Risky Business

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.
— Matthew 25:14-15 (NRSV)

The Greek word from which the English word ‘talent’ derives was a large silver coin worth the equivalent of 15 years wages, or about $300,000! Thus the first slave received about one and a half million dollars to invest and manage while the master was away!

What would you do if given such a valuable coin to manage? Would you put it in a safety deposit box so you could return it to your master intact? Would you invest in an insured savings account earning a mere 1.5%? Would you invest in the stock market, where over the long term you might earn 5% more than inflation? Or would you invest it in venture capital, new and upcoming businesses where you might double our money in a few years and risk losing everything?

Two of the slaves must have sought out the first century equivalent of venture capital for when the master returned they had each doubled their investment. If they had merely invested in mutual funds they would have needed over 14 years to double their investment! If they had merely purchased certificates of deposit, at the end of 46 years the amount on paper would have doubled, but its buying power would likely be less than half, due to inflation eating up more than what the interest rate would have covered. And venture capital is risky. Many, perhaps most, if not nine out of ten, lose everything they invest in venture capital. For great returns only come with great risk.

The church is called to “Make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that [Jesus has] commanded [us].” With the US population growing at a mere 0.7% a year and Temple Terrace growing at half that rate, to achieve significant growth will require thinking like a venture capitalist, taking risks and expecting failure alongside successes.

I will have more to say about Matthew 25:14-30 and using our talents at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church at 10:00 AM on Sunday, November 19th.

Robert Shaw