This evening I think it’s helpful to remember where we left off last week in Matthew in fact I think it is helpful to go back to chapter 24 when Jesus having just assailed the scribes and Pharisees sat at the Mount of Olives and the disciples asked him “What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” And Jesus proceeds to tell them what will happen when the Messiah will come. He warns them not to be deceived and to be vigilant and he says many things about being ready and prepared for this coming “Keep Awake” he says, “ for you know neither the day or the hour”. Don’t be deceived by pretenders who claim to be the Messiah and don’t be lazy and negligent…Stay awake because he could come at any hour. Any hour at all. This warning to be vigilent and to be ready is echoed again in our Epistle this week from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. We are in the days just prior to his crucifixion on the cross and his brutal death. Jesus is trying to tell them about what is to come so they will see and recognize the signs he is telling them about. “Keep Awake”…be ready, be prepared…”Keep Awake”.
This week’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, tells us the parable of the Talents. Three slaves are given a sum of money (a “Talent”) by their master before he goes away for a long time. When he returns he asks for an accounting and finds that two of them had invested what they were given and had doubled the original amount and he rewards each with praise and greater responsibilities. But the third in fear and trepidation had hidden his Talent in a hole in the ground to protect it and although it had not lost value it had not grown. The master angrily addresses him and says
“You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? 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.” Then he tells one of the others, “take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten talents…for to all those who have, more with be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” And then he throws the slave out into the darkness.
We are talking about a great deal of money here. By one reckoning one talent could be more than 1 million dollars. SO it is easy to get caught up in the monetary nature of this story and the complexity of our capitalist economy or even in the concepts espoused by those who preach the prosperity gospel. But this is a parable and parables are complex riddles not factual news reports. Parables can leave us with questions that can confuse and puzzle us. And they are frequently not about what their actual words seem to tell us. In this instance when the Gospel of Mathew was written there was no such thing as a capitalist economy, so to judge the meaning of these ancient words only in economic terms would, I think be wrong.
I think it helps to remember that the 25th chapter of Matthew begins with these words: “When the day comes, the kingdom of heaven will be like this”. I think the purpose of this parable is to give us clues as to what we should expect the kingdom of heaven to be like and to show us what God expects of us.
The Jesuits have an interesting and helpful way of looking at scripture. It is called the “Composition of Place” and it calls them to approach every passage by first descending into the heart to discern what God is trying to tell them and then to put themselves into the place of every person in the story. In this way they place themselves inside the scene not on the outside looking in. They actually try to imagine what they might see what they might hear and what they might touch by actually living in the scripture. SO in this case we would be the master and we would also be each of the slaves…and through that exercise they try to determine the message that God is giving us.
Here I think we are being told something that has little to do with the monetary value of the gifts we are shown in the parable. I think we are being shown that each one of us receives gifts from God of all kinds.
The gift of prophesy, the gift of intelligence, the gift of being able to write or to sing or to take care of the poor and the sick, The gift of great wealth or of great empathy. The gift of being able to be a parent and raise a child or the gift of being able to care for the elderly in their last days of life. There are far too many gifts to name but we all receive them each according to God’s needs for us.
SO I think what this parable is trying to tell us is that whatever gifts we are given, we must first understand or discern them and then we must use them to the best of our ability offering thanksgiving for God’s grace. We then multiply the power of our gifts and can come closer to reconciling with the person God wants us to be and the person we truly are.
Father Adam told us two weeks ago in his sermon about the dancing saints that fill the ceiling of Saint Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco. Last Sunday I had one of those experiences that I no longer refer to as coincidences but instead call God Incidences. We were in New York, walking up town from Wall Street to the Whitney Museum on 16th Street when we passed by Trinity Church Wall Street. We had no plans to attend church that morning, but as we passed the open doors the service was just ready to begin and we decided to stop and go in. After experiencing a life changing sermon by the remarkable Reverend Mark Bozzuti Jones I am ready to ask God to help bring those saints down from their lofty perches to help us create a new revolution in how we actually live and use our faith.
Father Mark used his sermon to tell us that we need to find the means to love more deeply and to live our faith more deeply to combat the hatred, discrimination, greed, sickness, dishonesty nihilism, growing militarism in our country and the hunger and poverty that causes millions throughout the world to die before their time.
In light of all the negative and soul dampening things taking place in our world it is crucial that each of us mine the full potential of the gifts we are given. We must live our faith in a new and dynamic way to help bring about the freedom, justice and love that millions of people throughout the world cry out for.
I think that we are being called though this parable to use the gifts we have received to bring God’s love to a broken world. So with this message… I ask all of those saints on all of the ceilings in all of the churches throughout the world to come down to us to help us in our time of need and repair and restore our brokenness. I ask God to help me and each of you to use your gifts to stand up and walk forward as a new army of the faithful…committed to loving each other and to actively fighting to do what we say with our mouths and through the efforts of our hearts and with our hands begin a revolution of the millions of the faithful to multiply the power of our efforts to restore our world.