The 24th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28A (11/19/2017)

Lessons:
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11], 12
1st Thessalonians 5:1-11
St. Matthew 25:14-30

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm
Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123

Prayer of the Day:
Righteous God, our merciful master, you own the earth and all its peoples, and you give us all that we have. Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom, and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

25.14 [Jesus said] “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 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.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

St. Matthew 25:14-30, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“You wicked and lazy slave!”

This text shows up in the lectionary every three years: The Parable of the Talents. Whenever I read it I can’t help but think of the unfortunate third slave. I try to imagine this imaginary character in Jesus’ parable. Compared to the two other slaves, he seems less ambitious, less driven, less adventuresome. He seems aware of the master’s demanding nature — maybe even more acutely aware than the other two. He seems to understand that there is significant risk in investing assets that don’t belong to him, and more than a bit frightened about what might happen to him if he trades with his master’s talent and fails. I know many people — fine, faithful, decent people — who probably would identify more with this slave than his less risk-adverse co-slaves.

I can see why a wealthy homeowner would want to place the first two “in charge of many things.” Anyone who has ever managed a small business (or a large one for that matter!) knows that the more capable the leaders are, the more effective the venture will be. We even find ourselves asking that question here at Saint Peter: “Which of our members seem to have the strongest leadership gifts, and how might we invite them to use their gifts and abilities in a way that moves us closer to our stated mission as a congregation?”

It is harder to understand why the master is so harsh with this slave. He takes the responsibility of managing this asset away from him and gives it to another, which seems to make perfect sense if the master’s objective is to grow his portfolio. But calling him wicked? Lazy? Throwing him into the outer darkness? Weeping? Gnashing of teeth? How is this an appropriate response? Is this how Jesus wants us to think of God?

Of course this isn’t a parable about money management, or leveraging one’s strengths and passions. Jesus isn’t necessarily teaching us that we had better put to work whatever God has given to us in a way that multiplies it. (There are some who might contend that if, for instance, one’s gift is playing the banjo, less might actually be better than more…)

It is helpful to remember that both in Jesus’ day and in St. Matthew’s day, there was a strong need for the faithful to stand up for what was righteous and just in God’s eyes. Under significant pressure from the state, followers of Jesus found themselves both called by God to share their faith, and pressured by the powers-that-be to hide their faith. The future of the church depended on their response. Some stayed as far under the radar as they could, to escape detection. Others spoke out publicly at great personal risk. Perhaps Jesus is speaking a critical word to those who shirked their responsibilities in those days, and a word of gratitude to those who stepped up and took risks for the sake of the Gospel.

In the next passage, Jesus will say to his followers (and to us), “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” In the final verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel he will say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” How do we understand these two passages in light of this week’s Parable of the Talents?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What forces opposed the early church, making it dangerous to be identified as Christian?
  2. Which early followers of Jesus were fearless and tireless in promoting their faith?
  3. How did this make a difference in the development of the Christian community?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who has been a model, for me, of courageous faithfulness?
  2. When have I felt called to stand up for my God and my faith?
  3. What do I do on an ongoing basis that strengthens my ability to be faithful to God’s call?