In today’s Gospel lesson we have the third of four advent parables Jesus tells in 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Last week we had the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, today it’s the Parable of the Talents, and next week, we will have the climatic parable, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. So stay tuned, and do not adjust your sets.
Why do I call them Advent parables?
Because each of these parables deals with the advent or the coming God’s kingdom at the end of the age, which is what the Church prays for, every day three times day, in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come!”
In praying for the kingdom to come we are praying for Jesus to come and wrap things up, to judge the Living and the Dead, to destroy sin and death, and hand over the kingdom to the Father so that God might be all in all.
Who of us is not filled with a deep longing for that Day to arrive?
Well, you would be surprised. What time does the football start this afternoon?
The season of Advent which is coming is all about awakening within us that longing for Jesus to come, and to break into our lives afresh even now in the places where we live and work.
According to St. Paul the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. At a time and place we least expect. Just when we think we have sorted all our political and economic problems with our clever deals, suddenly destruction will come, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape. Here I can’t help but think of the conversation I had this week with a man who at age of 72 is not able to retire, and still has to work, because he recently had to put his wife who suffers from severs Alzheimer’s into special care home to the tune of $60,000 a year. Talk about a thief in the night. That is not how either of the imagined their golden years.
That’s curious juxtaposition of images isn’t it. Destruction as labor pains upon a pregnant woman? A pregnant woman with labor pains means baby is about to be born. So it is with the judgment ofGod. It is destruction for the sake of a new creation.
In our reading from Zephaniah the prophet declares, “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs who say in their hearts, “ The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.”
Jerusalem of course is an image of the Church. This is where the judgment of God always begins. It’s with us, and it falls particularly hard on those who dismiss the judgment of God. All of which is to say, God will not be mocked.
Against all of this dark and heavy talk of judgment, we come to the Parable today, where Jesus opens up for us another window on the coming Day, and what it means for us now to live in the light of the promise of His coming.
“For it is as if a man was a going on a journey…”
Who is the man?
That would be Jesus, who at the beginning of the next chapter is embarking a journey that will take him to the suffering and crucifixion on the Cross, death, and burial, descent into hell, resurrection on the third day, and ascension into heaven.
Before leaving on his journey the man summoned his slaves. Who would that be? That would be us!
This man summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them, to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
This business of what we do with what has been entrusted to us is what in the Bible calls stewardship.
If you have spent anytime in Churchland, (it’s now been 24 years since I was made a priest, and Churchland became my second home) you will know that we typically speak of stewardship in terms of our time, our talent, and you got it, our treasure.
Today we are handing out our financial stewardship packages, and asking you to consider your financial support to the church for the coming year.
This course represents just a small, but important part of our stewardship.
What is it that God has entrusted us with?
Perhaps the better question is, “What has God not entrusted us with?”
is there anything you can point to in your life that has not been received as a gift from God?
Well, there are two mistakes that preachers commonly make with respect to this parable.
The one is to make it a story about the importance about discovering and putting to work your personal talents or gifts to work for the sake of God’s kingdom.
You like singing, you like organizing, you like speaking in public, you good with numbers, you like working with children or seniors, you like cooking. God has given you gifts and talents to be used in the service of His kingdom. How are you exercising these gifts and talents here at St. Mary’s?
While this is a very good question, it’s actually is not what this parable is all about.
The talent in our parable is actually an amount of money, equivalent to about 20 years wages. Calculated according minimum wage the slave received 5 talents got almost $2 million. The slave with two talents $800,000. The slave with one talent $400,000. Clearly we are talking something akin to a major financial investment house. Here the slaves are in fact investment brokers in training.
But is this parable about stewardship of our treasure? lf so, the timing could not be better.
What are you doing with all the money God has entrusted you with?
How are you putting that money to work for God’s kingdom and here at St. Mary’s?
While these also are very good and important questions, it’s not what I think this parable is about. We should not imagine that Jesus is wanting to underwrite the ethic of the businessman who says “work as hard as you can, with what you’ve got, make as much money as you can, and give away as much as you can.”
Jesus is not some venture capitalist on Dragon’s Den.
So what is this parable about?
As Jesus has already informed us this parable is about the coming of the kingdom, which has already been established in our midst through Jesus Christ. it is a present and not just a future reality.
In our life in the kingdom of God in which there are two dynamics at work.
There is the dynamic of gift or grace and there is the dynamic judgment.
What is initially striking about this parable is the superabundance of gifts or grace that is given
All in all our man going on the journey handed out over 3 million dollars to his slaves. By any calculation, this is fair chunk of change. I don’t have that kind of money to hand out, do you? Ah, but we know Someone who does…
God is superabundant in his gifting to us ofwhat belongs to Him.
As I understand it, one of the basic concerns of an investor is to know when he is going to get your money back. Get your money back asap, with whatever profit has been made., and move onto the next investment.
But as we discover in our parable, God is not only generous with his gifts to us, He is generous with his time. In our parable, the man was going away for a “long time.”
How long a time? We might as well say, a life time! We have been given our whole life with which to do business with what God has given us.
But after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
In other words, sooner or later, we are all going to run out of time. Time will be up, and that that will be the time for the settling up on accounts.
The slave who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well, done good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
So it was with the slave who had been given the two talents.
Here we see what it is that God wants not only from us but for us. God is looking for us to be found trustworthy with what He has given us, so that He might increase our responsibility, and ultimately enter into his joy.
What is that joy? It is not only the joy of lavishly and generously distributing gifts, and but the joy of seeing those gifts increase in value, enabling that wealth to be shared.
If that is not good news, I don’t know what it is. Yet I wonder, is this the joy that informs our stewardship?
Now we come to the slave who received the one talent, who was afraid, and buried what had been given, and returned it saying, “Here you have what is yours.”
The result for the slave was catastrophic. He came under judgment. The talent was taken away from him and was given to the man with ten talents, and he was cast into outer darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We see here how God’s judgment works. It works through the rejection of grace.
Where do you suppose he went wrong? I think we can uncover an number of errors.
The main error was turning what had been given as a gift into a possession.
How did he do it? By hanging on to what had been given.
How do you preserve the gift character of what has been given? There is only one way. That is by giving it away.
it’s why the Master tells his slave, “You could have at least given the talent to the bankers and earned interest,” because they in turn would have given it to somebody else.
The other consisted in not recognizing the preciousness of the gift that had been given. Who takes $400,000 and buries it in the ground?
As we see in the parable, that is someone who whose life is rooted in fear, who believes God to be a harsh man, instead of the generous and trusting God that He is.
Let’s wrap this up.
If the gift, the one talent that we have been given, is not understood to be our natural gifts and talents, or financial gifts, what is it?
It is the Gospel.
At the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel the Risen Lord Jesus declares to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything i have commanded you.”
in the context of Matthew‘s Gospel the one talent which we have received is the gift of being called to be a disciple of Jesus, a gift that was given to us in baptism. What a precious gift that is, in which we receive the forgiveness of sins, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and are made very members of the Body of Christ. There is enough grace in that gift to last a lifetime.
Here in this parable Jesus is teaching us “how to wait patiently for his return as those who have received the gift of being called a disciple. In that calling we are not necessarily called to do great things for God although in fact great things may happen. Rather as disciples of Jesus we are called to do the work Jesus has given us to do — work as simple and hard as learning to tell the truth and to love our enemies. Such work is the joy that our master invites us to share.” (Hauerwas, 2006, Matthew, p. 210)