I’d like to tell you a story about three guys who go on a trip to a casino in Las Vegas. There is a twist, which is that the owner of the casino is God, the manager is Jesus, and the bartender is St. Paul. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see? The three friends will be Randy, Melvin, and Henry. By the end of the story, I want you to see how the Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto Sin City itself.

*

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 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)

Jesus: Hello, gentlemen. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, and to The Heavenly Kingdom Casino. We are so excited that you are here. I do need to apologize as the owner of the house had to leave. He wanted to greet you personally on your arrival but was called away. He did want me to give you some chips on the house to show his gratitude for your patronage.  The old man sure is generous. He also said that if you play with his money, you have no chance of losing.

Melvin: Well, we do play to win!

Jesus: Let’s just say the owner has a bit of a Midas touch, or so he thinks.  Of course, you can play on your own dime, but your luck will take a turn when playing with the house’s money.

Henry: Sounds silly. I mean, this guy isn’t really guaranteeing we will win at gambling. What’s the catch?

Jesus: Henry is it?

Henry: Yeah, I’m Henry.

Jesus: Henry, I will give you two minor stipulations that might help you. First, the cards ain’t worth a dime if you don’t lay ’em down. You have to be willing to play. Second, the old man said you need to believe in the guarantee or it won’t work.

Henry: How convenient.

Jesus: Maybe so, but you only have one way of finding out. I’ll tell you what Chuck Berry said. “Roll them bones until the foreman comes back!”  

Randy: Well okay, then. What do we have to lose? I’m not one to refuse free money.

Melvin: I’m eyeing that blackjack table.

Randy: I need to find the craps table. Henry, what’s up man? What do you want to do?

Henry: I’m sorry, guys. I’m not feeling up to it. This isn’t really my kind of scene. Have you seen the people in this place? They give me the creeps. I think I’m going to check out my room. Meet up for a drink later?

Melvin: Alright, Henry, we’ll catch up later.

“He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matthew 25:16-18)

HOURS LATER

Randy: Hey Melvin, how’d you make out ole buddy?

Melvin: You’re not going to believe this. I gambled all the money the house gave us, and I just counted the chips, and I have double the amount I had when I started.

Randy: Me too!

Melvin: You’re kidding me? What is up with this place. It’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Randy: I don’t know, but I could get used to it. Let’s call Henry and get him to join us at the bar for a drink and we can rub it in his face.

Randy: Henry, you want to hear how Melvin and I made out?

Henry: I know you’re going to tell me, so go ahead.

Melvin: Randy and I each doubled the money the house gave us.

Henry: God, I’m so pissed! Gambling is a fool’s game, and you guys are being rewarded for it.

Randy: We don’t know what we’re going to do with the winnings!

Henry: This place is upside-down crazy.  

Randy:  Maybe it’s kind of like what that Jesus guy said.  We played and added a little belief to it, and presto.

Henry:  You’re so full of it.

Melvin:  Henry, how about we buy you a drink with some of our winnings?!

Henry: Sure. But I really hope this owner shows up. I’ve got a few questions.

“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:19)

[God and Jesus enter the bar and saddle up near Randy, Melvin, and Henry. St. Paul is the bartender.]

Paul: What are you in the mood for, Jesus?

Jesus: I’ll have some new wine from the cellar.

God: I’ll take a strong spirit. Neat.

Paul: Coming right up.

Jesus: Hey, Dad, let me introduce you to a group of guys that are on a getaway trip. These are the fellas you left the chips for. This is Randy, Melvin, and Henry.

God: Pleased to meet you. I hate that I was away at your arrival, but I hope you got lucky with the extra playing money.

Randy: Boy, did we ever! Melvin and I doubled what you gave us. Thank you for spoiling us.

God: I’m glad to hear it. I love giving gifts.

Jesus: You sure do. I think it’s your pleasure to give us the whole Heavenly Kingdom Casino!

God: That’s right, my boy. Henry, I didn’t hear from you. How did you make out?

Henry: I didn’t play.

God: Come again?

Henry: This isn’t my kind of scene, I guess.

Paul: Henry, you sound like a stick in the mud. You might be bad for business.

