St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Trinity 23, November 15, 2020 Canon Claude Schroeder (Matthew 25. 14-30)
In today’s gospel lesson, we heard what is commonly called “The Parable of the Talents”, where, as Jesus tell us, “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.”
You could be forgiven for thinking that here Jesus giving the disciples a script for the annual stewardship campaign. This is typically the time of year when a letter goes out from the churchwardens asking parishioners to consider their financial stewardship of the parish, along with a pledge form.
How are we going to meet our financial obligations? A purely business approach would suggest that we take our annual budget of $180,000, and divide it up equally among the 70 or so parish families, which comes to roughly $2,5000 a year, or roughly $50.00 a week per household. Here is your bill, now pay up…
But it takes more than just money to operate a parish. It takes time and it takes talent, and we need to take that also into consideration. So, depending on the number of hours you give to the parish, and the skills you have to offer, credits would be issued, so that some might in fact end up being invoiced quite a bit more than the $50.00 a week, and others, inconsiderably less.
You would rightly be outraged with such a business approach to stewardship. While the world these days, monetizes, puts a price tag, on absolutely everything, it has no place in the economy of grace within the Church. We recognize that God has distributed talents unequally. Some have more money, others have less. Some have more time, others have less. Some have more skills, other have less. What matters is that you take whatever it is that God has entrusted you with, you put it to work, cheerfully and sacrificially, for the glory of His Name, for the building to the Church, and the extension of His kingdom. So goes the story, and it’s a story that gets told over and over during the fall stewardship campaign in the church.
But that is not the story that I wish to tell today.
As important as finances are for the future health and wellbeing of the Church, Jesus, in this parable has a much bigger fish to fry…
This is the third in a series of three parables in Matthew 25 concerning what Jesus called “the kingdom of heaven.”
What is the kingdom of heaven? The kingdom of heaven is not a place called “heaven” to which you may or may not go after you die, rather the kingdom of heaven is the reign and rule of heaven in your life, that has been established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is the presence and power of God in your life, and it has a present and a future aspect. This was the great theme of Jesus’ preaching and teaching.
So, what does the kingdom of heaven, the presence and power of God in my life, look like?
Well, says Jesus, let me tell you a story… “It is as if a man going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.
Who is the man?
That would Jesus Christ.
And what is the journey?
The journey is that which will take Jesus onto the Cross, down into the depths of hell, out the other side, and up again to the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is the present aspect of the presence and power of God in your life, in which Jesus, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, defeats the power of sin, death, and the devil, and entrusts us with a very generous, precious and singular talent or gift.
And that is that talent? What is the gift?
In Jesus day, a talent was the greatest unit of accounting in Greek money, the equivalent of about 10,000 denarii, which was the equivalent to a lifetime of wages! A talent was a lot of money!
But in spiritual terms, what is talent? That would be the Gospel. It is the gift of salvation, in the forgiveness of your sins, and the promise of eternal life. It is the gift of being called a disciple of Jesus Christ, which we receive in Holy Baptism.
“I sign you with the sign of the Cross and mark you as Christ’s own forever.”
Such is the superabundance of the God’s gift to us in baptism: it lasts a lifetime!
What have I done to deserve this wonderful gift?
Nothing. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a gift, would it?
Like all gifts, the gift of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ is something which we have to unpack, and put into circulation, and we have a lifetime in which to do this.
But what did the slave with the talent do?
He took what he had been given, went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Why on earth did he do such a thing?
We don’t find out the reason, until the end of the story when the master came back to settle accounts with his slaves. This corresponds to the future aspect of the presence and power of God in your life, when as we confess in the Creed, Jesus Christ will again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Then, there will be a settling of accounts, and one of two things will happen, according to the story, you will either enter the joy of your Master, or you will be thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
More on that in just a minute…
The slave said to the Master at his coming, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours…’
Well, let’s break this down.
“I knew you to be a harsh man.”
We are living in harsh times, and are surrounded by harsh people. Do you work for a harsh man or a harsh woman, or do you have harsh colleagues at work? Do you live with a harsh man or a harsh woman? Did you have a harsh man for a father, or a harsh woman for a mother? Are your children harsh towards you? Maybe so.
Then there are the hard nosed investors on the popular T.V. show, “The Dragon’s Den” who have to be convinced to part with their money, and drive a hard bargain with cash strapped entrepreneurs. There is a group of harsh men and women.
But where on earth did our slave in the story get this idea that His Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, was harsh man? All the evidence in the story suggests that he was anything but a harsh man, but rather a trusting, welcoming, generous and benevolent man; freely sharing of his wealth and warmly inviting his slaves to come into his house and join the victory party and share His joy. That at least is how the first two slaves saw him, and it gave them the freedom they needed to take risks and to act, just like their master. We see how little the Master in our story, unlike the Dragon’s, cared for maximum profits when he rebukes the slave who wanted to play it safe for not investing his money with the bankers where it would at least have earned a little bit of interest in a savings account. These days, that’s not very much!
So, we see what the problem was? The problem is that the slave had a false view of His Master, as harsh man, a view that caused him to be afraid, which resulted in a paralysis in his life, an inability act. In this way, what had been given as a gift, was turned into a possession. “Here,” said the slave to his master, “You have what is yours…”
What an insult!
Well, I am here today to tell you, Your Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, is not a harsh man. He is a giving and forgiving man, whose judgement of us at His second coming will have nothing to do with how well we performed in life, or how successful we were with our investments.
No, the judgment will be on the basis of faith, where we received the salvation that he offers us, as a gift, as a trust, and simply put it into circulation in our daily lives. In Holy Baptism, it was given to us to believe and trust in God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was also given to us to believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and the life everlasting, and so we act accordingly. Whether we achieve any success in worldly terms, is irrelevant. What matters is that we have been faithful. “To all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 21. 29)
So, what are we to make of the judgment of the Master to take “this worthless servant and throw him into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth? (Matthew 25. 30)
Is this a story about a generous master who suddenly turns cruel and punishing? I don’t think it is. I think, rather, this is a story of living with the consequences of your faith. This slave judged Lord to be a harsh man, and the judgement came back on him. So, we might go so far as to say, that he excluded and threw himself out of the party.
Here is how one commentator puts it, “If you trust in the grace and goodness of God, you can boldly go out into the world with eyes wide open to the grace in all of life and discover the joy of God’s providence everywhere. For those who live in the confidence that God is trustworthy and generous, they will find more and more of that generosity wherever they go; but for those who run and hide under the bed from a bad, stingy, and scolding god, they condemn themselves to a life under the bed alone, quivering in needless fear.” (Tom Long).
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, where our harsh experience of life and of other people has caused us to regard you as a harsh man, and to be captive to fear, and unable to act, we ask that you would insert yourself, and by the perfect love that was poured out for us on the Cross, cast out our fear, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, even Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, and enter into His joy. Amen.