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17th June 2001

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Scripture Reference

MATTHEW 25: 14-30

On the public holiday this week, Beverley and I saw the delicious film "Chocolat". The film is set in a small French village on a hill by a river. At the village centre is an large stone Catholic Church. Its presence has dominated the town for centuries. Presiding over the town is the Mayor, a hard, moral man whose family have been the legal and aristocratic guardians of the town. The priest enforces the rule of this lawyer.

The people cross the barren town square to enter the church or the Mayor's office. A statue of the Mayor's famous ancestor overlooks all. On the opposite side is an empty shop. The village is occupied by people leading bleak and austere lives under the domination of the church and the law. Gradually their secret lives unfold. Their grim struggle is heightened by Lent and the Mayor and the Priest enforce abstinence from any pleasure. 

One couple's marriage is shattered by alcoholism, theft and violence. Another is devoid of any love and trust. The Mayor's secretary will not allow her artistic young son to see his frail grandmother because the old lady will not shift into a nursing home and have her rampant diabetes treated. An aged man secretly loves a widow who cannot respond to his love because tradition decrees a war widow should remain in mourning. Even the Mayor's wife has left him, which he covers up by his bluster about the importance of marriage and family. These hurting people live by the village square, and the Mayor, a lawyer and the priest walk by on the other side. They refuse to stop and use their resources to help the wounded. Into the picture comes a despised Samaritan.

She rents the disused shop in which she uses her talent to make chocolate. She is despised because she is a single mother with a child and a Samaritan because she is not of this village. The people follow the lead of the priest and the lawyer and ignore her. They remain in their bleakness unaided by the resources of the church and the mayor's office. To this parable of the Good Samaritan is now added the parable of Jesus concerning the use of our talents. 

Just as the Samaritan uses his donkey, the oil and ointment, bandages and money to help the wounded, so Vianne, the chocolate maker, uses her resources of shop and skill and handmade chocolates to reach the wounded of the village. The Mayor, the priest and the Church's teaching of abstinence during Lent oppose her. But gradually through the offering of a free chocolate, Vianne touches the lives of many people who are hurting. They respond to her compassion. The middle aged couple whose marriage has become devoid of feeling eat some chilli-cholocate and the fires of passion burn once more. Her chocolate brings the old bachelor and the widow together. The beaten wife finds refuge and a new sense of self respect. The boy and his grand-mother are united. Vianne brings new life into the whole community. But here, a third parable of Jesus is used. A birthday party is organized for the frail grandmother. To that party, as Jesus taught, all the hurting are invited. They celebrate life with good food, chocolate, laughter, love and reconciliation. Like the party of Jesus, Vianne has collected the wounded, the rejected, the hurting and even the water-rats, the Irish gypsies of the river-boats. What a wonderful celebration they enjoyed! 

The priest, Father Henri, realizes how wrong he has been by upholding a religion based upon law and tradition and by not using his talents and resources to help the wounded. He realizes the village has "measured goodness by who we exclude." The mayor, always saw everyone into the church every service then shut the doors, both holding those within and excluding those without. Now even the mayor is brought to face reality and finds love. The austere town statue in the middle of the square, smiles. Chocolate has changed everything! 

The film is harmless. The storyline is fanciful. It is a parable, not reality. In fact it is three of the parables of Jesus in a delightful setting, although it is not a religious film. Vianne becomes the Good Samaritan to the wounded, her talent for making chocolate increases and to her is added acceptance and respect, and her compassion results in lives changed, relationships restored, and the community revived. Chocolate is good news! One warning. This film is disastrous for anyone on a diet!

Central to this film is the parable of the talents. Jesus declared that everyone was given a talent from God. Some were given more than one. A few people possess many. Originally a talent meant a weight of silver worth about a thousand dollars. But it has come to mean any gift or ability given by God. We are the stewards of our talent and God expects us to use them. The parable has implications for the way we use our gifts, our resources and our abilities. God's gifts to us of time, abilities and money are to be used to benefit others. We are accountable to God for their use. This is our stewardship.

