for the 33rd Sunday of
(from a Homily
first posted on
Today’s Lectionary Gospel reading gives to us St. Matthew’s Jesus, preaching what may be called a third judgment parable in succession.
This time it is the story of a man who leaves on a long journey, but before his departure he entrusts his property and possessions to his servants, giving one five talents of money, one two talents of money and to a third, one talent of money.
Well, you know the story. The first two servants put the talents to good use, multiplying their value, but the third simply buried the one talent for which he was given charge.
Then, after a long time, the Master returns home to settle his affairs. When he discovers the progress of the first two servants he says:
"'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.'"
However, when he comes to the third servant and discovers that he has been lazy -- that is, because he feared the Master he simply buried his talent -- the Master said to him:
"You wicked, lazy servant!So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
Now, what are we to make of this story, and how are we to hear the words, "well done," from the Master?
GOD AND ISRAEL
First, as N.T. Wright reminds us, this is the story of GOD and Israel. GOD had given the Hebrews the gifts of the Law and the Temple. They were (and are) to be the light of the world; the blessing of the world. (Genesis 12:3)
Subsequently, GOD seemed to have gone on a long trip away from them for an extended period of time. That is, exile had taxed Israel's best theological minds:
Where is GOD?
Why are the heathen nations, again and again, ruling over us, the chosen people?
Just where is the promise of David's continuing Kingdom, the Kingdom that would have no end?
Well, Matthew wants us to know that the time of giving an account had finally arrived, and that King had now returned to his servants (Matthew 3:1-3). Matthew is telling us that the LORD was finally moving to act on behalf of his people (Malachi. 3:17). Therefore, the question being put to these leaders and to the nation was simple:
What have you done with
the gifts you were given?
Or, it might be more accurate to ask:
"What have you done with the gifts I gave you, and what will you do now with the new gift I am giving you -- the gift of the Kingdom promise (Dn. 2), the gift of my Son (cf. Ps. 2)
What we see, according to the Gospels, is the brutal reality that the Hebrew religious leaders of Jesus' day could not or would not accept him as Messiah, the promised one of Israel. No doubt there were many factors that went into this decision, self-interest was part of it, but so was their (mis)understanding of the political moment as coupled with their reading of Scripture. That is, the primary reality they faced was simply that Jesus did not represent a messiah-as-power which they understood their King must possess. Instead, when Jesus confronted them with his understanding of Messiah — the Suffering Servant motif of Isaiah 40-55 -- that is messiah-as-suffering-servant, these leaders rejected him.
JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES
But, notice, this is not all this parable has to say. For, not only is this the story of GOD and Israel, it is also the story of Jesus and his disciples.
Clearly, the climax of Jesus' earthly ministry was upon his followers. Jesus was about to be taken from them as he confronted the powers of empire and darkness embodied by the Romans. Jesus is leaving and he has given them --
the gift of service:
"the son of man came to seek and to save that which has lost"
"the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many"
the gift of reconciliation:
when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
The question was: What would they do with these gifts?
Left to their own devices after Jesus' death, these followers would have probably returned to their nets and their tax tables. How could one follow a dead Messiah?
But, the Gospel writers offer this explanation for the rather strange behavior of Jesus’s followers:
Jesus of Nazareth was indeed executed by the Romans in his confrontation with empire, but was raised to new life -- resurrection life.
This is the good news that changed everything, that change the life of the world.
But, we must also say, of course, this is our story as well. That is, we who name the name of Jesus Christ, like those first century Hebrews and those initial disciples, we too have been given talents and gifts and callings as we became followers of the Messiah.
What must be seen is that we were pressed into service and servanthood when we offered allegiance to the Christ so many years ago. In fact, this is literally what it means to follow the Christ — a hard-edged commitment that suffers through the long haul. Ultimately, it is not just about the afterlife -- going to heaven when we die. That is part of it, but in accepting the Gospel we actually approve for ourselves a new way of life now. We live a new life based upon the narrative of Jesus, the truly human life. His story becomes our story.
This means, based upon today’s reading, each of us have gifts and talents not for our own self-aggrandizement and not to be hidden. Instead, these gifts are to be used for the Master, for the building up of the body of Christ and the building of the Christ's Kingdom project in the world.
Our gifting must come under the LORDship of Christ so that the talents we have been given are used in sacrificial service toward the church -- that the church might be one and whole, and in sacrificial service toward the world -- that the world would know truth and beauty and reconciliation. For it is through the reality of the LORDship of the Christ in the lives of the Messiah’s followers that the world sees the church as prototype of what it means to find a daily becoming of true humanity within a community in more than name only.
This also means we must finally recognize, therefore, the ultimate calling we have been given from the Christ. Which is to say not only do each of us have gifting for the church and the world, but we, each of us, possess the clear calling to employ of those gifts for the living, risen Christ.
In what may be the most essential reality of our Christ-ward allegiance, but which is more often than not down-played or omitted, at the moment we said yes to the Christ, our lives -- including our gifts and talents -- were no longer our own.
That is to say, true faith in the Christ as LORD of the world means we no longer have final say over our path. For in that primary occasion of our willingness to faith, when we offered our life to the ways of the Christ -- what we call around here the Jesus-way, we permitted our will to mesh with the Christ's -- his way and walk became our way and walk.
Said differently, the vocation we have, no matter what our occupation, is to live out the LORDship of the Christ, using the gifts and talents given us, as an actual calling from the Christ.
Now, as a pastor this is somewhat more easily done for me, at least on the surface, because my occupation and my vocational calling seem to mesh very well. But, for you, this may seem more confusing and more difficult.
We can put the question somewhat like this:
How can I fulfill my calling (my vocation) to follow the LORDship of the Christ by using the gifts and talents given me, everywhere, even where I work (my occupation), say at the Mill or in the office?
I would offer these two guides as a help:
First, one must be immersed in the Word of GOD and the ancient canonical heritage of materials, persons, and practices flowing from the Word and the church (2 Pt.1:20). For us, the Word of GOD must be the final and primary guide for us. These ancient words must be part and parcel of our lives and spiritual walk.
Second, one must be immersed in the life of the body of Christ. This is the path through which we find our outlet for calling, the use of our gifts and talents, as well as the way of growth and spiritual health. For we find in the healthy Body of Christ the offer of a spiritual storehouse -- the baptismal experience, the Word and the Table, the Koinonia fellowship that resources the continued life on the Jesus-way, and fuels our calling to follow the Christ into the world.