God: Settle down, Paul. You know, you were a bit like Henry at one point. Now Henry, I hate to tell you this, but you sound a tad foolish. I gave you free money to play with. You had nothing of your own to lose. I fronted you, and you didn’t have the nerve to play? Jesus, did you tell them they couldn’t lose?

Jesus: Oh yeah, Henry believes it too good to be true.

Henry: It doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to work this way. I always thought if you participated in this sort of activity, you were guaranteed to lose.

God: That’s for me to decide. If you lean on your own understanding then you’re going to have a hard time here. I’m not excited that I gave you a gift that you took to your room and hid. The best way to make Santa angry is to not play with the toy he brought, and you didn’t. Do you understand Henry?

Henry: Not really. I’ve got a lot of questions.

God: Fine. Me and the fellas will field a few.

Henry: For starters, have you seen the kind of people that are in and out of your casino? You’d find these folks at truck stops, honkytonks, and Wal-Marts. Do you take in just anybody?

God: They are a bit colorful, aren’t they? You see, I have a tendency to look more at the heart than I do the outside. I’d love for everyone in the whole world to find their place here, but unfortunately, these are the only people who come. We’ve marketed it to death, but this is what we drew in. (See: The Parable of the Wedding Banquet.)

Paul: Henry, you’re evaluating our guests based on a standard we are dead to. We’re dead to any moral advancement here. I tried all manner of personal enrichment, but that actually sunk me to a new low. It felt like death. I’m sure it sounds strange, but through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

Jesus: It doesn’t cost you anything here.

God: That’s right. You can lose it all and still find shelter here.

Henry: Sounds like the wine talking.

Paul: As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

Henry: If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying all are justified based on the act of another? You just alleviated responsibility.

Jesus: That’s exactly what he’s saying, and I’m actually the one who performed that act.

God: That’s right! Through Jesus, we’ve now abolished the rule book. Feels good to be free.

Paul: Well, I’ve got one rule that I will still give you.

Jesus: Always a stickler!

Paul: Hear me out.

Henry: Yeah, I’m interested in hearing about Paul’s rules.

Paul: Henry, I know this will sound strange and paradoxical to you, but the only way people can lose here is by playing by their own rules. The big no-no here is law-keeping. (See Galatians 3:18: “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”)  

Henry: This is the weirdest place I’ve ever been in. Gambling is not an activity that should be encouraged. Yet here you are, doing that very thing by giving money away. Worst of all, they win on cash they didn’t earn.

God: That’s exactly my point. Other than you, no one here is getting what they deserve.

Jesus: And with that, I’ll pick up the tab.

*

What I’ve attempted to do is retell the Parable of the Talents, one of the judgment parables, in the context of gambling—with a little help from Paul.

When we look at this parable in the Bible, we see the nobleman going on a journey and entrusting his servants some form of currency. Some translate it as bags of gold. We also see that the servants take what has been given to them, and they make more of it. The word the Bible calls “trade” indicates they somehow put their money to work for them. We just don’t necessarily know how it happened, but we do know they got back double of the same currency they started with.

How do you exchange a form of currency and receive more of that same currency? Where does a transaction like that take place? It could be they invested or gambled it. Judging by my 401k, I’d certainly say that is a gamble. They certainly took a risk.

What is the judgment in the parable? Robert Capon writes that “the judgment issues against the servant who acts not out of faith but out of prudence.” The servant acts out of prudence because of what he assumes about the nobleman’s nature. I think we have that same choice. We can live with the notion that God is angry and therefore to be feared. Or we can see him as a loving father who accepts us, and is generous to his children. I certainly prefer the latter.

Robert Capon adds further illumination on the parable:

The gift of grace is not a reward for hard work or good behavior, it is a lark, a joke, a hilariously inequitable largesse: it is, in a word, a gift. Don’t you see, Arthur? It’s all a game. All that matters is that you play at all, not that you play well or badly. You could have earned a million with the money I gave you, or you could have earned two cents. You could even have blown it on the horses for all I care: at least that way you would have been a gambler after my own heart. But when you crawl in here and insult me—me, Mr. Risk Himself—by telling me you decided that I couldn’t be trusted enough for you to gamble on a two-bit loss, that I was some legalistic type who went only by the books, well…