The most shocking news of recent years if the amount of coverage it got was anything to go by – yes, Channel 4 outbid the BBC and stole The Great British Bake-Off. The nation was outraged. The outrage didn’t last long though, as it was reported last week that the final brought Channel 4 its second largest audience ever, having been watched by 11 million people since it was broadcast. If TV schedules are anything to go by we like our food.
I’m sure there are many of you who enjoy cooking. And if you are one of those people who don’t enjoy cooking a nice meal, I’m sure you still enjoy eating one. Most people enjoy good food of one kind or another, whether it’s spaghetti bolognese or caviar, pizza or the kind of recipes you get on the BBC Good Food website like this one: Roast whole suckling pig with truffle mousse, Jersey Royals and wild garlic.
It’s one of the reasons why all those cooking programmes on the TV are so popular. And whether you are addicted to The Great British Bake-Off or Celebrity MasterChef you will know one thing. You can’t just make a satisfying dish with the main ingredients alone. Along with the basics there will be seasoning, herbs, spices – all designed to give each recipe that special flavour that makes it distinct. Where would a good curry be without curry powder, or jambalaya without Cajun seasoning and smoked paprika.
And so in many a kitchen you will see a rack of little jars just waiting to do their job of enhancing the cooking. In our house we like our home cooked food, and when I counted up this week I discovered – and this is a little embarrassing – that we have 49 different herbs and spices out in the kitchen all in use. So I was surprised at the results of the survey that Kenwood, the well-known maker of kitchen appliances, carried out a while ago.
It was reported in all the quality newspapers so it must be important. Kenwood discovered that the average Briton only cooks four foreign dishes – spaghetti bolognese, curry, risotto and stir-fry – and a quarter of those are made with ready-made sauces. And because of that the average household has just ten types of herbs and spices in the kitchen cupboards. The thing is, of those ten herbs and spices, half of them have never been opened. And Kenwood reckon that the value of unopened herbs and spices just sitting, totally unused, in people’s cupboards, is £240 million. And 13 per cent of people have herbs and spices more than four years older than their use by dates.
What is the point of buying herbs and spices – some of which can actually be quite expensive in terms of cost per weight – and just putting them in the cupboard to sit there unused?
Well, that brings me to our gospel reading this morning.
We hear a story that Jesus tells about three servants and their master. He is going on a long journey, and he calls the three in front of him. Jesus tells us how he entrusts his property to them to look after while he is away. To one he gives five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. In the New Testament a talent was a unit of money – and it was worth a great deal. A talent was as much as a labourer would earn in fifteen years, so the three servants are being given huge amounts of money to look after.
And so we hear how the first two servants use the money and double it. But the third just goes and digs a hole in the ground and buries the money he has been given.
And then, after a long time, back comes their master, and he wants to know what they have been doing with his money, and how much profit they have to give him back. He’s clearly pleased with the first two, so much so, that he gives them more responsibility and he says to each of them, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
But what happens when he comes to the third servant? Well, you can’t have missed it – he’s extremely angry. The third servant has done nothing with the money. He’s just buried it in a hole in the ground because he was worried about of losing it, or getting things wrong, and being unable to pay his master back. His master is not happy. The money he has is taken from him and his master finishes with those disturbing words: “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Now, it’s quite important to understand where this story comes in the context of Jesus’ life and ministry. He is on the brink of his passion and he is telling this story in the context of his ultimate return. And it is clearly a story about how Jesus gives his servants what they need for his kingdom while he is not there with them.
That is how those to whom Matthew wrote his gospel would have understood it. And they would have understood that it was posing a very serious question for them. Jesus has gone away. And since he ascended, and then sent the gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers, they have been waiting for him to return. He hasn’t done so yet, and rather like the three servants in the story they don’t know when their master is going to return. And so the question that is before them is this: Jesus has left for you everything you need in order to carry out the work of his kingdom until he returns – how are you using it?
Are you using the gifts that Jesus has given you as you go about your daily lives, or are you just sitting on them and keeping your head down?
That’s the question for each one of us here this morning. How are we using what Jesus gives us for the work of the kingdom, for our ministry as his body here on earth until he returns? Or have we just buried everything he gives us away because we are afraid of messing up? Or because we don’t want to be noticed?
Jesus has called us to be his followers, and he sends us out into his world to make a difference. But do we? We are called to be seasoning to our world. But are we? What we cannot avoid is the message of this story of Jesus – use what you have been given for the kingdom. For if you don’t, when I return I will pass judgement.
We are called to be seasoning to our world. “You are the salt of the earth,” said Jesus, earlier in Matthew’s gospel, “but if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything…”
Think back to those jars of herbs and spices. Because in a way we’re like them. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to think about what kind of herb or spice you think you are! Jesus said we should all be salt! But just think about this. The purpose of herbs and spices is to improve the dishes to which they are added. The jars need to come out of the cupboard and be in the kitchen where they can be reached and used. Those jars that just stay at the back of the cupboard, unopened and unused, are a waste of space, and in the end when one day the cupboard is tidied and cleaned they’ll just be thrown into the bin – out of life and no longer of any use.
As we leave church each Sunday, are we going to be like the unused jars in the cupboard that no-one sees or uses, or the ones that are out ready and waiting for the opportunity to be used to improve the cuisine.
Jesus is telling us this morning exactly what we are to be like. As his servants he gives us the gifts and the talents that we need in order to carry out his work, in order to go out into his world and make it a better place and enable people to have a better life and a relationship with him. It is up to us put those gifts and talents to good use day by day, and not to go home and forget about them until next Sunday.
Are you a jar with the top still securely on and the wrapping in place – or are you a jar with your top off just waiting to be used wherever you’re needed. “You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus.
Are you prepared to be seasoning for his world?