Isaiah 6:1-8, Matthew 25:14-30
This passage from Matthew is the second of three which contain very hard sayings. All three talk about a coming judgment time in which some are chosen, and others are rejected. The passage before this talks about the young maidens who weren’t ready for the bridegroom who were then rejected. Today’s passage seems to say that those who do not take risks, who do not use the money and talents which God has given them to further God’s kingdom, they will be kicked out. The passage that follows this in Matthew is the very familiar passage that was preached on last week and it will continue to tell us ways in which if we are not prepared, if we do not risk what we have to the furtherance of God’s kingdom by giving to the less fortunate, visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, that we will not be accepted on that fateful judgement day. Instead we will be “thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew’s gospel says in so many ways that if the works we perform don’t measure up, we can say goodbye to God’s kindom, and hello to the fiery pits of hell. Uncomfortable? You bet. These sayings of judgment are hard.
It’s not that it’s a totally unreasonable story. To those to whom God has given much, much will be expected. Those who have skills in building, organizing, healing, teaching; those who have resources such as time, money, energy: God will ask more from them than from those who have less skills or talents, money or time: those who are poor. And we can live with this. This shows compassion and understanding – how can those who have little be expected to give much? But then we hear in this parable “from those who have little, even what they have will be taken away.” And that is a lot harder to swallow. The man with the one talent didn’t misuse the money. He didn’t throw it away. He didn’t spend it. He held on to it and returned it in full to his master. And yet it was taken from him and he was punished. It feels completely unfair.
I will say, though, it seems to me that this story does give a generally accurate description of life here and now. Another way of saying this might be, “Those who are most in need are the least likely to get what they need.” Those who are most in need are the least likely to get what they need.
For example, as we’ve been studying in our anti-racism group, people who have just been released from prison need most work and housing to turn their lives around. But as you know, one of the questions in many states, on any job application or housing application is “have you ever been arrested for a crime?” And if you have, chances are you will never see a decent job from the inside. We understand this, we understand the fear of those doing the hiring. But it is an example of the reality that those most in need are least likely to get what it is that they need.
We know that poor people looking for jobs struggle to find places to live, places to bathe – both of which, again, make it very difficult to get work. Struggling to obtain food can be a full time job all in itself, and so they also lack the time and often the resources needed to even FIND the jobs. Often they live far away from a center of town where work might be more available. How do they get to where the jobs are without money to travel, places to type up applications, etc.?
Closer to home, I have a very good friend who struggles with clinical depression. There are times when she is so down that she cannot get out of bed. It is during those hard times that she is least likely to get the support she needs from her friends. When she is depressed, her friends sometimes have a hard time being around her because she brings everyone around her down too. It is hard to want to support her when nothing they do seems to help, and when she is unable to return any energy herself. It’s understandable. But it adds to her depression as she feels useless and unwanted by those closest to her. She is least able to get her needs met when she is most in need.
Similarly, I cannot tell you how many times I have bought lunch for friends, had church people over for dinner, fed those who do not need me to do that. But if a really poor person, someone who is really hungry, asks for food, how much harder is it to feed that person a really nice meal?
Another example: we generally respect our friends and colleagues. We respect their ability to do what is best for themselves. They don’t actually NEED our respect, but they have it. A street person, on the other hand, a person most in need of being treated with humanity, is least likely to receive common courtesy, let alone respect. We often don’t even pay them the respect of acknowledging them with a hello or a smile. Let alone answering their request for money, with a simple response of one kind of another. When we do acknowledge them, we tend to fail to treat them as the full adult human beings they are. We say we’d like to help, but we don’t trust them with OUR money. They need our respect, need us to trust that they are capable of deciding what they need most to make it through each cold and lonely night. They need our caring, but more often they get our judgement. The poor also need the dignity that comes from being able to work and support themselves. But while most people would be willing to hire a neighbor teenager to do some chores for us like mow the lawn, if a person who looks poor asks for work, we don’t trust them to do it! In part I think we don’t trust them BECAUSE they are so needy. Those who need are the least likely to get what they need. “To those who have, more is given. To those who have not, even what they have is taken away.”
The examples go on and on. The man in Matthew’s story with the one talent needed courage, he needed faith and reassurance. He did not have these resources, and so he hid. When the master returned, instead of being given what he needed, he was thrown out and whon he had reason to fear and mistrust the master. Hard. Especially if it means the unfairness of this world will just be increased in the next.
But you know, I cannot accept this face-value reading of the master in Matthew’s story being God. The God that I know in the New Testament especially is not greedy and angry with those who don’t make God richer. The God I see in those around me and who was with us in Jesus is not a reverse Robin Hood who takes from the poor and gives to the rich. The God I know does not go away without instructions and then return a long time later to punish those who did not read God’s mind about what they were being asked to do.
