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The Parable of the Talents

Themes of judgement run through our stories this week challenging us to be more discerning about how we live in the times we find ourselves. (Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 28 [33]. Matthew 25:14-30) We are reminded to be faithful and to live as people of the day, of the light, and to be creatively generous with the treasures of God entrusted to us for the sake of the kingdom.

You may wish to see what I wrote three years ago in response to these same readings.

Many of us will thrill to the story of Deborah the Judge as we see a woman lead with wisdom and authority in a time when it must have been rare. We may also see in the story of Israel’s cyclical obedience and unfaithfulness a commentary on current world events. We need to be careful not to think this is a recipe for international politics one way or the other but rather a reflection on the human conundrum and a call to growing in obedience, justice and mercy over the long term, the eternal call to live as the people of God in each and every time and place.

In Thessalonian’s we have possibly the earliest existing Christian writing and we hear the surprise and concern that Jesus the Christ has not yet returned. Paul’s response is not to speculate when that might be so much as to challenge the faithful on how to live now as a people of the day, as children of light. This is how we are to live for our sake and for the sake of others.

And then we come to the gospel of Matthew and the parable often known as the Parable of the Talents. As so often we need to decide how to hear the text. There seems to be at least two camps on how to read this. Firstly, those who see this as instruction on how to be faithful by working hard with the natural talents and gifts we are given. And secondly there are a number of very understandable critiques of this approach not least that the image of the master and the economy described is ethically dubious. So how do we read it?

I begin with the recognition that this is a story placed on the lips of Jesus to tell us something about the nature of the kingdom of heaven and in the context of judgment or the challenge to be discerning about what was going to be required of the disciples after the departure of Jesus. We are being challenged to hear how to work for the inbreaking of the kingdom heaven here and now even though the known world is in upheaval.

Jesus was often subversive in the way he taught. It is very likely that he was both critiquing the unethical economy of his time (in particular the Roman empire and the absent landlord) and making a claim for the all-pervasive generosity and reach of God (as he did in his response to the question about whether or not to pay taxes!). This teaching is after all about the nature of the kingdom of heaven, about living under the reign of God, so it is less about individual salvation and discipleship and more about being a community that lives out the way of God. This teaching is less about individual salvation and more about bringing about the kingdom. This is less about our personal talents and gifts and more about the treasures of God being richly shared and invested in our care.

To the extent that this parable speaks of judgement it is of us as a community, as church. Have we rejoiced in the treasure given us and shared it with creativity and generosity or have we locked it up and like the third servant buried it and not fostered any growth? Much of the church and church history has not been bold or generous with the treasure given us but we have focused on rules that exclude or limit, that define and contain, that express ultimately self interest on behalf of those already on the inside rather than love for those who do not yet enjoy the treasure of God’s love and blessing. What if the measure of success and faithfulness was not crudely how many new people turned up at church services (although that can be wonderful and a sign of health) but how much generosity with the sharing of treasure there has been? And what might that generosity look like? How much celebrating of liveliness has there been? How far has the church reached into the dark places that entomb God’s precious ones and brought comfort and encouragement to stagger into the light of day? How many have we invited to gather at the table and how many of those don’t look, think and act the same as those already at the table? And have we taken the gifts out into the highways and byways rather than expecting people to come to us? Have we recognised and honoured the treasure of God’s creative love in other species and forms?

And for any who are concerned about “end times” and why Jesus hasn’t returned yet I suspect that true preparation for “end times” is to live as generous creative people of light now and then we shall be awake to the love that already is and available for whatever is unfolding.

Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come awaken us to the treasure you have already placed in our hearts and in our midst.

If you are preparing for Advent please feel free to see what I have prepared.


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