In the film, Vianne has one talent - the gift of making chocolate. The priest and the mayor have talents. They have the power, the property and the prestige. God expects each talent to be used responsibly. Jesus has great insight into human psychology. He said a wealthy businessman gave to his employees different gifts. Some people cry out "That's not fair! Why are they not all given the same?" That is one of the basic lessons of life: we are not all the same. Neither do we possess the same gifts, abilities, capacities, capabilities and responsibilities. The wealthy businessman gave talents according to abilities: one was given five, another two, and the other received only one. That's the fact of life. All socialist political governments last century based upon a redistribution of wealth and property equally among people have failed. We start with different capacities and expectations. God gives us gifts and abilities. What is expected is that we use to the full what we possess. The mayor and the priest did not use their talents. Neither did anyone else. Vianne had the gift of making and giving chocolate. She developed her gift and everyone was blessed. 

The presence of the church in the centre of the town was a reminder that everything comes from God. Our natural and spiritual abilities and capabilities come from God. Not everyone acknowledges their divine origin, but Jesus points out we are all in debt to God for His gifts. God gives us our talents and abilities. The priest, the mayor and the townspeople acknowledged their gifts from God but did not go on to use them. Other people, ungraciously ignore the source of their gifts.

Vianne used her talent to make chocolate from an old family recipe. She used her talent. It required a lot of work for her to set up her shop and to make all the varieties of chocolate, but she worked hard and used her talent. The priest and the mayor worked hard, but it was not a blessing to anyone. God gives both natural and spiritual gifts and He expects that we will use them. On another occasion Jesus commented: "To whom much is given, much is expected." Each of us is expected to learn to do what we can do, well! Jesus may have been telling us about a sign outside His carpenter's shop: "My yokes are easy". He used his skills and abilities well and His yokes would not cause any trouble for an ox neck yoked to a plough: his yokes were easy! Jesus had a talent with tough timber and with broken lives and He used both talents to the full in the work of God's Kingdom. 

Michael Green says "if you develop your muscles your reward is that you can carry heavier burdens and still feel good. To you who have, more is given. And if you lie in bed and do nothing, the law of atrophy takes over, and you find you can do less and less. You lose even the pathetic muscles you once had. It is like that in the spiritual realm. When someone acts reliably under the responsibilities the Master has entrusted to him, his capacities will grow. If nothing is done with them, the ability to respond and be useful will diminish to vanishing point." The five talent man used his to the best of his ability and was rewarded with five more. The two talent man did not have to do as much as the five talent man: God expects us only to work to the limit of our talent. The two talent man did that and received two more. 

They both received reward and commendation: "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" Their opportunities doubled. It is not the amount of talent that matters: it is how people use them. 

The priest and the mayor were given resources in their possession of the church and the mayor's office. But they did not use them for good. The lives of people who were hurting were left untouched. The town grew bleak and people were left in their sins. Against the grey stonewalls of the village square no flowers or tree ever grew. It is a fact that if you do not use your talent, you will lose it. How many learnt a language other than your parent tongue at school? How many of you still speak it? If you don't use it, you lose it! How many of you once learnt to play a musical instrument? How many still can play it? If you don't use it, you lose it! Jesus pictures the one talent man coming before his Master with the talent of silver wrapped in a napkin in which he had buried it. "Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you." The businessman says of the man who hid his talent: "Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

"Unfair!" did I hear you cry? No. Just a fact of life! Paul wrote to Timothy good advice: "Do not neglect the gift God has given you..." Neglect your gift, and you lose it. The mayor and the priest had lost their ability to help people in need. In the film there is a pathetic scene where the Mayor, with all his power, tries to help an alcoholic and violent man to change by giving him a new suit and teaching him some manners. But the man remains a violent alcoholic. The mayor had lost his gift of helping. Vianne uses her gift of making and giving chocolate and changes the lives of everyone in contact with her. If you use your talent it will grow and more will be added. 

God expects an account of what you have done with your life. Like the businessman who returns and calls his workers to account for their time and effort, so God is expecting an account from you! God demands accountability for the privileges He has given to us. We are accountable. What a great delight to be able to say one day: "Master, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more" and to hear God say: "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" How important is it then for you to get your life right with God. Everyone has a talent. You are expected to use that talent. If you don't use it you will lose it. But if you use your talent it will increase. Then when God demands an account from you of what you have done with the talent He has given you, what joy lies ahead for you. Your pledge cards given to God are a symbol that we are using our talents to bless others. We are being accountable. 

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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