Since coming to Kusatsu, one of our goals was to get to know the church better and see how we might be a blessing to them through our service and also be blessed by them. The church, while small, has a passionate group of members who actively serve in whatever way they can. Aside from our usual duties through the week, Hooi Yin and I had also been exploring new ministry opportunities. However, due to the pandemic, these haven’t been feasible. In July, the cases in Japan started rising and though emergency measures were declared again and again, the daily infections peaked at 24,000 at the end of August. Shiga prefecture, where Kusatsu is located, started to see increases as well, prompting more people to stay home and away from the church.
Eventually the weekly bible study was put on hold for some time in order to protect the health of the attendees. Even in September people remain wary about gathering. Again and again, it seemed that the doors to ministry had been shut tight.
These setbacks were disappointing and with no end to the pandemic in sight, when would it be possible to do the things that we hoped to? How could we be encouragers when we felt discouraged ourselves?
One day, the Lord shone a light into my heart as I read the parable of the Talents.
Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 are well known; a Master entrusts portions of his wealth to his servants before departing on a long journey. Upon returning they give their reports to him on what they had done. First the Master addresses the servant with 5 talents and then the servant with 2. Both took what portion the Lord had given them and acted faithfully by investing it. The Master recognised this and praised and rewarded them for it. In comparison the servant who was given the single talent was rebuked for hiding it. His response, (v25) ‘Here, you have what is yours’, sounds like he is claiming no responsibility for what his master has entrusted him. His lack of action and words can be interpreted as a show of disdain for his master. The first 2 servants on the other hand, treated the Master’s possessions as their own demonstrating trustworthiness.
The Master’s response to the unfaithful servant, that he would have been satisfied with just the interest and not a doubling of the amount, implies that the outcome was not the point. Instead it was his dependability as a servant that was paramount and so he was judged accordingly. As punishment, what little he had was also taken and given to his fellow servant.
In the past I thought that ‘talent’ here referred to the gifts or abilities that the Lord has given us. Therefore the ending words, (v29) ‘For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away’, always felt like a warning that if one did not exercise their ‘gifts’ you would lose them.
But as I re-read verse 29, in particular the portion in bold above, it appears the meaning is not what I had originally thought. How could the unfaithful servant not have any talents when he had been given one already by the Master? Could it be that instead of ‘talents’ the Master is actually referring to ‘faithfulness’ instead? Reading it this way, the meaning then becomes, “to whoever exercises faithfulness, more will he be given, but he who does not exercise faithfulness, even what he has will be taken from him.”
I felt the Lord’s reminder here, that while our time in Kusatsu coincided with so many challenges, and we couldn’t do all that we wanted, it was still a precious gift that He had entrusted to us. Therefore, I needed to adopt a more thankful and faithful attitude. After all, our Lord Himself is faithful and trustworthy and He would not have led us here just for us to flounder. Through His steadfast promises we could be encouraged to plan and find ways to be blessings to those around us.
There is another word of encouragement in the parable that I would like to share. In verse 21 it records:
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
That which the Lord has entrusted to each of us, may at first glance seem small. Perhaps the Lord has led us to take on a tiny role in a particular ministry or the Spirit’s guidance to do simple acts of kindness to others everyday. By demonstrating faithfulness even in these small ways, we can receive God’s praise as a good and faithful servant. Furthermore Jesus promises that we can receive His joy even as He entrusts more of His work to us.
For us, in Kusatsu, the pandemic has halted many plans. There are still members of the church whom we have yet to meet in person because they have stopped coming to church for over a year. Inviting people to come to church for evangelistic outreach is also out of the question. However for those who still attend church weekly, there have been ample opportunities to speak to them and to know them better. Even in a years time we may not be able to do what we have been hoping to, but by being faithful with that the Lord has already handed to us, we can still be the blessing to Kusatsu that He wants us to be.
So let us continue to be faithful with what ‘little’ we have been given now, in the hope that it will prepare us for a future where we can be faithful over much more.
Sean Tan (Missionary in Japan)
September 26, 2021