Instead the God that I know is the God of love. The God I meet in Jesus is one who gives and gives, especially to those who lack and are poor. The God Jesus talks about never leaves, but is with us always, guiding, holding, comforting us along our paths. And the God of the Gospels is selfless, even to the point of knowing that the cost for his love for us, the cost of his speaking up and stepping up will be his own death. And even then that same God’s love does not stop but grows and grows to the point at which it overcomes even death and returns again and again with open arms still full of love, hope and grace. The God we worship and trust is the God who invites us to become a part of creating God’s kindom of family here on earth – invites us, calls us, wants us to work with God to bring a heaven to earth.
And this to me is where we come back to Matthew’s story. Because in order to be a part of bringing heaven to earth, we do have to risk all that we have been “lent” by God. And remember, that is everything we have – all that we have is God’s -entrusted to us for us to be good stewards over. Like those in the story, we are lent the resources, the talents – all that we have – to use for the betterment of all God’s people. And in order to be a piece of God’s kingdom, we have to trust God, depend on God, use what we have been lent to serve in gratitude the God who “gave” us everything! God’s kingdom is here and now. Do you see it?
Like the man offered the one talent, we limit our ability to be part of that kingdom. I believe the master in Matthew’s story, then, is about how we sometimes envision God, how we try to make God a reflection of who we are, making God in our image, an image of a fearful, greedy, angry populace. And when that is our image, we exclude ourselves from the life God offers by being fearful, not risking what we have been offered in order to help and serve and care for others. We are fearful that in risking we will lose all, that in sharing there will not be enough for us. We imprison ourselves when we choose not to see God’s light, God’s miracles, God’s beauteous renewing of creating each and every day.
The slave with the two talents and the slave with the five talents saw and believed in a master who was loving and good. They risked because they trusted. And in return, they found the love they expected, they were met by a grateful, affirming, generous and loving master, and they shared in God’s kingdom. The slave with the one talent didn’t just have less. He chose to see and believe in a harsh master, a master who took what was not his. As the slave with the one talent said, “I knew you were a harsh master, gathering where you did not plant, and reaping where you did not sow.” The slave with the one talent put himself out of God’s kingdom by believing that he was out; stuck, helpless, and living under a cruel master. He ran, out of his fear, into a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth which he created himself through his own beliefs.
As loving and merciful as God is, this is a choice we make. Do we choose to hide and protect what we have, believing in a God of wrath who is jealous, angry, greedy, and who just takes and takes from us? Do we see a God whom we cannot possibly please, and therefore do we stop trying? Do we see a God who leaves us powerless in a world of crooks and con artists? Do we choose to live in our own hell of fear, distrust, emptiness and loss?
Or do we see the God of love? Do we see a God who has given us everything that we have? Out of gratitude and joy do we then help to build the kingdom of God for ourselves and others here on earth? Do we offer those in need the things that they need? Giving more to those who have not, than to those who have? In God’s kingdom, here and now, we can offer an unhoused person food or even a couple dollars without fear or loss. From that place of trust and faith, we can risk inviting someone who needs work to come and trim our bushes or paint our garage. We can stop and say a kind word to someone who is alone. We can even take a few minutes to listen to someone’s story. And through it all, we can choose to see God’s miracles working in those situations. We see God’s love holding us and each other. We can live day by day on God’s grace and witness to the living fact that God does provide and care for God’s children. Out of our abundance, we can be part of creating abundance for others as well, taking what is in front of us and multiplying it. We are invited and we can be God’s ling and loving kingdom on earth today.
That’s not to say it’s easy. From those who have, much is expected. It will seem to take us more, perhaps, than those who “have not” to feel God’s kingdom around us. We will need to give more fully in order to be part of God’s kingdom. But it is there for us, waiting, calling, wanting.
A young boy and his grandmother were walking along the sea shore when a huge wave appeared out of nowhere sweeping the child out to sea. The horrified woman fell to her knees, raising her eyes to the heavens and begged God to return her beloved grandson. And amazingly, another wave reared up and deposited the stunned child on the sand before her. The grandmother looked the boy over carefully. He was fine. But still she stared up angrily toward the heavens. “When we came,” she snapped indignantly, “he had a hat!”
Which God do we see? The God who saved the child? Or the God who did not rescue the boy’s hat? Which world do we choose to be a part of? A world in which everyone else is out to get us and we just have to hold on and take care of our own by burying what God has given us, keeping it away from the eyes and concerns of the world? Or a world in which, when we share and give and love, God gives back ten-fold? God invites us to be part of God’s new and glorious creation. God wants us to be part of the kingdom here and now. God hopes for us to trust, and love and live and be joyful. God calls us to be God’s heaven on earth and to share it with others.
We pray, God, that a little at a time, you would lead us to risk and enter the kindom which you have prepared for us and which is, by your great grace and love, all around us, all the time. Amen.