Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 19, 2023
Matthew 25:14-30 Commentary
We pick up right where we left off last week, listening to Jesus teach his followers some important truths about how they are to live in light of what he will do in the future. This parable deals with the same question of how people ought to actively wait for the coming of the Lord, but does so in greater detail. Whereas the parable of the bridesmaids emphasises the need to be prepared for Christ’s return, this parable points to both what God expects of us and hints at the blessing our active waiting (or being responsibly prepared) can become—both for ourselves and, mysteriously, for God.
Each of the servants is given a large sum of money from the Master and is tasked with stewarding it for the Master until he returns. Even the last servant, who only receives one talent, is given upwards of a million of our dollars today. The point of the parable is that we have been entrusted with a vast treasure.
The quite serendipitous fact that our English word talent is similar to the symbolic meaning of the literal talent (as an amount of currency) leads us to both easily get the drift of the message while also leading us to take the symbolism too literally. In other words, we might be tempted to overreact and go overboard in using our talents of preaching, music, or service, etc., for the spread of the Gospel out of fear of wasting what God has given us.
But the sense of Jesus’s story is much broader than that: this parable is about life in the kingdom, not just what we consider ministry in the kingdom. It is not just the ministry workers who give God glory and lead God to feel joy. Anyone who becomes and expresses the person that God meant and designed for them to be gives God glory and leads God to feel joy.
Because each of us has been given by God skills, personality strengths, passions and interests that can be used for the unique callings and circumstances we find ourselves in. This is what the differing totals of money given to each servant represents. The one with five talents wasn’t necessarily more worthy or special than the servant given only one. Each of the servants have varying areas of “potential for functioning in some way” (the definition of the word used for “ability”). God through the Spirit blesses and equips these in us and then watches to see what we’ll do with them.
The first two servants show themselves to be faithful. They commit themselves to the adventure of stewarding the gifts given to them and allow the gifts to transform their life’s focus for the season that the Master is gone. By committing to working with the gifts entrusted to them, they see their experience expand—they add to the treasure total, doubling the amount of talents they are able to offer back up to the Master. Good and faithful servants gain in life and in heaven from being willing to grow into the person God meant for them to be in their homes, workplaces, communities, in the world… as part of the Kingdom of God.
The third servant merely preserves the treasure given to him. Preservation, it turns out, can be a sinful goal for spirituality and religion! This servant, because he was afraid of who he thought the Master to be, did not explore or even keep his talent at the top of mind. Instead, he hid it. We do not know from where or how this fearful picture of the Master formed in his head, but we do know that his dread of failing, of not getting approval, and of shame, motivates and controls his actions. Ironically, he reaps what he sowed when he buried the gift of God in the ground.
Whereas the other servants reaped an expanding treasure, gaining more and more experience of God’s presence, blessing, and care because they were willing to risk the original treasure given to them by doing something, the last servant fools himself that the surety of the life he has right now is better than the life that could be, and therefore he tries to keep things the same.
When systems theorists talk about change over time, they highlight how the same results you’re getting today don’t lead to the same results tomorrow. Actually, trying to maintain situations through the same actions leads to a default future. That’s because tomorrow’s circumstances are different than today—doing the same thing doesn’t actually keep things the same.
In his commentary The Way Opened up by Jesus, José Pagola puts words in our mouths in the place of the third servant as he hopes to preserve God’s gift: “Here is your gospel, your project of the reign of God, your message of love for these who suffer. We have kept it faithfully. We haven’t used it to transform our life or to introduce your kingdom in the world. We didn’t want to take chances. But here it is, undamaged.”
Unfortunately, when we live this way, refusing to grow in the things God has for us, we lie to ourselves. We haven’t faithfully kept God’s plans if we’ve only kept a record of the words, refusing to become doers of it… We haven’t honoured the message if we have neither let it transform our very existence, nor shared love with those in need. But not taking any chances to explore life in the kingdom, we will prove that we do not truly know the Good Master who promises to provide and who gives us any number of blessings meant to be shared with others. If this is our story, the gospel is undamaged, but we are the ones who are deeply broken and damaged.
The alternative is to pursue the gifts and opportunities, to live as kingdom people in all of the places and spaces God has called us to. As we do so we will increase God’s joy in heaven. Through experience, we will enter the joy of our Master.
The way Jesus starts this story, saying “For it is as if…” connects it to the previous one about the bridesmaids. There is the obvious connection of what the characters do while they are waiting for someone to show up, as well as a reckoning that takes place when that person does appear on the scene. But there is also this sense of expectation: Jesus is now telling his people what God gives and expects to see from the Trinity’s beloved ones. As the bridegroom and the Master become one character in our minds, we’re given insight into the bridegroom’s mind: what he anticipates finding when he returns, how excited he is to welcome his beloved into the joy of the wedding feast, his anticipation for us and what we will become.
We’ve all seen the TV or movie scenes, perhaps even lived the reality ourselves… the high school senior doesn’t want to open the letter from the College Admissions board; the graduate student doesn’t want to open the email with their bar exam scores; after going to the doctor for some blood work, the patient doesn’t want to look up the results on the lab’s website… the fear of bad news or of being disappointed meets the fear that everything will change in those moments. This fear is different than the last servant’s fear, but fear, no matter the kind, seems to work the same. Because, to move forward, to see change, we must do the thing connected to our fear.
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