the Talents. Today, that story stands out as a mandate to invest what little wealth I have so that it will increase. This is the story from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25:
The Kingdom of Heaven will be like this: “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25.14-30)
This seems a harsh story about God expecting us to make good use of our gifts and [double-entendre here] our talents. They are not to be hoarded or hidden. We are not to be ashamed of them, nor are we to let others shame our talents and gifts into submission to their judgements. If your talent is dancing, then dance. If your talent is writing, then write. If your talent is boxing, then box. If your talent is making money, then make it.
The hard part of the story is where it says, “…but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away!” On the surface this harsh decree is shocking in its injustice. But its justice becomes apparent with one little piece of information. That tidbit is this: God has given a unique gift to every one of us. Each has his or her blessed talent. If you refuse that gift, stifle it, misuse it, or God forbid, ignore it, or claim you have none, then woe be unto you, as it is written.
So lets all just face it. Each of us has a gift to be acknowledged, trained, and honed, until it becomes our gift to others, and our way of glorifying God.
There is more though. Where ever we find ourselves living, we are expected to seek the prosperity of the place where we live, to get involved in the welfare of that place, to be an asset and invest in the welfare because in its welfare is our welfare.
“These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7)
It is laid out clearly that it is our responsibility to use what gifts we have for the welfare of our neighbors, family, and our own welfare.
For those of us who have monetary wealth, we are expected to be charitable. And we are expected to invest in our communities so that others may labor and reap the rewards of that labor, just as we can expect our own welfare to be secured.
A while ago, I learned the phrase, “A budget is a moral document.” Some of us who are organized and like to plan create a household budget. The budget estimates income and expenditures for the coming year. It includes what we expect to earn and lists the areas in which we anticipate costs of living, food, taxes, utilities, maintenance, healthcare, donations, tithes and investments, entertainment and clothing, just to name the most obvious.
I want to talk about the investing money part of my budget. But one more scripture passage before I do. It’s a cautionary passage from each of the four gospels. It is this: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the Eye of the Needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The Eye of the Needle was a narrow pedestrian gate in the wall surrounding Jerusalem. A camel would get stuck every now and then when some ill-reasoning traveler would try to get into the city when the main gates were closed. This was not a claim that a rich man couldn’t get into Heaven. But it was a caution that one’s talent and labor were gifts to be shared for God’s glory. Wealth would be a byproduct of the good use of that trained talent and hard work. The attainment of wealth was not a fitting goal, less wealth or mammon become a false idol. The question for the faithful is, “What other way can I glorify God?”
So, back to investing. There are lots of ways and lots of reasons to invest. As a person of faith, though, why should you invest your money in real estate or businesses or stocks, bonds, or commodities? Simply put, we should invest because we can. When you have used your talent and labor and acquire wealth then your wealth should be put to benefiting the “community.” And there’s nothing wrong if you should benefit too.
I recently retired. I have a modest income from social security and a pension. I tithe to my church, and some charities. Still I feel that it is my responsibility to encourage growth in businesses in various ways including through stock purchases. I buy the stocks as long-term investments. Though, I have bought a few stocks then sold them for a small profit within a few months when I didn’t have a good feel for the company’s goals.
For the most part, I have invested in technical, shipping, food, pharmaceutical research, chemical, real estate, and minerals companies. Some are start-up companies and others are established ones. I have invested for dividends and for growth. The companies spur my imagination of the ways they affect the planet, the human condition, and the prosperity of the national and world-wide community.
Investing feels right. There are enough companies to invest in that I don’t have to tax my conscience by investing in toxin producers, oil, armament, or tobacco. There are enough other people who can do that. Since I like to stay away from gambling, and the stock market is a gamble in some ways, I mitigate the gamble by checking out the companies as best I can by considering their debt, growth prospects, employment policies, and environmental toxicity.
I keep up with the news of the companies I’ve invested in, as well as the peripheral news that will affect their stability or growth. I’ve had to learn about monetary policy, economics and cryptocurrency as well as stay current with international politics in an ever-changing environment.
I’ve had to review my own self-interest set against larger interests for sustainability. By adding investing to my activities, I’ve had to reassess my values and the ways and means by which I glorify God.
Fortunately, my life’s mantra has been “If I am comfortable with my faith, then I am doing it wrong.” Investing is just a new way I have expanded my comfort zone. It’s a new way for me to glorify God and benefit from a too-long under-utilized and untrained talent.
The story I didn’t tell yet is the story of how the story of the Slaves and the Talents became noticeable to me. I was a relatively new member of United Methodism. The church I joined was given ten dollars by the Annual Conference that year to make it grow, just like the good slaves in the parable. Our church members met, and we decided to bury it for the year we were given to use it and report back what happened. We buried it as a protest of the way the denomination was becoming ever more pressing about member giving. It was beginning to take on a more business model than be a model for a place of worship.
Today I look back on that parable and see it as a way God invests in each of us and shares resources with everyone so that each of us has enough.
I like seeing my investment portfolio grow. I like reading about the companies that I help grow in my small way. I like to think that even in this time of financial insecurity that jobs are secure someplace and new places to work are being envisioned.
Investing is not an end all activity. It’s just one more in the ways we can spread the wealth, share resources and encourage prosperity.