You are given God’s abundant gifts, according to your ability, and invited to use them free of fear, because the Son of God has taken all punishment into the life of the Trinity and changed it to blessing and life.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 33 A
Texts: Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The crisis in this parable is fear.
The third servant fears his master’s retribution and buries what was given him to use. He believes his master is harsh, taking what others work for.
But look: the master hands over his own property to three trusted servants – and Jesus uses extravagant, enormous numbers in this story – and then goes away. Nearly 2 million dollars in our money is given to them, divided according to their ability, with no restrictions or stipulations. This master seems generous and trusting.
And yet, when the master returns, he certainly does treat the third servant harshly. His portion is handed to another, and he is thrown “into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This punishment for just being afraid makes this parable frightening to us, too. But worse, Jesus adds this tag: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have in abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” That sounds horribly wrong to us, on top of our fear.
But you can’t forget this: the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the center of your hope for life now and life to come.
We claim the Scriptures say that God took on our human flesh, lived among us, and allowed us to put God-with-us to death, to love us even in the worst of our evil. As Paul says in Romans, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s forgiving love is freely poured out for all, for you, at the cross. This is our only hope now and always.
Whatever is happening in this parable, it cannot, cannot override what God does at the cross. God’s deepest revelation of love, the drawing of the creation into the Triune God’s life in the cross and empty tomb, is God’s final word, always. You can’t trust the cross sometimes and abandon it at others.
So, you have to understand how this parable fits underneath and within the truth of God’s love at the cross.
Your path to that understanding opens up in Gethsemane.
It’s possible that Jesus, nearing his death, and in righteous, divine anger, was considering punishing God’s people who rejected God in their midst. All his Holy Week parables reveal that judging intensity. Therefore, Gethsemane was a real struggle, a true crisis for Jesus, not a pre-determined outcome. He really had to make a decision. Would he take God’s path of self-giving, sacrificial love, or bring down God’s wrath, as his late stories suggest?
And Jesus decided not to avenge his rejection by God’s people, not to give the vineyard to worthier tenants, not to slam the door or throw into darkness, but to enter himself into the evil and pain of this world freely. To offer, out of love, God’s life to the creation.
In Gethsemane, Jesus fixes this parable, changes the ending. Instead of the one with abundance getting even more, while those with nothing lose all, Jesus chooses the opposite. The One who has it all – divine power and glory, life within the Trinity – gives it all up, loses everything so that those who were lost, who had nothing, no faith or trust in him, who even rejected him, might receive all.
So what’s left of this parable?
Well, now it makes sense, start to finish. The owner gives the servants all the owner’s property, millions of dollars in the story, just as God gives us, God’s children, the whole creation in extravagant trust.
And you and I are asked to use what we’ve been given, to care for God’s property. Talents, in the parable, are money. So, using our wealth to serve our master is the invitation here. But talents in English are gifts – spiritual, physical, intellectual – so using our God-given talents to serve our master is also the invitation here. Use your gifts, don’t bury them. That’s all that’s asked.
And there’s no need to fear anything. The master entered the outer darkness himself, the Son of God has drawn all punishment and death into God’s life and destroyed their power.
From start to finish, because of the cross and empty tomb, this is a parable of grace and gift and invitation.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as you indeed are doing,” Paul says today.
For two weeks in a row now Paul has given you a word of encouragement to share with your siblings in Christ, your neighbor, your world.
You belong to a God of abundance who gives to you and to all abundantly, according to ability. To use and care for and make a difference as best you can, knowing you are loved no matter what, so you can confidently serve, without fear, until the master returns for you.
Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as you indeed are doing.
In the name of Jesus. Amen