23rd Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached Nov. 16, 2014)
first reading: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
second reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
gospel reading: Matthew 25:14-30
The parable told in our gospel reading today is one that Jesus uses to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. It’s part of a series of three parables in which Jesus tells the disciples about the end times.
A master left to go on a long trip. While he was gone, he entrusted his slaves with huge amounts of his money. Two of them made more money than they had been given by the master. They had been put in charge of a lot, and took the risk of investing it.
When they made more than they were originally given, the master gave them even more responsibility, and the great honor of entering into their master’s joy.
But the third didn’t do anything. He was scared. Afraid of what the master would do to him if he tried to invest even just one talent, and then lost it.
I certainly understand that fear. I might have even been tempted to do the same thing myself. Fear motivated that slave to dig a hole and bury the money. Kind of like stuffing your mattress with thousands of dollars. Now the money would be secure. And so was he, or so he thought.
We may be surprised to discover that the master is NOT pleased by the action (or inaction) of this slave, and shocked at the fate of this one who had so protected the master’s treasure.
I have never liked this parable, simply because I mostly identify with the slave who did nothing, who risked nothing, but lost nothing. Isn’t it better to have done nothing than to have lost it all?
The master’s response makes little sense if we look at the story superficially. But, we know that parables cannot be read superficially. With a parable, what you see is NOT what you get – – because what we get is much deeper and multi-layered. So we cannot assume that Jesus is simply talking about money, or shrewd financial planning.
In fact, he’s not talking about money at all – he’s talking about something much more important – discipleship.
He’s talking about being children of the light and of the day, as St. Paul wrote in our second reading. Jesus is talking about what it means to be a child of God, entrusted through our baptism with the responsibility of being a disciple, and making disciples.
We ARE disciples, and we MAKE disciples. That is our calling.
And to BE and MAKE disciples requires taking risks – putting ourselves out there – taking chances, letting our lights shine.
But I think a lot of people approach discipleship like the third slave. Either out of fear, or embarrassment, or even laziness we DO nothing, risk nothing, for Jesus.
Our response to the One who suffered and was buried in the tomb for us, is to bury our heads in the dirt, fade into the background, refusing to leave our comfort zones.
Honestly, how can that be our response to the One who has given us everything? When we think about it this way, perhaps the master’s response to the third slave makes more sense.
In baptism, Jesus gives us the gift of life, then it is our response, our call, to spend the rest of our lives giving it back to him. As we say in our offertory prayer, “we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our selves, our time, and our possessions…”
But, we’re still left wondering how much we have to do. What is the baseline for not ending up being thrown into the outer darkness? What’s the difference between getting a passing grade at discipleship and flunking out? How much is enough? How much do we have to do for Jesus?
How many people do we have to bring to the faith? What are the percentages? What will be enough for us to enter into the master’s joy? To quote the old Whitney Houston song, “How will I know if he really loves me?”
On the surface this reading is NOT good news – because it’s all works. It’s about earning the master’s favor. It’s about producing or being thrown out.
That’s not a gospel I can preach. Thank God, I don’t have to.
Once again, we have to look below the surface.
Because it’s not so much that salvation comes to the slaves through the amount of money they earn – for they’re each given different amounts and they earn different amounts – but their reward is the same. The punishment comes to the one who does nothing, not one thing, takes no risks whatsoever to grow the talent – indeed acts as if the talent, the treasure, doesn’t even exist.
With God, success isn’t measured by the greatness of the profit, success comes in BEING who we ARE – again, as St. Paul writes “children of the light and children of the day.”
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:15 that we don’t light a candle and hide it under a basket, and in the next verse which we say in our baptismal liturgy, “Let your light so shine before others…”
We are disciples, and we make disciples – we are children of the light so that light can shine before others.
How do we know if what we do is enough? How do we know if we’ve entered into the master’s joy? How will I know if he really loves me?
You and I only have to look at the cross and remember who we are.
In the end, it’s really impossible to “do nothing” because our baptism does everything.
Our very existence as baptized children of light and of the day shines the light of God in the darkest places of the earth. And THAT is good news – not just for us, but for the whole world.