First Reading: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
7Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.
12At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
13Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.
14The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.
15That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
17I will bring such distress upon people
that they shall walk like the blind;
because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
18Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
in the fire of his passion
the whole earth shall be consumed;
for a full, a terrible end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
Psalm: Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12
1Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.
2Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God.
3You turn us back to the dust and say,
“Turn back, O children of earth.”
4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night;
5you sweep them away like a dream,
they fade away suddenly like the grass:
6in the morning it is green and flourishes;
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
7For we are consumed by your anger;
we are afraid because of your wrath.
8Our iniquities you have set before you,
and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
[ 9When you are angry, all our days are gone;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
11Who regards the power of your wrath?
Who rightly fears your indignation?
] 12So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.’ 21His 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.’ 22And 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.’ 23His 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.’ 24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Today we come to the next to the last Sunday in Pentecost. Next week is Christ the King Sunday and then Advent. I’m ready for the Hallmark channel and stories with a happy ending after all we have experienced these days. But, today Jesus is still answering the disciples question about signs of the end of the age and the coming of the kingdom of heaven. I want to look at the parable today through the lens of law and gospel.
The parable is about a master who gathers his slaves and gives them differing amounts of talents according to their ability before he goes on a long journey. He returns and the slave given five talents has made five talents. The slave given two talents has made two talents. The slave given one talent has buried his talent for fear of the master. The master calls the slaves forward. He is pleased with the five and two talent slaves but angry with the one talent slave. The first two slaves are praised and rewarded and the third is punished and cast out. How do we understand this?
First we are going to look through the eyes of law. Remember that the law drives us to the cross for we see our inadequacies and limitations, our need for Christ and salvation. Law shows us we are broken people in a broken world that needs a savior. We and our neighbor never get it right. Did I hear an “Amen!” on that? Government is not going to prevent death. Laws do not create roads that are always safe or people that pay taxes honestly. Hospitals treat but God heals. Ultimately, law drives us to the cross.
So where do we see law in this parable?
Do you notice that the language of the parable has changed from bridegroom and bridesmaids culminating in a wedding feast? Today we talk about a “master” and his “slaves.” I suspect as Americans we grimace to hear these words. For sure Americans want to think we are free to forge our destiny. Anyone almost can become president. If we work hard enough, we can make a future happen. If we use all the medicines, creams and goops of advertisements, we can ward off old age and death. Are we surprised at language that promises to control a pandemic and to save the environment? We are master’s of our destiny, not slaves. Slaves are not free to follow their dream. “Lord” tends to elevate the master to distant Washington DC whereas the title “master” brings the story close to home. If I need to bow to Jesus as my “master,” I may well discover I have arthritis in my knees!
Also we would like to believe we are all equal. People have various degrees of talents we will agree but we also believe success is a statement about training, heritage, money and hard work. My mother used to say, “If I had gone to college, I would have written a book,” for she was a product of the depression and the fourth daughter. College was not for her but she wanted her children to have that opportunity. We think slavery is a reversible state that can be changed to equality with the master if we protest long enough and get laws changed. One of our political agendas is to tackle racism and create equality. “All men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights: life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If the constitution says it, it’s true and we resist the blatant inequality in this parable.
Thirdly we do not want to think the master would punish the lazy slave. We want to think of the master as loving and forgiving, kind of a glorified Santa Claus. If we relegate the stories of judgment to the Old Testament, to the past and focus on salvation for all…sometime, we can ignore the closing lines of this parable. “Good” masters are kind and forgiving and slaves do not have to fear them. The master will accept the slave’s victim language. The last slave had to bury his talent because he was scared. Our mental state justifies our actions. In the same way, we justify alcohol and pornography. We convince ourselves we had to indulge or that the other drove us to it. When the third slave claims he knew the master was strict, it reminded me of Adam answering God that it was the wife God gave him that led him to eat the apple. Both Adam and this slave blame God for their problems. The master in the parable does not accept this whine. Not only did the slave blame God, he buried the talent, essentially cutting off communication with God. We are responsible for our actions, ouch. God will not make us love him.
Confronted with this parable, my humanness cries out against being a slave to another and not the master of my life. I don’t want to be an ordinary person but I want to be special. I have made mistakes but surely they are forgivable. Right?
So where do we see grace in this parable.
The master gives talents to all. In the parable “talents” are amounts of money. Every person receives something. My talent may not be yours but each person brings something to this fellowship of believers. No one here today is unimportant or unneeded. We form a body with different roles. Also, it does not appear that there are instructions on how to use the talents. Singing in the opera, singing in the church choir, and singing my child to sleep all have meaning. How we use our talents is up to us. The slaves are “entrusted” to manage the talents. T]The master gives and goes about his business allowing the slaves to enjoy their talents. There is trust. The master does not micro-manage the slaves. The talents are not a test to evaluate the slave but a gifting, designed to enhance the life of the slave. The criteria is the trustworthiness of the slave not how well the slave uses the talent compared to another slave.
Next, I note that the talents are given according to the slave’s ability. The master knows his slaves, their abilities and their limitations. The master is involved, knowing his slaves. Even though we experience him as off on a journey, there seems to be a personal relationship and knowledge. The master does not compare the slaves but deals with each one individually.
I looked up the quote that goes with “walk a mile in my shoes” and found over 300 variations of it. I liked
Walk a mile in my shoes
See what I see
Hear what I hear
Feel what I feel
Then maybe you’ll understand
Why I do what I do…
Till then, don’t judge me.
As this parable unfolds, we see a picture of a master who is present with his slaves, knows them, departs and then returns. It is possible then to equate the master with Jesus. Jesus has walked in our shoes, seen, heard and felt what we’ve felt and understands us. He is not sitting far removed on a throne but standing face to face with his slave. Jesus “sees” me and understands. He has walked with me through my life. He may not be Santa Claus but he is the Good Shepherd leading me, guiding me, and with me in the valley of the shadow of death. I need fear no evil.
“Enter into the joy of your master, ” are the words at the close of the age. “Well done though good and faithful servant,” is another way of saying it. The master does not give a Christmas bonus. The master does not smile and tell the slave to go fix dinner as in another parable. The end of our journey is “JOY.” That is grace! I do not think this joy is experiential like the happiness of entering heaven, like being handed the keys to your new home, or like the reunion with a long lost friend. Our human joy always seems to be followed by the valley after the mountain-top. I think here we are talking about a permanent atmosphere because it radiates from Christ himself, a sense of always being loved, of never disappointing, of continual presence. I cannot imagine what it will be like but I suspect it will not be St Peter meeting us at the gate, asking for the right password, checking the log to make sure our name is written in the book of life. No. The parable says that the master, Jesus, will meet us and say “Enter into the joy of your master.” Wow.
Next week we will stand at the throne and face Christ, the King. This parable tells us that day is coming but is not yet. It will be like a wedding feast when the groom receives his bride. It will be like a master returning to reward his slaves. It will be a time of reward for all that has been entrusted to us. It will be a time of transparency, of being known. And it will be a time of joy. It is a time to look forward to. Thank you Lord.